Betting the NFL preseason is an altogether different challenge than the regular season. Teams’ goals in preseason games aren’t necessarily the same. While one team may be playing to win and build momentum, the other may simply be hoping to get through unscathed.
Nevertheless, in any grouping of games that provides enough data, I try to find worthwhile nuggets that bettors can use to their advantage. Here are five betting concepts I was able to uncover after analyzing my preseason database from the last decade or so.
1. Line ranges have been telling: Oddsmakers have led bettors to water in the preseason, although these numbers can seem tricky to bettors. Since 2010, there have been eight teams favored by more than 7 points. Six of these heavy favorites won their games outright, however, they were 1-7 ATS. At the same time, favorites in the range of -3.5 to -7 have been quite reliable, going 118-93-4 ATS (55.9%). Most games, however, tend to land in the -1 to -3 range, and this is where the underdogs thrive. Since 2015, underdogs in the + 1 to + 3 range own a highly profitable record of 135-92 ATS, good for 59.5%!
2. Home field means very little: In the last 10 NFL preseasons, home teams finished with a record of better than .500 ATS only once. If you’re simply guessing on these games, or betting them for fun, side with the road teams, as the points given for “home-field advantage” tend to tip the ATS ledger to the visitors. Since 2011, road teams own a 326-279 ATS edge, good for 53.9%, which is enough to make a reasonable profit. The average home line in that span is -2, and home teams are winning by only 0.7 PPG, meaning an overprice of 1.3 points. Over the last five preseasons, the road edge is 166-125 ATS (57%).
3. 37 is a magic number for totals: Since 2010, 37 has proven to be a key number for totals. Totals below 37 have gone Over at a rate of 57.6% (255-188), while totals of 37 or higher have gone Under at a 57.1% clip (496-373). Take away the regular occurrence of Unders in the Hall of Fame Game, which I detailed last week, and the first trend is even stronger. As of Monday, none of the 16 preseason games this week showed totals of 37 or higher, with the closest being 36.5 for the Carolina-Washington game.
4. Big wins have a carryover effect: Teams coming off a preseason win of 20+ points and favored in the next game are on a 21-5 SU and 16-8-2 ATS (66.7%) surge since 2013. Most bettors tend to favor a yin-yang strategy in the preseason, assuming that the scales balance out, but big wins have provided big momentum in the next game.
5. Teams coming off double-digit losses are bad bets at home, good bets on road: Double-digit margins are noteworthy as next-game indicators for the losing team. Since 2013, double-digit losers have gone just 28-45 ATS (38.4%) when the next game is at home but 43-34 ATS (55.8%) when on the road. This 17.4% variance is something to consider in the final two weeks of the preseason.