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NFL Preseason Betting: Find Value by Following Line Movement


Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold

  • Just because NFL preseason games are glorified exhibitions doesn't mean there isn't value available for savvy sports bettors.
  • Due to a lack of public money, line moves are extremely sharp during the NFL preseason.

The NFL preseason has kicked off, and if you aren’t betting, then you’re missing out. The uninformed will call you a degenerate for wagering on exhibition games, but as 50 Cent once said, “Let them hate, and watch the money pile up.”

It’s true that preseason games can be difficult to handicap. Players and coaches have varying levels of motivation, but there is a simple strategy that bettors can follow to profit on these televised scrimmages.

NFL preseason lines move … a lot. In Week 1, 11 of the 16 point spreads moved by at least a half-point. Most of this movement is driven by sharp money placing wagers based on player information (such as snaps for starters). Bettors following the line moves in Week 1 went 7-4 against the spread (ATS).

Even after the line has moved, the value remains. But you don’t want to chase every spread change. The optimal strategy is betting on underdogs. Since 2004, underdogs with line movement in their direction by at least a half-point (example: +3 to +2.5) have gone 144-124-6 (53.7%) ATS.

The larger the line movement, the more profitable it has been to bet on the underdog:

The most profitable situation to bet underdogs is when the line moves at least 1.5 points. Dogs in this scenario are 41-29-2 ATS, returning a profit of $1,139 for a $100 bettor. It is a small sample, and no one would argue otherwise, but we are dealing with a limited number of preseason games, plus the results have been consistent year to year.

There are two game matches in the Week 2 preseason for this system.

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Profitable Pooches

New York Jets (+1) at Washington Redskins (Thursday 8 p.m. ET): Sam Darnold completed 13 of 18 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown in his first preseason game. Darnold is expected to start on Thursday against the Redskins. The J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets opened as 3.5-point underdogs. With nearly 70% of spread dollars backing New York, the line has moved 2.5 points in Gang Green’s favor.

Kansas City Chiefs (+1) at Atlanta Falcons (Friday 7 p.m. ET): Andy Reid told reporters that Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ first-team offense will play the entire first half against the Falcons after getting only nine snaps in Week 1. With that information, bettors pounced on KC plus the points. More than 75% of tickets and dollars are backing Kansas City, forcing oddsmakers to adjust the line from Atlanta -3 to -1.

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