While the team at VSiN is busily preparing the 2021 Pro Football Betting Guide, due out next week, bettors have a full week of exhibition football to take in. The entire scope of NFL betting changes from preseason to regular season, but that doesn’t mean opportunities don’t exist. In fact, I know of several professional bettors who believe the chance of winning preseason games trumps that of games that count in the standings. Of course, I know others who won’t touch exhibitions.
Because of COVID-19, we had no 2020 preseason. The big change since 2019 is that the preseason consists of only three weeks, not four. Don’t overlook the importance of this and how it might change the way coaches approach these games. With four-game schedules, coaches typically built up their starters’ time in each of the first three games, culminating with the so-called dress rehearsal in Week 3. The final week was always for evaluating the lower-end talent for final cuts, and the main players usually didn’t see the field. With a three-game slate, will the dress rehearsal be pushed up to Game 2? Will the starters play at all in the final game? These are important questions that will be answered in a few short weeks.
Perhaps the single most important concept you’ll want to understand is that some coaches use these games to establish momentum or a winning culture. Others couldn’t care less. For instance, the Ravens under John Harbaugh have easily been the league’s best preseason team, as they own a spectacular 18-3 record since 2015. Mike Zimmer’s Vikings have also been stellar. On the other hand, the Falcons under Dan Quinn had become known for essentially tanking the preseason in favor of keeping players healthy. We’ll see if that changes in their first season under Arthur Smith.
The other important factor that typically has a huge impact on the closing odds is whether a starting quarterback will play. If a price looks off to you or falls outside the 3 to -3 line range, it’s a good bet that one of the QBs is not suiting up. The Bengals already have said Joe Burrow won’t play in the exhibition season as he recovers from last season’s ACL injury. And Rams coach Sean McVay has indicated that new QB Matt Stafford will take no preseason snaps. Watch Dak Prescott’s situation with the Cowboys, as he didn’t play in the Hall of Fame Game last week.