The NFL regular season and postseason are unpredictable enough in their own right without caking in even more uncertainty. And yet, preseason football does just this. The games don't matter. Coaches futz and fiddle with their rotations. Key players only log a few minutes at a time—or they don't play at all. The process can be maddening. But it can also be rewarding if you know what to look for and how to use the unpredictability of the preseason in your favor.
Why Is Betting On Preseason Football So Darn Hard?
That we are starting off with a disclaimer of dangers should say it all. Preseason NFL games are overloaded with risks and impossible to project outcomes.
Think picking a game between the league-lording New England Patriots and cellar-dwelling Cleveland Browns is easy? Think again. The Patriots would mutilate the Browns under typical circumstances, but preseason contests are anything but typical.
Tom Brady might play in this theoretical matchup. He might not. Even if he does, chances are you won't see him in the second and fourth quarters You may not see him in the second half at all.
Preseason football does not exist for players like Tom Brady. The established talent will get some reps, sure. They need to be warmed up for the start of the regular season and there will never be a viable substitute for actual game play. But the stakes don't matter, the results do not count toward the standings, for a reason.
The NFL is giving coaches and teams in general a chance to take stock of young players on steep developmental curves and fringe roster players who are not locks to be with the organization for a long period of time. The concept of preseason holds firm for basically every professional sport, but it carries a certain layer of extra importance in NFL, where you're encountering 53-man rosters. With that many players to assemble, it's impossible to have a depth chart chock full of proven players and roster formalities—particularly when franchises are so hell-bent on adhering to the salary cap. (Related: Billionaire NFL owners remain some of the cheapest humans in existence.)
Anyway, the preseason is an opportunity to flesh out the active roster and plug smaller holes by giving run to untested and developing players. That's great! But it also means teams actively are not putting their best product on the gridiron for a full 60 minutes every game. And when they do play their top guns, those players usually aren't going at full speed. They won't want to risk injury ahead of the games that actually matter.
This is, again, smart. But it makes predicting the outcomes of preseason contests with any semblance of real consistency virtually impossible.
Bets To Avoid For Preseason NFL Games
Are we really still focusing on the difficulties of preseason NFL betting and what not to do? Yes. We make no apologies. We want to protect your money. We would rather you avoid preseason wagering altogether than waste your time and resources on inherently flawed wagers.
What follows will not be a subset of betting types to avoid. What we're about to tell you is more sweeping than that. Here is the definitive list of every wager type you should steer clear of: pregame moneylines, spreads and over/under lines.
So, basically, all of the usual betting genres.
No, we're not trying to be glib or intentionally hyperbolic. Placing bets prior to the start of a preseason game is too risky for our tastes. What does it matter if the Patriots are -14 favorite over the Browns if quarterback Tom Brady either isn't going to play or will only take a few snaps in the first and third quarters?
Feel free to diverge from this reasoning if you have top-shelf confidence in a certain team's entire roster. Should you believe Cleveland's A-squad isn't enough to take down New England's C-team, then far be it from us to stop you from betting on the Patriots' spread.
Some compromises can also exist when it comes to moneylines and the over/under benchmarks. For the moneyline, picking an outright winner is fine. And if you want to take a stab in the dark on the underdog just because, then again, we will not flat-out dissuade. Just make sure you're wagering money you don't mind losing. That should be the ascribed to rule of thumb at every turn, but it's especially paramount in the NFL's wacky and wild and more-unpredictable-than-usual preseason setting.
Looking at the over/under, we are generally a fan of favoring the over. Teams aren't going at full bore on the defensive end no matter who they're lining up on the field. Some guys will be trying harder than others, but there is an unspoken protocol that stipulates players don't do anything too over the top or aggressive that might result in a serious injury. This opens the door for high-scoring affairs.
Nothing about any of the exceptions to our rule come close to being idiot-proof. Injuries happen because certain teams are trying exceedingly hard. Low-scoring games are an intrinsic hazard when offenses are rolling out second-string and third-string and sometimes even fourth-string talent. That's why we'd prefer it if you stick to the recommended preseason wagers we're about to outline.
How To Profit Off Preseason NFL Betting
Two words: Live. Bets.
Live betting is becoming progressively more popular across all sports—the NFL included. It gives you an opportunity to gauge the ebb and flow and style of a game before investing in moneylines, spreads and over/under markers. It also encourages underdog betting, in the sense that you will have a feel for whether a certain spread or moneyline is too generous in the favorite's direction.
Preseason NFL games do not diminish the value of live betting. It's just the opposite. They incentivize it.
If you are going to bet on a game with undetermined play styles and personnel usage, getting an extra quarter's or half's worth of sampling can be super valuable to informing how you should gamble. It won't work every time. We recognize this. Coaches can change up rotations on a whim. Some have even been known to re-insert their A-listers late in the game because they love winning so much.
Even live betting cannot help you plan around those curveballs in the final two minutes or so. But this brand of gambling can help you elsewhere.
Let's say you're not sure whether Tom Brady is playing for the Patriots or how long he'll be playing for if he does. And then let's say you start watching their preseason tilt with the Browns only to find out he played during the offense's first series. After that, let's say you then hear on the television from the announcers or the sideline reporter that Brady is done for the night. You are then able to base a mid-game bet off that information, knowing full well the Patriots team you're wagering for or against doesn't come remotely close to actualizing a full-strength entity.
To help weed out untenable unpredictability even further, we are big fans of halftime preseason betting. You should know by this point whether a team will continue to play its starters. And that intel will be in addition to what the score, point differential and total tally is at the time. You will never get a better opportunity to place an accurate preseason bet.
On a final note: Social media is an understated tool throughout all this. Following esteemed NFL reporters and bloggers on Twitter will help you glean information you otherwise wouldn't. Certain reporters will break news of injuries and playing-time caps before it becomes public knowledge on TV. That could give you early insight into mid-game lines that haven't moved yet.
A few media professionals will also be privy to a team's general plans. One ESPN writer might tweet out early in the first quarter that the Patriots do not plan to pass the ball much because they're developing a young running back. Or maybe they say the Browns do plan to air it out with exceptional frequency because they know New England's secondary is weak and they want to give a high volume of reps to one of their young quarterbacks.
All this information matters. It holds value even during the regular season, but it's more important than normal during NFL preseason games, when live betting is really your best shot at consistently generating a profit.
Lessons Learned About Preseason NFL Betting
- Preseason NFL games are among the hardest to gamble on because of the uncertainty tied to star-player usage and availability
- Spreads are the most difficult lines to project for preseason games before they kick off
- Moneylines and over/under lines are not perfect bets, but they're more acceptable wagers when you are intent on submitting tickets before the start of the game
- Live betting is your best friend if you want turn a profit on preseason NFL contests
- Use Twitter to your advantage when placing live bets by following dependable insiders and Xs and Os savants who can clue you into a team's game plan