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It’s not the Super Bowl or the regular-season kickoff, but the NFL Hall of Fame Game always holds a special place in the hearts of fans, especially bettors. It represents the return of football, regardless of how meaningless the results are or how unprofessional the effort may seem at times. Though we might not admit it, most of us are anxiously anticipating Thursday night’s game between Dallas and Pittsburgh, which kicks off the NFL preseason. We’re especially eager because the entire 2020 exhibition slate was wiped out, and most of us are actually going to place a fun wager on the game. Why not make your best effort to win that wager, aided by some historical game information that might tip the scales as to who wins and covers or which way the total winds up?
The accompanying chart details the results of the Hall of Fame games since 2000, complete with betting lines and totals. The 2020 game was canceled due to COVID-19, the 2016 game was spiked due to poor field conditions and the 2011 matchup was missed because of a lockout. Keep in mind that these games are played on a neutral field in Canton, Ohio, explaining why most of the favorite lines have been small. Also, starters typically play no more than one series, resulting in lower totals. If you’re new to betting this game, keep those thoughts at the forefront.
Over the last 21 years, Dallas and Miami have appeared in this game three times each, more than any other teams. Pittsburgh will be making its third appearance in that span this season.
Betting trends and observations
— Favorites have won the last four HOF games, going 2-1-1 ATS. They are also 12-3 SU and 9-4-2 ATS since ’02.
— In recent HOF games matching the AFC against the NFC, AFC teams have won the last two outright, but NFC teams are 5-2 SU and 6-1 ATS since ’08.
— The team that has led at halftime has won six of the last seven. Only once since ’08 has a team come from behind at halftime to win.
— Under the total has converted in six of the last eight HOF games.
— In the seven HOF games since ’03 in which the line has moved off the opening number toward the favorite, the favorite is 5-1-1 ATS.
— Bettors have not been sharp lately when moving totals in HOF games, going 1-5 in the last six.
— Though the Cowboys are 3-0 in those contests, all since 2010, they are 14-25 in all other exhibitions during that span.
— Pittsburgh has played in the HOF game twice since ’07, going 1-1. Included was coach Mike Tomlin’s first game on the sidelines for the Steelers in ’07, a 20-7 win over New Orleans. Tomlin is 31-23 in preseason games.
On the 2021 game
Both teams are coming off disappointing seasons. The Steelers won their first 11 games before a 1-5 finish culminated in a home playoff loss to the Browns. Dallas played some explosive games early before losing QB Dak Prescott to a season-ending injury and finishing 6-10 in coach Mike McCarthy’s first season.
Pittsburgh has lost some offensive line talent over the offseason but starts anew at running back with former Alabama star Najee Harris. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has undergone a body transformation and looks much slimmer and more athletic than a year ago. Even if he is given just limited reps in this game, his immediate backups are Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins, both of whom have been NFL starters. The Cowboys might be reluctant to push out Prescott, saving him for later in the preseason. He should be followed by Cooper Rush, Garrett Gilbert and Ben DiNucci, who have combined for just 90 passes and one touchdown in their NFL careers.
With the line having opened at Pittsburgh by 1 and having moved to -1.5 since, I believe the sharps may be on to something with this move. Bettors have been good when moving the line toward favorites in the HOF game. Look for Tomlin’s Steelers to try to quickly flush the bad mojo from late last season and to exact some revenge for Tomlin’s only Super Bowl loss — at the hands of McCarthy while with Green Bay in 2011.