How to Handicap the 2014 NFL Preseason
by Jeff Hochman, NFL Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
The Hall of Fame Game is the first Preseason game of the year and closes the annual hall of fame enshrinement festivities. The NY Giants will face the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, August 3rd, with Buffalo listed as the home team. The game will start at 8:00 PM and will be televised on NBC.
You will hear people say “Don’t bet on NFL Preseason Football.” BIG mistake! It’s actually easier than capping the regular season. In most cases you can read ahead of time the exact game plan for each team. There are numerous systems and angles that work like gold when handicapping NFL games in August. I feel the NFL preseason is a great opportunity to start and build a nice bankroll for the upcoming regular season. Many handicappers have the opinion that the preseason games should be left alone and not bet on. I feel just the opposite. If you do your homework, the preseason offers the betting public a tremendous chance to make a ton of money. Here are some things to consider when betting NFL Preseason Football. (In random order).
This one is obvious. Joe public gets so worked up about the starters and skill position players on certain teams during the regular season. But they’re the same in the preseason. Teams that can go two-and three-deep at the skill positions have a decided advantage over a club that has a few stars that will be sitting after the first series. A perfect example of this is a team like the San Francisco 49ers . Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert, and Josh Johnson all have experience as a starter in the league and will have a decided advantage over a team like the Atlanta Falcons. Matt Ryan is a stud, but after that, the quality of play really drops off with the likes Dominique Davis and Sean Renfree. Both backups have very little NFL game experience. The 49ers also have a bunch of second and third stringers that would start for most teams. The 49ers will want to have a winning preseason after just missing the Super Bowl, losing a heart-breaker in the NFC Championship game at Seattle last year.
Quarterbacks are key. NFL preseason wagers, just like those during the Regular Season, often come down to the last eight minutes of a game. So find teams that have a No. 3 or No. 4 quarterback that has some experience or success in the league. They’ll have a tremendous advantage in the closing moments of a game against a third or fourth-string defense. Also, look for teams that have a quarterback controversy and you know they’re fighting for a starting role, or even a backup position with the team. A perfect example of this for 2014 is the Cleveland Browns. Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel figure to get a lot of playing time in the preseason, as both players want the starting gig. In the first couple of games, they will be competing against players that will have a hard time stopping them. The Browns will want to have a winning preseason to show their fans that 2014 will be different than years past.
I don’t necessarily mean which team has the most grizzled veterans on it. In fact, in that category, experience can be a detriment. Most vets just go through the motions in fear of getting hurt. Teams that have established players in certain positions or roles will often see those guys “mail it in” during the preseason, because they know the games are “meaningless” and they already have their “jobs” locked up.
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However, experience is a key factor when it comes to coaching systems. Organizations that haven’t experienced much turnaround have a significant advantage over those that are easing in a new brain trust. For example, the New Orleans Saints have been running Sean Payton’s offensive system for years. They’re going to be much sharper than a team that is changing offenses. Take the Dallas Cowboys for example. They are breaking in a new offensive coordinator in Bill Callahan and a new defensive coordinator in Rod Marinelli. Callahan’s complex offenses take time to master. The Cowboys will be better on defense but that’s not saying much. The Cowboys are sure to be rusty on offense and defense early in the preseason. Keying on clubs that have familiarity and continuity, while finding clubs that are much less comfortable with their new systems, is a big key to having a profitable NFL preseason.
First-Year Head Coaches (New Team)
We have 7 for the 2014-15 NFL season. (To view a full list, see: NFL Coaching Changes) First year head coaches can be tricky, but generally perform very well in August home games and off embarrassing losses. A lot of expectations are put on these guys coming in. They want to show the Owner, General Manager, and fans that he is the right man for the job. Setting the tone early means playing to win in the preseason. Look for these 7 new head coaches to emphasize winning in their first August home game.
1. Lovie Smith (Tampa Bay)
2. Mike Zimmer (Minnesota)
3. Ken Whisenhunt (Tennessee)
4. Jim Caldwell (Detroit)
5. Jay Gruden (Washington)
6. Bill O’Brien (Houston)
7. Mike Pettine (Cleveland)
If you know how head coaches were raised and what their philosophies are, then you will have a big advantage this August. I know all the personalities/traits of every single Head Coach in the NFL, which helps me beat the books in August. If you watched the NFL for any number of years you should know that not every Head Coach cares about winning in the NFL Preseason. Different coaches have different agendas when playing August football and they all pretty much stick to their beliefs. Each coach handles the preseason differently. Some put a premium on the second game. For some, it’s the third. One coach out there uses the fourth preseason game. Some coaches just mess around and tinker with their lineups during the preseason. But here’s the key - and this is a big difference between the regular season and preseason football - most coaches are forthright about what the game plan is. All it takes is reading up on the local beat writer articles.
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I will give you one Head Coach that preaches competition from his players down to the ball boy. That would be Mike Tomlin, who is 19-10 ATS in seven years with the Steelers. That number would be even better had the Steelers not gone 0-4 ATS last August. Look for the Steelers to play very well this NFL preseason. On the flip side, Mike Smith doesn’t really use the preseason to win. His 7-17 ATS mark is the worst record with at least 20 games played since 2008.
The preseason schedule generally isn’t too taxing on the teams and players. But there are quirks. The two teams that play the Hall of Fame game are a good bet to fade in their next game. The Giants and Bills are fade material in week #2. If some key players are a bit “nicked” up then you can expect teams to nurse the wounded in their second game. Teams traveling from the East Coast to West Coast and vice versa are normally excellent teams to fade in August. Dome teams playing in hot/humid weather usually do not perform well in August.
Jeff’s Super System to Consider
If you are looking for a very solid system/angle in the NFL preseason here is one to consider this year. Teams that begin 0-2 over the last ten years are 50-25 (67%) against-the-spread in their very next game. If the team is at home they are 29-13 ATS (70%). Solid. Head Coaches/owners tend to get very nervous when they get off to poor starts and really focus on winning their third game.
Good Luck this Football Season!
Editors Note: If you’re having trouble beating the book on your own, the Predictem Admin highly recommends contacting Jeff at his site JHSportsline.com. We don’t usually personally endorse handicappers, as most sell picks because they can’t win themselves. This guy is the real deal. - Kevin/Predictem.com.