On Thursday night, the NFL preseason officially kicked off, four days later than it was scheduled to. (Get it together, Tom Benson Stadium crew.) Thursday night’s games saw five of six home teams not only win, but cover the spread, while the over/under was a split. However, I wouldn’t recommend blindly throwing all your money on the home teams the rest of the preseason.
Betting on preseason football is far different than betting on the regular season. There are more aspects of the matchup that you have to pay attention to, and a lot more than 46 players on each side to be considered. While some of the factors may sound more simple than others, it is important to consider each one.
With three more weeks to go in the 2016 NFL preseason, here are some simple tips to keep in mind when betting the exhibition slate.
I am not suggesting that it is easy to learn defensive schemes in the NFL, just that it takes a lot longer for an offense to gel.
Defenses take a lot less time to fine-tune their craft because defense doesn’t require the same sort of chemistry and timing, and they rely on a smaller set of rules that dictate how they react. Quite often, an NFL defense is looking crisp by their second preseason game together.
The same cannot be said about offenses. Not only is the passing game heavily reliant upon timing, but there is also a ton of read and react situations that occur on every play. In order to be successful, all players must be on the same page. Asking 11 players, who probably haven’t all played together before, to immediately know how each other will react is just unreasonable.
For this reason, when you see an over/under total creep up to 40 points or beyond, it is generally a safe bet to take the under, especially early on in preseason.
As I just mentioned, offenses take time to come along. They take even longer when they are sporting a new quarterback, or even center.
Placing a quarterback in a new system is like asking an Olympic swimmer to go from front-stroke to back-stroke. They know how to do it, but it’ll take time and repetitions before they are comfortable and performing at their peak potential.
Your center is responsible for all of your line calls – who’s blocking whom, and possible shifts one way or the other – so consistency at the position is a major advantage.
Steer clear of teams who have new quarterbacks at the helm, especially if they also have a new centre.
This can be a little tougher than it sounds, as players may not be listed on injury reports, but could still sit out the game. Team’s often opt to protect their star players during the preseason, and not subject them to any unnecessary beatings.
Be sure you have scanned every site possible to figure out which players are actually suiting up.
This goes hand-in-hand with the above section. Even when bigger names do buckle their chinstraps for a preseason game, it may only be for a couple of series or a quarter.
Coaches aren’t always secretive about their snap counts for their stars, so ensure you have the latest news on each starter.
Every professional football player has strengths and weaknesses, and each are brought out based on what is being asked of them, or the system they are playing in.
Major changes to your system can change your quarterback from a franchise cornerstone to one who looks like he’s never played the position before. (See Colin Kaepernick.)
The same can be said about defensive players. Certain defensive backs are far better in man coverage than they are in zone, and some players are more effective with their hand in the ground than when standing up.
Make sure you consider how big of a change the team is going through, and whether players at key positions have proven they are capable of accomplishing what will be asked of them.
Ultimately, football most often comes down to quarterback play. (Unless you possess a legendary defense such as the 2015 Denver Broncos, 2000 Baltimore Ravens, or 1985 Chicago Bears.) This is especially the case in preseason, where each team sends out somewhere between two to four quarterbacks to take snaps in each game.
It is hard to put a lot of trust in a quarterback who sits third on his respective depth chart, but you just need to trust him more than the other third-stringer.
It is safe to side with teams that have veteran signal callers behind their starting quarterback, particularly so if they’ve been with the team for a while.
Not only do position battles result in the top of your depth chart seeing more time in preseason games, but it also means each player is digging even deeper in order to prove they deserve to be the starter at their position.
There is a difference between the intensity levels you’ll see out of a player like J.J. Watt, who is just trying to stay healthy and prepare for the regular season, and someone like DeForest Buckner, who is fighting for a starting job on his new team.
(Photo Credit: public domain)
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