Betting on the preseason can be tricky because teams use far more players throughout the games than they would in a regular-season contest, so it’s tough to get a read on how the games will play out.
With that in mind, sharp bettors who pay attention to expected starters, coaching tendencies and roster depth can find an edge in the preseason and reap the rewards.
Head over to our NFL hub to get prepped for the regular season with odds, picks and analysis on all things NFL. From Super Bowl odds to NFL Week 1 odds to the latest NFL news and notes from training camp and preseason, we’ve got you covered on anything that can help you stuff some extra cash in your jeans this season.
With that in mind, here are some NFL preseason betting tips that will help you build your bankroll before the regular season:
Bet The Underdogs
If you simply took the underdog in every game, you’d be up money in the NFL preseason. That’s going back to 1995, which is as far as our Odds Shark database goes.
Underdogs are 844-727-51 (53.7 percent) against the spread since then, which is well above the break-even mark in sports betting of 52.4 percent. Dogs also went 58-49-4 (54.2 percent) against the spread the last three preseasons combined, 126-99-8 (56 percent) the last five and 283-247-13 (53.5) the last 10 seasons.
Just about any way you break it up, taking the points has been a consistent moneymaker in betting the preseason.
It makes sense. Top teams often sit most of their starters in anticipation of the regular season with the top starting quarterbacks usually watching with a ball cap on. Meanwhile, teams with younger rosters and quarterbacks sometimes like to let their players use the preseason as an extension of practice and give them some extra run.
It leaves oddsmakers in a tricky spot, though, because top teams have deeper, more talented rosters that dictate they be favored in games over teams like the Houston Texans.
Focus On The News
Using data to inform your decisions is a critical part of sports betting as underlying numbers can help us decide which teams and players are worth betting on and which ones aren’t.
But looking at data on how teams perform historically, what their tendencies and strategies are and what trends they have established over time is far less important in the preseason with every team’s roster in a state of flux.
Paying attention to injury reports, how rosters are evolving, and which players are starting (and how long they will play into games) is far more important when it comes to preseason NFL betting.
We can, however, use data and underlying numbers to evaluate the players who will actually play in the preseason. For example, analytics can tell us Team X has a third-string running back who is an athletic marvel and Team Y is filled with poor run defenders on defense.
But in general, keeping up with NFL Betting News is one of the most important parts of betting this time of year, so clean off your reading specs and get ready to comb through the team beat reports. This is the stuff that matters during the pretend season.
Follow The Money
I give more weight to preseason line moves than I do to regular-season ones. The NFL preseason week is a time when professional bettors shine because they regularly have access to information the general public doesn’t.
That’s why the limits on these exhibition games are low – often only $500 per game – but these are still moneymaking opportunities for bettors in the know as they take advantage of bad lines. This doesn’t happen as often during the regular season and though the limits might be higher, the lines are also much sharper.
Bet On (Or Against) Coaches
Certain coaches take winning in the preseason more seriously than others and it shows when we dig a little bit into NFL preseason coaching records.
John Harbaugh is one of the coaches who seems to care. Well known for having his teams prepared, Harbaugh-led teams have a 37-15 record (71.1 percent) in the preseason with an outstanding 12-1 record in Week 1 of the preseason.
It is pretty clear that Harbaugh has the Ravens ready to go for the first game action of the year, and the Ravens have been one of the more well-run organizations during his tenure with at least above-average rosters almost every year.
The Bills’ Sean McDermott is another coach with a sparkling record as Buffalo has gone 10-5 in his time as coach. While the Bills have had deep rosters for several years now, it’s worth pointing out that McDermott is 3-0 in the now-eliminated Week 4 of preseason. Keep that in mind when betting on the Bills.
On the other end of the spectrum, longtime coaches Bill Belichick (43-39-6, 52.4%) and Andy Reid (41-42-4, 49.4%) are both right around .500 in their careers during the preseason with none of the four preseason weeks any more successful than the others. Belichick and Reid could be victims of a large sample size that has balanced itself out, or they may not care much about the preseason. Either way, don’t count on these coaches to dominate the preseason.
Manage Your Money
It’s good to stay in the habit of separating preseason betting money from NFL regular-season betting money. Open a separate account and bet a little less on the preseason just to keep a healthy bankroll for the fall, which is when most bettors prefer to bet.
The NFL is tough to bet on at the best of times, so it’s best to be smart and realistic about betting on meaningless games filled with players who will be future accountants and personal trainers. Bet smartly, bet responsibly. And use these tips to help you win more NFL preseason picks.