It has been 176 days and counting since I placed an NFL wager. That streak will end on Thursday when the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens kick off the preseason in the Hall of Fame Game (8 p.m. ET).
The Ravens are 2-point favorites over the Bears, and the total is listed at 33. It can be difficult to handicap preseason contests, so that’s why I turned to Bet Labs to find a profitable preseason trend for Bears-Ravens.
In the regular season, it has been profitable to bet the over in low total games. Since 2003, over bettors are 1,165-1,085-45 (52%), +25.27 units betting the over in games with totals of 44 or fewer points.
This contrarian strategy can be applied successfully to the preseason. Since we began tracking preseason results in 2004, the over is 120-96-5 (56%) in all low-total games (35 or fewer points). For reference, the highest total in a preseason game over that span is 48 points (Eagles-Steelers on Aug. 21, 2014) and less than 25% of all games qualify as having a low total.
>> Follow John Ewing in The Action Network App to get free alerts on all his bets during the football season.
The reason this system is profitable is simple enough. Starters don’t play much, and there is a general lack of motivation among players since the games don’t count, which can lead to higher-scoring games. This point is really driven home when you look at the splits by preseason weeks.
It has been profitable to bet the over regardless of week, although this system works the best at the beginning of the preseason. In Weeks 1-2, the over in low-total games has gone 85-61-3 (58%). A $100 bettor would have returned a profit of $2,092. But in Weeks 3-4 when starters get additional reps and the games are more competitive, the over is 27-24-2 (53%) and a $100 bettor would be up only $189.
Most tickets are on the under Thursday night. This is an example of recency bias. Last season, the under was 19-13 in Bears and Ravens games combined. Chicago was 29th in scoring and Baltimore is thought of as a defense-first team even though the Ravens were ninth in points per game in 2017.
The public likes the under, but in early betting, most dollars are on the over. I’ll follow the money and this betting trend of overs in low-total games when the preseason begins.