NFL Preseason Betting Strategy: Game Plans, Beats and Halves

After a long six-month football hiatus, the wait is finally over — well, sort of. The first college football game isn’t until August 24 and the NFL regular season doesn’t kick off until September 5, but the NFL preseason is right in front of us.

If you’re like me, you won’t wait a day longer than you have to to get your hands on NFL betting. Already, online sports betting sites have posted lines for NFL preseason Week 1 (more on those next week).

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Editor’s note: For those interested in PA online sports betting, FanDuel PA online sportsbook went live July 22, 2019.

What better way to turn a meaningless preseason game into something worth watching than putting money on it? And don’t worry, you aren’t the only person looking for NFL preseason betting action.

NFL preseason betting is more popular than you might think. As US Bookmaking sportsbook director Robert Walker told Sports Handle’s Brad Gagnon last season, sportsbooks take as many bets on preseason NFL games as they do on most August regular-season Major League Baseball contests.

“I think it just speaks to how popular the NFL is,” said Walker, who added that the simplicity of the preseason schedule also makes it easier to bet when compared to the daily grind of Major League Baseball. “People love football, and it’s a long baseball season. I think by July and certainly by August they’re ready for football season.”

Even better, there are some NFL preseason betting strategies you can use to turn over a profit and build your bankroll with while patiently waiting for the first Thursday Night Football game between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears -3.5, Over/Under 46 (Use our FanDuel promo code to get these odds).

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NFL Preseason Betting Strategy — Scratch Everything You’ve Learned

First thing’s first: scratch everything you’ve learned from betting during the regular season. NFL preseason betting isn’t hard, but it’s a whole different animal than what you’re used to.

Because of the nature of the NFL preseason, the majority of games will have small spreads. Last season, 46 of the 65 NFL preseason betting spreads were 3 points or less, eight were 3.5 points, nine were between 4 and 5.5 points, and only two were 6 or 6.5-point spreads.

There’s more variance when it comes to Over/Under point totals, but there’s still a general theme: the totals are low. The highest 2018 NFL preseason betting total was 44. The majority of point totals were between 33 and 39 points.

Also, when it comes to NFL preseason betting, don’t put stock into how you expect a team to do during the regular season. The Browns went 4-0 during the 2017 NFL preseason before losing all 16 regular-season games. Conversely, the Patriots went 1-3 in preseason games before posting a 13-3 regular-season record.

NFL Preseason Betting Strategy — Coaching Game Plans

Some coaches take the preseason more seriously than others. John Harbaugh is 30-15 ATS in preseason NFL games, and Mike Zimmer is 14-7 while Jason Garrett 11-21-1 and Dan Quin is 4-12. You’ll see a lot of NFL preseason betting trends written and tweeted out, but take everything with a grain of salt. Information like this is useful to know but betting the NFL preseason is more of an art than it is a science.

Preseason coaching strategies vary from season to season depending on a coach’s personnel. In 2017, the Patriots were 1-3 in the preseason compared to 3-1 in 2018. Use the information you already know about coaches and balance it with new information as teams head into NFL preseason.

Are coaches trying to get a young QB accustomed to the offense? How many snaps will the starters get? Is it a QB competition? Is it a first-year coach using the preseason to make a strong first impression while implementing new schemes?

More so than the regular season, you can find out a lot about a coach’s strategy during the NFL preseason. That information pays dividends when it comes to NFL preseason betting and can give you, the bettor, a significant edge if you take the time to assess available information.

Read the Beat

There’s no better way to find out what a coach is doing in the NFL preseason than reading the beat. RotoGrinders DFS contributor Chris Cimino has you covered with a useful list of preseason daily beat writers.

Moreover, listen to what coaches say before and after games.

NFL Preseason Betting Strategy — Take Advantage of 1H and 2H Lines

Bad beats sting, especially in the NFL preseason. You think you have the game sniffed out for 45 minutes only to lose in the last quarter thanks to a quarterback who won’t even be on an NFL roster by the time Week 1 rolls around. You can combat the incongruity of preseason halves by shortening the game.

Along with following the beat, there are few general themes for how coaches approach the four weeks of NFL preseason. Gimino touches on them in his Introduction to NFL Preseason DFS and Strategy and they’re just as applicable when it comes to NFL preseason betting:

Week 1: Expect most teams to dabble a series or two of starters, and then pass the torch for split reps between roster competitors and top-end developmental talents.

Week 2: Starters play a more substantial volume, but still give way to the deeper roster positions somewhere between one quarter and one half into the game.

Week 3: Starters play roughly 1/2 to almost 3/4 of the game for many teams.

Week 4: No starters at all. Teams almost exclusively use this week to put the deepest portions of their roster on film, and get extended looks at players before making final decisions

No wonder a team can look so different from one half to the next during NFL preseason games.

If you’re confident in a team or game flow for the first half but less certain in how it’ll play out in the second half, or vice versa, there’s a simple solution: bet on the first half or second half spread and/or totals.

NFL preseason game spreads are already small. To come up with first half and second half spreads, online sports betting sites often divide the original game spread by two, sometimes shading one of the halves depending on the matchup.

Last year, Tom Brady told reporters ahead of time that he ‘absolutely’ planned to play in preseason Week 2 against the Philadelphia Eagles, who were expected to give Nate Sudfeld the majority of snaps. Keep in mind, Brady typically plays a full half each preseason.

Despite the obvious difference in quarterbacks, the Patriots were only favored by 3 points in the first half. Brady ended up completing 19 of 26 passes in the first half, throwing for 172 yards and two touchdowns. The Patriots outscored the Eagles 27-7 in that span and covered the 1H spread by 17 points.

With Brady on the sideline the remainder of the game, the Eagles outscored the Patriots 13-10 in the second half.

You can also use halves to increase your bet size. During the preseason, most online sports betting sites will have smaller, stricter limits to protect themselves from softer lines. If you see a line you think is notably soft given the available information, you can get more skin in the game by adding halves and money lines to your betting ticket.

At the same time, remember to bet within your means. You have the entire football season in front of you. Don’t get burned by an unpredictable preseason game plan. There’s nothing wrong with throwing just a few dollars on NFL preseason games to make things more interesting while preserving your bankroll for the regular season.

If you’re looking for general NFL betting tips, please refer to our NFL football betting tips guide.

Image Credit: USA Today Sports Images

About the Author

  • Matt Schmitto (schmitto)

  • Matt Schmitto is the sports betting editor for RotoGrinders. He grew up in Texas, graduating from Texas Tech University. After a short stint in law school, Schmitto joined RotoGrinders as a staff writer in 2019 and is a contributor to Sports Handle and other sites in the US Bets network.

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