How to Bet the NFL Preseason

Washington Commanders NFL fan
A Washington Commanders fan holds a sign during the the preseason game between the Washington Commanders and the Carolina Panthers on August 13, 2022. Scott Taetsch/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by Scott Taetsch / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

The NFL preseason opened over the weekend, and every team has now played at least one exhibition game. Starting last year, the NFL cut the preseason from four games down to three, but that still means that there are two more opportunities per team to wager before the regular season begins.

The games may not count but the money at stake certainly does. So here’s what you need to know before trying to bet on the NFL preseason.

Good Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does

Think of the teams expected to be the NFL’s best this year. Now forget them. Being a Super Bowl contender doesn’t mean you’re going to dominate in the preseason. The Cowboys lost four games during the regular season last year, going 12-5.

They lost four games in a winless preseason (played Hall of Fame Game). Similarly, the Packers lost three in three weeks in August, then four in 17 weeks once the games counted. The Rams lost three in the preseason, and five in the 17 regular season games.

Similarly, being one of the league’s worst teams doesn’t mean you’re going to struggle in August.

Last year, the Jets were undefeated in the preseason at 2-0-1, they then won four of their 17 regular season games.

Bad teams have more positions up for grabs, as their higher draft picks are competing to take jobs from starters who weren’t very good. That means fewer star players getting rested and a better chance that the underdogs will win.

Last year, teams that finished last in their divisions had a combined .322 winning percentage in the regular season. They went 14-12-1, .538, in the preseason. On the flip side, playoff teams last year combined for a .650 regular season win percentage but were just .500, 21-21-1, in the preseason.

For Who, for What

No one ever got famous for dominating the preseason. NFL teams are built to win in the regular season and playoffs. That means making sure your best players are available. All that can happen to a star player in the preseason is an injury. So, the top NFL stars will play a series or two, if they play at all.

It also means doing some research to see what a team’s plans are. Most coaches will be fairly open on how long they plan to keep the starters on the field.

Bad Football

The bulk of the playing time in the second half of preseason games is devoted to players struggling to make the roster. That means you’ll be looking at third and fourth-string quarterbacks, the fifth-best receivers and linemen who will be bouncers at bars once the regular season starts. The football will be lousy, and that often means low scoring.

Adding to the lack of offense is the fact that coaches won’t be using any special plays or wrinkles in their offenses in games that don’t count. So don’t expect to see many shootouts. The average regular season game saw 50 points scored last season. The average preseason game saw just 39 points. So lean toward the under.

Mix Up Your Markets

The preseason doesn’t always resemble the NFL football you love, so only bet on the portions that do. Rather than do your regular-season bet on a full game moneyline or point spread market, bet on the first half result, where the impact of starters could be more significant, or give live, in-game betting a try.

You Don’t Have to Do This

Patrick Mahomes and Cooper Kupp will be taking most of the preseason off, and so can you. We know you’re excited about football returning, but there’s nothing wrong with sitting out these games, which are even more unpredictable than the regular season games.

If you feel strongly about a result, go ahead and put down some cash, but if things look like they could go either way, save yourself the agita and take a pass.

The regular season starts soon enough.