Last week, in Part I
of my Wiseguy Report on NFL Preseason Betting strategies, I listed a handful of key mantras for winning in August. Don’t confuse a team’s regular season capabilities with their preseason goals. Bet on teams in August that have a battle for their starting QB spot. Know your coaches and their track records in various roles (and in various weeks). And bet information, not opinions.
All of those stand as solid mainstream advice; the stuff the markets are paying attention to. This week, in Part II — preseason advanced handicapping methods — I’m going to write about the things that the markets don’t pay enough attention to...but they probably should!
Let me start with a bold statement: "3" is not the most important key number when it comes to betting in the NFL reason. Neither is "7". No, the most important pointspread number in August is the number "1." The difference between pick ‘em and + or -1.5 is MUCH bigger now than at any other part of the season.
Why? It’s simple. In the regular season, coaches who are trailing play for overtime; looking to set up the game tying field goal when down by three, for example. In the preseason, when a coach is trailing by three in the final minutes, he has only one choice — going for it on fourth down in an effort to get the game winning touchdown. Any coach who kicked a field goal in August in that situation would be viewed as a pariah. It (almost) never happens.
It’s the same story when a team scores late, trailing by only one prior to the extra point attempt. That extra point attempt would never happen in August like it would happen EVERY SINGLE TIME in September — it’s ALWAYS a two point conversion try in the preseason, win or lose.
In the regular season, coaches who are winning won’t make aggressive moves to avoid overtime. You’ll never see a coach who just scored a touchdown to go up by seven points attempt a two point conversion try to go up by nine. Instead, they’ll always, always, always kick that extra point to go up by eight. But here in the preseason, you’ll see coaches like Baltimore’s John Harbaugh following a TD to lead by seven going for two in an effort to get up by nine points, avoiding any chance of OT.
There have been six games decided by a single point through the first two weeks of the preseason, fairly typical for this time of the year — three each week. All of those games featured two point conversion tries that were the difference between a straight up win and a loss.
Meanwhile, the ONLY game that’s landed on "3" thus far was the Ravens-Panthers Week 1 affair mentioned above, in which Harbaugh went for two up by seven, giving Baltimore a nine point lead. As a result, the Panthers were down by three points facing a fourth and goal from the four yard line on their final drive. In the preseason, that means chuck it to the end zone not kick the game tying field goal so we can get this game into overtime.
The betting markets still move to -3 (-125) or -3 (-130) before moving off the 3 to 2.5 or 3.5, just like they do in the regular season. The markets do NOT make any significant adjustments when it comes to pricing the + or -1’s in August. That, folks, is the definition of a real edge, one that I probably shouldn’t be talking about in a publicly read column.
Here’s a second key factor that the markets tend to under-react to. Pointspread outcomes are usually determined after halftime. Over the first two weeks of the preseason there have literally been only a handful of games that have been done ATS wise, by halftime. The vast majority of August games — just like those played in September and beyond — see pointspread fortunes come to fruition over the latter stages of the contest.
Yet the markets focus on first half player rotations as much as any other factor. Savvy bettors did deeper. How long is the second string offensive line slated to play? What about the backup cornerbacks, as opposed to the third stringers, guys who are just hoping to earn a roster spot? Mobile QB’s without experience are often worth more in August than veteran QB’s who stand like a statue in the pocket, unable to create with their feet. If you dig for quality second half information, from local sources you’re preseason results should improve, plain and simple.
The third factor I’m going to write about here has to do with injuries. When you read injury reports for preseason NFL games, they tend to focus on starters, and in particular on guys who deliver the goods in fantasy football. This star wide receiver is going to sit, that star running back, this pro bowl defensive end, etc. Everybody is drafting their fantasy leagues at this time of the year and the mainstream media is well aware that ‘mainstream’ viewers are interested in fantasy news far more than in sports betting news.
Savvy bettors take advantage. The issue is not how many star players are hurt. The issue IS whether those injuries are grouped together, leaving a particular unit severely understaffed. Cluster injuries are worth their weight in gold at this stage of the season.
When a coach has an injury problem in his defensive backfield, his entire gameplan changes — avoid more injuries, keep everything vanilla. If two undrafted rookies have to play for three full quarters, so be it. If his receivers are banged up, you’ll likely see a run heavy gameplan that isn’t good news for their backers. If it’s an offensive line that has cluster injuries, you’ll see a gameplan created to minimize future injury concerns at that position. When a team is missing six starters from a preseason game, the markets notice, probably more than they should. But when a team is missing six defensive linemen from their rotation, it has a MUCH bigger impact on their expected gameplan and their likely pointspread result.