5 NFL Preseason Betting Tips: Trends You Should Actually Consider Betting In 2021
Scott Taetsch/Getty Images. Pictured: John Harbaugh and Lamar Jackson.
NFL Preseason Betting Tips
- Bet the Ravens, Print Money
- Back Non-Conference Underdogs
- Big Over/Under Drops = Big Profits
- Target the Poor Man’s John Harbaughs
- Fade the True GOATS
The preseason is back, so I poured through our Action Labs database to find the most profitable trends that should continue to hold in 2021.
1. Bet the Ravens, Print Money
The NFL preseason is a time when the team winning the game has to take a backseat to players winning jobs and units winning situations. Unlike regular and postseason football, when winning is the singular goal, winning in the preseason isn’t a goal at all.
Except in Baltimore.
Under head coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens are 37-12 (.755) straight up in the preseason.
The last time they lost a game? September 3, 2015.
That’s right: The Ravens are currently in the midst of a 17-game preseason winning streak.
Overall, a $100 bettor betting Ravens preseason games since Harbaugh took over would be up $2,161 in just 49 games, for a stupid ridiculous 44.1% return on investment (ROI).
Harbaugh is obviously a great coach when the games count, too — he’s 120-79 (.620) in the regular season and 19-11 (.579) in the postseason — and has overseen a Ravens franchise that has tended to boast one of the league’s deepest rosters on a yearly basis, but that still doesn’t fully explain his preseason dominance.
So what is it? While Harbaugh is like every other coach in that he does not game plan for preseason games, he’s unlike almost every other coach in that he openly admits to actually wanting to win the games:
“We like to win,” Harbaugh said after a preseason win in 2019. “The haters out there are going to have their own little snide comments. I think winning is better than losing.”
If moneylines were never your thing, don’t fear: You would have raked in nearly as much preseason shmoney betting the Ravens against the spread (ATS). Under Harbaugh, Baltimore is 33-15-1 (.688) in the preseason. A $100 bettor betting the Ravens ATS in each of their 49 preseason games under Harbaugh would be up $1,622, a 33.1% ROI.
Best of all? Many of these games weren’t even a sweat, as the Ravens beat the spread by a whopping 6.18 points per game on average.
2. Back Non-Conference Underdogs
Inherent in preseason matchups is uncertainty, which is at its core driven from a lack of familiarity between the players of each team, as well as each team’s goals. While coaches sometimes hint about how much certain starters will play, the players who tend to get the most playing time — and thus factor most heavily into the outcome — are the players with the least NFL tape.
Given this uncertainty, most preseason games are essentially a toss-up, and there should never be large spreads in preseason games (except maybe if the Ravens are playing).
In interconference games, the familiarity between teams is minimized, as these teams usually only face off when it counts once every four years or so. This uncertainty makes it difficult for the market to handicap the game, and most edges are overrated. Not surprisingly, this has led to a situation where it’s profitable to bet on underdogs, who have collectively gone 458-321-3 (.523) ATS in interconference preseason games since 2004.
This edge is maximized when the spread is largest, in this case 5.5 points or more.
Spreads of 5.5 or more are rare, so if you’re looking to take on more action at a lower — but still profitable — ROI, you can also target close spreads of a field goal or less. These contests have proven to be toss-ups producing a 54.6% cover rate and 6.9% ROI for underdogs.
3. Big Over/Under Drops = Big Profits
While the market may not always have it’s pulse on the outcome of the game as far as who will win or by how much, it has done well at identifying low-scoring spots.
Since the 2004 preseason, unders have been slightly more profitable than overs, hitting at a 51.8% clip. But in games in which the total has dropped two or more points, the under hits at a 57.8% rate.
Note that the reverse is not true of overs: When the total increases by 2 or more points, the over is just 39-47-1 (.453).
4. Target the Poor Man’s John Harbaughs
Though not on the level of Harbaugh, there are a few other head coaches with a profitable preseason track record.
Jon Gruden is an enthusiastic guy, and this seems to extend to the preseason, where he has been one of the most profitable coaches this side of Harbaugh:
Since rejoining the Raiders in 2018, Gruden is 7-1 (.875) ATS in the preseason, and is currently on a six-game ATS winning streak.
Mike Zimmer is a no-nonsense guy, so it’s not a surprise his teams have gone harder than most ATS in the preseason, covering at a 73.9% clip.
Zimmer has had only one below-.500 ATS record in six preseasons as head coach of the Vikings.
Carroll does things his way, and is generally not beholden to his front office and the players they want to see on the field (see: Chris Carson vs. Rashaad Penny). This has resulted in a profitable preseason performance since he took over as the Seahawks head coach a little over a decade ago.
After a 0-3-1 ATS start in his first year with Seattle, Carroll has gone 25-11 (.694) ATS in the preseason since.
5. Fade the True GOATS
Bill Belichick and Andy Reid — arguably the top two active head coaches in the NFL — shouldn’t inspire the same confidence in the preseason. Since 2004, the two coaches have combined to go 57-67-5 (.460) ATS when the games don’t count.
It’s better to save backing Belichick and Reid for the regular season, where the two have combined to go 320-241-15 (.570) ATS over that span.