Many bettors refuse to bet the NFL preseason, but they are missing out on some nice profit potential. Here is a breakdown of preseason angles from the last 15 years.
Kickoff for the NFL regular season is still a month away on Thursday night, September 10th, but before we get there we have a full month of preseason NFL football up ahead. Now, we totally understand why many bettors both professional and novice alike stay away from betting on the NFL preseason, but we are in the vast minority in that this is actually our favorite time of year to make wagers on the NFL odds.
That is because in no other time of the year in any other sport do head coaches reveal player rotations and game plans before the games are played and then more or less stick to them. And yet, people refuse to bet on these exhibition games despite missing out on some great unique opportunities that do not present themselves during the NFL regular season, which has the sharpest lines of any North American sport due to having the heaviest volume.
And even before we start looking at hard numbers, it has become rather simple in this day and age to get an idea of each team’s intentions or game plans for each upcoming week of preseason by simply keeping up with team websites, and there are also sites available with pretty accurate quarterback rotations, which alone can give you an edge over novices that treat preseason games as if they were regular season games, which is the biggest mistake one can possibly make.
You will see that some coaches like to win these games, some put most of their efforts in trying to win the preseason Week 3 “dress rehearsals” for the regular season, and some could not care less about winning but put more emphasis on working on their team’s perceived weaknesses. This can also give bettors an edge once they get wind of the fact that a predominant passing team wants to work on its running game one week or vice versa.
You will also find that week-specific trends are important throughout the NFL Preseason, as each week takes on its own characteristics, meaning that many of these trends from the past 15 preseasons are not coincidences.
We will present a week-by-week profile for each week of the preseason in a bit.
Coaching Tendencies to Watch
First though, we shall begin with four coaches to keep an eye on. The first two are coaches that like to win throughout the preseason and thus are always worth a second look, the third could not care less about winning unless it is Week 3 when the starters play the most minutes and thus could be worth fading the other three weeks, and the fourth one has a unique trait that could make his team an automatic bet in its preseason finale in Week 4.
John Harbaugh (Baltimore Ravens)
Harbaugh like to instill a winning attitude during preseason and is thus 19-9 straight up and 17-11, 60.7 percent ATS since taking over as coach of the Ravens with an average winning margin of +5.9 points, which is rather significant since the vast majority of preseason games do not have lines bigger than -3. And the winning continued for Harbaugh last year with Baltimore going a perfect 4-0 both straight up and ATS while winning by a hefty average of +10.5 points.
Pete Carroll (Seattle Seahawks)
Carroll was not very popular his first few seasons as the Seahawks Coach due to his tendency to run up scores during preseason, and he currently stands at 13-7 straight up and 13-6-1, 68.4 percent ATS during his time in Seattle with an average winning margin of +9.3 points. Both the record and the average margin went down a bit while going just 2-2 during preseason last year, but remember the Seahawks won the Super Bowl following a perfect 4-0 preseason two years ago, and given the disappointment of this past Super Bowl for Seattle, Carroll may go back to cracking the whip in these games this season.
Andy Reid (Kansas City Chiefs)
Reid is on the opposite end of the spectrum with the exception of Week 3 as he is just 28-36 straight up overall during his stops at both Philadelphia and Kansas City, where he currently resides, but is 10-6 in Week 3. That leaves Reid just 18-30 all other weeks and he is 2-4 straight up and 1-4-1 ATS in non-Week 3 games since taking over as coach of the Chiefs two seasons ago.
Jeff Fisher (St. Louis Rams)
Now, Week 3 of preseason is revered to as a “dress rehearsal” because it is generally the week that coaches play the starters the longest before giving most of them Week 4 off, and thus Week 3 comes the closest to simulating a regular season game. Fisher is the one coach though that goes against the grain by playing his starters the longest in Week 4, so it stands to reason that he would be 12-5 in Week 4, first during his time in Tennessee and currently as coach of the Rams.
Another logical characteristic of preseason is that games generally get higher scoring over the first three weeks before the scoring drops again in Week 4, which makes perfect sense as that scoring pattern is directly correlated to the playing times that starters get, remembering that after increasing their minutes a bit in Week 2 and then even more so in Week 3, those starters are either rested or limited in Week 4.
Here are the average weekly game point-totals over the past 15 preseasons since 2000 (excluding Hall of Fame Game):
Pre-Week 1 – 35.1
Pre-Week 2 – 38.4
Pre-Week 3 – 40.0
Pre-Week 4 – 37.4
Make sure to refer to these weekly averages when evaluating betting in totals each specific week.
And now without further ado, let us move on to the trends for each specific week since the 2000 NFL Preseason.
Preseason Week 1
As you might expect, this is usually the sloppiest week of the preseason with so many different players revolving in and out while receiving playing time. So the natural inclination would be that underdogs should have an edge with these games being virtual toss-ups, and in this case that inclination would be correct.
All Week 1 underdogs are 124-100-9, 55.4 percent ATS, and when you are lucky enough to find underdogs of +3½ or more, they are 34-25, 57.6 percent ATS in Week 1.
As for head coaches, aside from the four coaching profiles discussed earlier, some other notables specifically for Week 1 are that Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots like to get off to fast starts, going 10-5 straight up and a fat 9-4-2 ATS in Week 1 since 2000, while Rex Ryan was just 1-5 straight up as well as 0-6 ATS as coach of the New York Jets as he now enters his first season as coach of the Buffalo Bills.
As for totals, that 35.1-point scoring average for Week 1 referenced earlier seems to make a nice dividing point. That is because in Week 1 games with posted totals of 36 or greater, the ‘under’ is a lucrative 56-30-1, 65.1 percent! Comparatively, in games with posted totals of 35½ or less, it is the ‘over’ that is 79-69-2, 53.4 percent.
Preseason Week 2
Week 2 of preseason is our favorite week of the year in terms of volume, as it is the week that offers the most profit potential. There are more Week 2 ATS angles that have been profitable over the last 15 preseasons than in any other preseason week, and just about all of them are inversely correlated to a team’s Week1 result.
First off, all Week 2 teams coming off of a straight up loss are 133-101-3, 56.8 percent ATS, while those coming off of a win are 103-135-1 for a 56.7 percent ATS fade!
If we break down those Week 2 teams coming off of a loss further, road teams are 58-36-1, 61.7 percent ATS and underdogs off a loss are an unbelievable 75-35-2, 68.2 percent ATS! As for Week 2 teams off a win, there has not really been much variance from the 56.7 percent fade rate for all the team whether the be home, away, favorites or underdogs, so all can be faded with confidence. Also, any team off a loss facing any team off a win is 75-47-1, 61.5 percent ATS.
Looking at Week 2 coaching tendencies, Mike McCarthy is 7-2 both straight up ATS as coach of the Green Bay Packers, the exact reciprocal of his 2-7 records from Week 1, while current Tennessee Titans Coach Ken Whisenhunt has gone 2-5 straight up in preseason Week 2 over all of his coaching stops.
A contrarian mindset has helped when playing totals in Week 2, as despite all games this week averaging 38.4 points, it is the ‘over’ that has gone 48-39-2, 55.2 percent in games with posted totals of 38 or greater.
Preseason Week 3
As mentioned, Week 3 is as close as we get to a “normal” week during preseason with this being the week the vast majority of teams play their starters the longest. Thus, this is the week where scoring is at its highest and the favorites have performed at their best, or at least the smaller favorites anyway.
That is because preseason Week 3 favorites of -3 or less have gone a winning 64-54-7, 55.0 percent ATS. However, it must be noted that the underdogs have continued to prosper when closing at +3½ or higher at Pinnacle, going 64-45, 58.7 percent ATS.
Aside from Andy Reid of the Chiefs, who as we mentioned has been at his best in Week 3 while not particularly caring about the rest of preseason, other notable Week 3 coaching trends are that Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints is a scintillating 8-1 both straight up and ATS, while Jeff Fisher, currently coaching the Rams, is just 5-12 straight up in Week 3, which makes sense since he is probably the only coach to use Week 4 as his dress rehearsal.
Week 3 games are averaging 40.0 points, but this is also the week with the highest posted totals and the sportsbooks have done a good job here in not giving any real edge to the ‘over’ or the ‘under’ either way.
Preseason Week 4
Lastly, Week 4 usually marks a return to sloppy play with games involving a vast majority of reserves while the starters rest up for the regular season opener the following week, and thus the underdogs have had an inherent edge as you might expect, especially underdogs of +3 or higher as those are 98-82-9, 54.4 percent ATS overall since 2000.
We have already discussed Fisher being the exception when it come to playing regulars in Week 4, but otherwise new Oakland Raiders Coach Jack Del Rio has gone 7-2 in Week 4 at his coaching stops and he may want to continue that while instilling a winning attitude in his first season in Oakland, while Payton of the Saints has followed up his 8-1 performance of Week 3 by going a woeful 1-8 in Week 4.
Week 4 games are averaging 37.4 points and that has served as virtually a perfect total divider, with the ‘under’ going 66-43-1, 60.6 percent in games with posted totals 37½ or greater and the ‘over’ going 76-50-2, 60.3 percent in games with posted totals of 37 or less.