Everyone’s favorite football miniseries, “Hard Knocks,” returns Tuesday (10 p.m. ET). The HBO series gives viewers unprecedented access to an NFL team as it prepares for the upcoming season.
The Cleveland Browns are this year’s featured squad. Teams are often concerned that the popular behind-the-scenes series will be a distraction. The Browns have one win in the past two years and have started 28 different quarterbacks since 1999. It might not be wise for Cleveland to star in a reality television show.
Though a case could be made that the cameras do not interfere with a team’s training camp, six of the last eight franchises to appear on “Hard Knocks” have equaled or improved their season record from the year before and four made the playoffs.
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However, those results focus on the regular season after the cameras are gone. There is some evidence that teams struggle in the preseason during the filming of the show.
Since 2007, teams featured on “Hard Knocks” have gone 14-26 against the spread (ATS) in the preseason, and a $100 bettor would be down $1,302 wagering on these teams.The year before participating on the series, when there weren’t distractions of the TV crews, teams went 23-21 ATS in the preseason. The preseason after “Hard Knocks,” teams are a combined 18-19 ATS.
The results for the preseason before and after the show are very similar. This is a small sample but it appears on “Hard Knocks” perform worse ATS in the preseason.
The cameras are the cause for the difference but not in the way you think. The NFL is the most popular sport in America, players and coaches are used to the attention. The reason teams struggle to cover the spread while on “Hard Knocks” is because HBO does a great job of making them likable, which in turn leads to more casual fans wanting to bet them.
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Oddsmakers anticipate this reaction and inflate the lines making it harder for teams to cover. In the preseason prior to appearing on “Hard Knocks,” a team’s average spread was +0.61 points. While starring on the show, their average spread increases to -0.29 points. That is nearly a one-point line move, which is a lot in the preseason. Since 2004, nearly 70% of preseason games feature a spread of three or fewer points.
On Tuesday night, we will all fall for Baker Mayfield, Josh Gordon, Hue Jackson and the rest of the lovable Browns. Just don’t let HBO’s storytelling influence your betting.
Bettors fading each team on the show would be 26-14 (65.0%) ATS, +11.1 units since 2007. Cleveland’s first preseason game is Thursday with the Browns listed as 2-point underdogs against the New York Giants.