There are a number of strategies for betting preseason football that have proven to be profitable over the course of the last decade or so, since the league switched to their current four game exhibition schedule. Betting on the NFL in August is a completely different exercise than betting on the same sport a month later. Outlined below are many of the differences, and some ways the bettor can take advantage of them.
· Know your coaches! Many coaches are simply trying to evaluate personnel -- finding the right bodies for the last few spots on the roster -- as well as making sure that all the key elements of the offensive and defensive schemes are in place. Other coaches want to instill a winning attitude for their team right from the start of training camp. Try to back head coaches who care about the outcome of the game, and try to bet against those that don't. For example, Dave McGinnis of the Arizona Cardinals has a perfect 5-0 preseason record against the spread (ATS) since he took over the reigns, while Marty Schottenheimer hasn't covered a pointspread in August (0-5 ATS) since his return to the sidelines last summer.
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· Ignore the starters! In most preseason games, they'll get the bulk of the media attention, yet they are on the bench by the 2nd quarter. Injury reports are something of a non-factor as well, because it's not the ‘name'players who will be determining the outcome of the game. Preseason games, like those in the regular season, are usually won or lost in the 2nd half.
· Read the local papers! NFL preseason is one time of the year where ‘coach-speak'is extremely important. It's also one time of year where the coaches are willing to reveal their game plans in their entirety. By perusing the local papers, it's quite possible to gauge what a coaches philosophy will be for any given game, as well as learning about the expected player rotations. Knowing who is going to be on the field in the 2nd half, when the pointspread outcome is likely to be decided, is crucial.
· Look for good situational handicapping spots. In every preseason, there are a few games that feature one coach that wants to give his starters and 2nd teamers most of the playing time, while the opposing coach is looking to evaluate personnel at the bottom of the roster. Also look for teams that have started 0-2 straight up, and are returning home for the 3rd preseason game, especially when the coaches have taken some criticism for the team's poor showing in the local papers. That is usually an excellent spot to back the home team in need of a win, especially when they are facing a team that doesn't have the same motivation.
· Check out the quarterback rotations! Look to bet on teams with experienced veterans playing against 3rd and 4th string defenses in the 2nd half of preseason games. Situations exist every week where QB's with starting experience in the NFL will have the opportunity to show their stuff against inferior defenders, and these QB's should be able to move the ball down the field with relative consistency. Neil O'Donnell of the Tennessee Titans and Shaun King of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are two examples of quarterbacks who should get substantial playing time against weak foes in the 2nd half of preseason games this year. The opposite is also true. Look to bet against teams playing rookie quarterbacks in the 2nd half. These young QB's are often late round picks and undrafted free agents, not the cream of the quarterbacking crop. Their unfamiliarity with the offensive scheme and the speed of NFL defenders often give rookie QB's trouble.
· Don't forget the totals! Using the quarterback rotations and the coaches philosophy as a guide, predicting totals can be very profitable. A pair of coaches looking to develop the running game and/or test inexperienced QB's often provide solid Under bets. On the other hand, when you find two coaches who are looking to test the passing game and have experience at the backup QB position, the Over is certainly the way to look.
· Find out what you can about the 3rd and 4th stringers. These are the players who will be on the field in the 2nd half, when the pointspread winners and losers will usually be determined. As a general rule of thumb, many of these players are ‘undrafted rookie free agents'. But there is a considerable difference in quality among these players from one team to the next. Teams with more roster spots open will tend to get the better backups into camp. And teams with more roster spots open are usually teams that had poor records the year before, often preseason underdogs. Try to avoid laying points with playoff bound teams from the previous season with most of their roster spots already filled, because the quality of their free agent rookies is often quite low. There simply aren't a lot of positions open on those type of teams, making them unattractive to the better free agents –the ones with options to go to more than one training camp.
If you follow these simple guidelines, August can be a very profitable month for NFL bettors. Even in supposedly ‘meaningless'preseason games, there are plenty of spots in which the informed bettor can boost his bankroll before the regular season begins.
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