The NFL Preseason kicked off last weekend with Minnesota beating Pittsburgh 14-3 in the Hall of Fame Game. While neither team’s season is affected by the result, and an injury to a kicker was the biggest takeaway from the night, the money that gamblers bet during exhibition games is just as real as contests that count in the standings.
Though one could argue that preseason games are less predictable than those in the regular season, there are angles that can help bettors over the next several weeks.
During the Vikings’ win over the Steelers, major stars like Adrian Peterson and Ben Roethlisberger didn’t play a snap. Minnesota’s starting QB Teddy Bridgewater suited up for one series. However, if you had a good scouting report on Pittsburgh’s Landry Jones, perhaps you would have known to bet against the third year QB from Oklahoma. (Jones completed just half of this 32 passes for a measly 135 yards.) Meanwhile veteran Mike Kafka had a quarterback rating of 121.3 for Minnesota.
To be blunt, Kafka isn’t very good either, but he has been successful in preseason games over the years. Since his last exhibition interception (in the first preseason game of 2013), he has tossed four touchdowns. Meanwhile, Jones didn’t have a single major despite 44 attempts in last year’s preseason. He’s generally looked over-matched when called upon.
In addition to identifying players at key positions likely to play big roles in preseason games, consider coaches. Mike Zimmer improved his exhibition mark to 5-0 with Sunday’s win. The Steelers, on the other hand, have now lost three straight and eight of nine.
Another thing to factor in when you handicap is the state of various franchises. Teams with new coaches or coordinators often struggle as players adjust to new schemes, while teams coming off of disappointing seasons are motivated to show fans that this year will be different. Also, if a team has a lot of veteran backups – i.e. guys competing to stay employed – they can pick on young, inexperienced players late in games.
Making huge bets on preseason games isn’t smart – a blown coverage by a player who won’t be in the league in a few days could be the difference between covering and losing. That said, doing some research, and using the numbers and trends to your advantage is no different than the regular season. Trends don’t always hold, but if you bet against Pittsburgh during the last several preseasons, you wouldn’t much care that the games weren’t counted in the standings.
(Photo credit: Kyle Engman [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)