People that refuse to bet NFL preseason are missing out on a potential gold mine that can build up bankrolls for the regular year.
Unlike many bettors, NFL preseason is actually our favorite time of year to make NFL picks, as at no other time in any other sport do head coaches reveal player rotations and game plans beforehand and then more or less stick to them.
Yet people still refuse to bet on these exhibition games, not realizing that they are missing out on some great opportunities that do not present themselves during the NFL regular season, which has the sharpest lines of any sport.
We will get to some solid numbers in a bit, but in this internet age it has become very easy to get an idea of each team’s intentions each week of preseason and simply keeping up with team websites can give you an edge over novices that treat preseason games as if they were regular season games, which is a huge mistake.
You will see that some coaches like to win these games and some like to work on what are perceived to be team’s weaknesses, and knowing which is which can lead to a very profitable four weeks (five counting the Hall of Fame Game). We will give you four coaches that like to win and thus should be expected to do well again this season, and we will also give you week-specific trends from the last 12 preseasons since 2000, as each week has its own characteristics.
Please note that all records provided against the spread are based on the closing odds from Pinnacle Sports for all preseason games since 2000.
Without further ado, four coaches that should be followed the entire preseason are Mike Shanahan of the Washington Redskins, Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens and Jim Schwartz of the Detroit Lions.
Shanahan easily has the most career preseason wins of any active head coach, as he is 46-22 straight up with the Denver Broncos and the Redskins combined. More importantly from a betting perspective, his teams are 28-16-1, 63.6 percent against the spread since 2000. His Redskins were 3-1 both straight up and ATS last preseason.
Tomlin is 16-5 straight up in preseason since taking over as head coach of the Steelers in 2007 while going 13-8, 61.9 percent ATS in those games. Something else that stands out about Tomlin is that he is a perfect 5-0 SU and 4-1 ATS in Pre-Week 4, a week when most coaches do not allow their starters to see the field.
Harbaugh is 11-5 SU and 9-7 ATS as coach of the Ravens, including 10-2 on the field and 8-4, 66.7 percent at the betting windows the last three years. Schwartz wanted to install a winning attitude for his formerly hapless Lions in preseason, so he is 10-2 SU and 9-3, 75.0 percent ATS since taking over in 2008, including a perfect 4-0 both SU an ATS with a good Lions’ team last year.
Moving on to overall ATS trends, the underdogs are 406-335-27, 54.8 percent ATS in all preseason games since 2000, and you will see that the best times to blindly follow dogs are Week 1 (including Hall of Fame week) and Week 4, which makes sense since those are the two weeks when the starters play the least if at all, Week 1 because coaches are still evaluating reserves and Week 4 because starters are being rested before the season opener the following week.
Something else that works well throughout the preseason is following underdogs coming off of a straight up loss. Remember that that these games are all about motivation, and teams coming off losses oftentimes would like to win their next game just to feel better about themselves, especially in the underdog role. These underdogs are 143-113-12, 55.9 percent ATS, including a lucrative 95-56-7, 62.9 percent ATS vs. favorites coming off of a win and thus not as hungry.
Turning to totals, the ‘under’ is a nondescript 388-381-8 since the 2000 Preseason, but as you will see once we get to our trends for each specific week, each one has a discernable total pattern. Before getting to that point, here is the average combined score per week since 2000:
HOF Game + Pre-Week 1 – 35.0
Pre-Week 2 – 37.1
Pre-Week 3 – 39.0
Pre-Week 4 – 37.3
Note that we combined the Hall of Fame Game and Week 1 of preseason as one week, and that there is a direct correlation between the scoring averages and the playing time of the starters. Games are lower scoring in Week 1 when teams are in the evaluation stage, and then the scoring increases over the next two weeks, peaking in Week 3 when starters play the longest before dropping in Week 4 when many of the starters sit.
You will see that these weekly averages become critical when evaluating weekly ‘over’ and/or ‘under’ selections.
And now we will take a look at each specific week since 2000.
Hall of Fame Week plus Preseason Week 1
Again we combined the Hall of Fame Game and Week 1 as one, and as you might expect, this is generally the sloppiest week of the preseason with so many players shuffling in and out of the lineup in each game. This would lead one to believe that the underdogs would have an edge with these games being virtual toss-ups, and that belief would be correct.
All HOF and Week 1 underdogs are 108-88-10, 55.1 percent ATS, and if you are fortunate enough to find underdogs of +3½ or more, they are 33-24, 57.9 percent ATS in Week 1. However, those are becoming a rare breed as only two opening games last season had lines higher than +3 at Pinnacle, and the underdogs split those games 1-1 ATS.
As for head coaches, aside from the four aforementioned coaches that are always worth following, some other notables for Week 1 are that Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots like to get off to fast starts, as they are 9-4 straight up and a fat 9-2-2 ATS in Week 1 since 2000, while Marvin Lewis is just 3-7 straight up (4-6 ATS) as coach of the Cincinnati Bengals.
On to totals, remember that 35.0-point scoring average for Week 1? Well, in games with posted totals of greater than 35, the ‘under’ is 52-32-2, 61.9 percent! Meanwhile, in games with posted totals of 35 or less, the ‘over’ is 66-57-2, 53.7 percent.
Preseason Week 2
Week 2 of preseason may be the week with the most profit potential ATS, as it is the week with the most angles that have been profitable over the last 12 preseasons. Notably just about all of those angles are inversely correlated to a team’s Week1 result.
More specifically, all Week 2 teams coming off of a straight up loss are 110-76-2, 59.1 percent ATS while all coming off of a win are 78-112-1 for a 58.9 percent ATS fade!
Breaking down Week 2 teams off of a loss further, road teams are 54-34-1, 61.4 percent ATS and underdogs are an unbelievable 62-25-2, 71.3 percent ATS! Braking down Week 2 teams off a win, home teams are 36-54 for a 60.0 percent fade and favorites are 34-56-1 for a 62,2 percent fade. Finally, any team off of a loss facing any team off of a win is 63-33-1, 65.6 percent ATS.
As for Week 2 coaching tendencies, Mike McCarthy and his Green Bay Packers are 5-1 both straight up and ATS while Ken Whisenhunt and his Arizona Cardinals are 1-4 both SU and ATS.
As mentioned, the Week 2 scoring average is 37.1 points and the ‘under’ is 49-40-2, 55.1 percent in games with posted totals of 37 or more. In games with totals of less than 37, the ‘over’ is 53-44-2, 54.6 percent.
Preseason Week 3
Week 3 is the week where the starters play the longest and thus is the week that more closely resembles the regular season, with games being higher scoring and favorites within reason having a chance to shine.
Apparently, “within reason” is defined by that magical number 3. That is because Week 3 favorites of -3 or less are 49-38-7, 56.3 percent ATS, but underdogs have continued to prosper when getting +3½ or more, going 55-37, 59.8 percent ATS. Also, the inverse angles of Week 2 don’t work as well in Week 3, so this is not a week to blindly play teams off a loss or fade teams off a win, as those are just 85-97-7 and 84-96-7 ATS respectively.
Besides, all games are covered with the +/-3 cut-off anyway.
Some notable Week 3 coaching trends are that John Fox of the Denver Broncos is 7-3 both straight up and ATS with the Broncos and Carolina Panthers combined, while poor Marvin Lewis of the Bengals turns up on the negative side again, going 2-7 both SU and ATS.
Week 3 games are averaging 39.0 points, but this highest scoring week of preseason is actually unique from a total standpoint in that you actually want games with posted totals of 39 or more, as the ‘over’ is 33-27, 55.0 percent in those contests.
Preseason Week 4
Week 4 usually marks a return to sloppy play with games involving predominantly reserves and thus a return to blind underdog dominance. As you might expect, blindly playing all Week 4 underdogs has gone 101-80-8, 55.8 percent ATS since 2000. This is a pattern that continued last season, when the underdogs went 9-5-1 ATS in the preseason’s final week.
We mentioned that Pittsburgh’s Tomlin is undefeated straight up in Week 4, and also notable is the fact that this is the week when Lewis’s Bengals are at their best, going 7-2 straight up and 6-2-1 ATS. At the other end of the spectrum you have the Philadelphia Eagles’ Andy Reid, who is 3-10 straight up in preseason finales since taking over as head coach, although the Eagles did snap a nine-year Week 4 losing streak last season.
Even with that victory, Philadelphia is still 3-9 ATS in Week 4 since 2000.
Week 4 games are averaging 37.3 points, and just like Week 1 and Week 2, the average has served as a convenient cut-off with the ‘under’ going 45-25, 64.3 percent in games with posted totals of greater than 37 and the ‘over’ going 71-47, 60.3 percent in game with posted totals of 37 or less.