Handicapping Home-field Advantage in NFL Preseason: Finding Profitable Betting Trends

Handicapping Home-field Advantage in NFL Preseason: Finding Profitable Betting Trends article feature image

Christian Petersen/Getty Images. Pictured: Isaiah Likely.

We are now officially through two weeks of the NFL preseason, with 33 games competed. After the first week, the story was clearly overs, which cashed by 9.2 points per game.

The biggest topic up for discussion heading into the final week of the preseason has to be home-field advantage.

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Where We Are Now

As of now, home teams are an even 15-15-2 against the spread (ATS), with actually the road teams covering the number by 0.8 points per game. To show even more of a drastic change, look at home teams straight-up (SU).

Through 33 games, home teams are just 15-17 (46.9%) SU. A $100 bettor wagering on each of the home teams' moneyline in the 2022 preseason would be down $867, the second-worst return on investment for home teams on the moneyline through two weeks of the preseason in Bet Labs (since 2005).

Looking more recently in the preseason, the home horror has been a plague.

Over the last two years in the preseason, home teams are 14 games under .500 SU. For a bigger sample size, take a look at home teams over the last five years in the preseason (no preseason in 2020 due to the pandemic):

  • SU: 93-111-1 (45.6%) | $100 bettor down $4,475 | -21.8% return on investment (ROI)
  • ATS: 83-115-7 (41.9%) | $100 bettor down $3,651 | -17.8% ROI

Of those 83 teams to cover the spread at home in the preseason over the last five years, 19.3% have come from just the Baltimore Ravens (6-0 ATS), New England Patriots (6-1 ATS) and Pittsburgh Steelers (4-1-1 ATS) — all three veteran head coaches. The rest of the NFL is 67-113-6 (37.2%) ATS at home in the preseason since 2018.

Public Impact

One of the odd results of the home teams struggling in the preseason so far this year is the unforeseen impact on how the betting public have fared early on.

In 2022, the betting public — any team with 51% of the tickets or higher in any given game — is 23-8-2 (74.2%) ATS in the preseason, covering the spread by 3.6 points per game. When the home team is listed as the betting favorite this year in the preseason, they are 11-4-1 ATS — a far cry from the 15-15-2 mark by favorites overall.

It turns out, the public might have the betting edge when it comes to the preseason. Since 2019, the public is 85-53-6 (61.6%) ATS in the preseason, for a 18.1% return on investment. Since 2004, the '19, '21 and now '22 preseasons are individually the three most profitable years ATS for the betting public overall.

To drill down even further: Any public team who plays away from home in the preseason is 51-21-3 (70.8%) ATS since 2019, covering the spread by 4.7 points per game.

To show the distinct comparison, public teams are 370-382-14 (49.2%) in the regular season since 2019 — a 12.4% decrease from public teams in the preseason.

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Raybon's Take

To try and handicap the preseason compared to the regular season or playoffs, let's take a look at how our NFL Analyst and Senior Editor, Chris Raybon, breaks it down:

"Home-field advantage in the preseason is roughly two-thirds as valuable as it is in the regular-season. How do we know this?

"Using Bet Labs data from 2004-21 (excluding the '20 season in which there was no preseason and no fans in the stands for most of the regular season), we can see that the average point differential of home teams was 2.27 points.

"Over that same span during the preseason, it was 1.48, or 65.2% as much as the regular season.

"This data is not surprising, as preseason attendance is typically lower. Crowd noise also has less of an impact, as teams typically aren’t scheming and game-planning in the preseason, which means fewer audibles and checks at the line of scrimmage."

Long Term Effect

Entering the final week of the preseason, both home teams and road teams are actually losing bettor money due to the vigorish (paying 10% on each wager at -110 odds).

Dating back to 2016 all the way up through Week two of the preseason, each and every year has been profitable on the moneyline for the road teams and five of the six years has been profitable ATS (with only 2022 at 15-15-2 ATS, down $150).

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