How to Make the Most of Handicapping NFL Preseason Games

How to Make the Most of Handicapping NFL Preseason Games

Each year, we seem to hear the same phrase roll around in bars across the country…football is back!

The NFL’s preseason serves as a reminder that the season is just around the corner, but for most fans, that’s about the only value these uniformed-practices really have. Still, the sportsbooks never miss a chance to make a buck, and bettors will take a chance on anything they can.

In this article, I’ll explain how you can pad your bankroll heading into the regular season by handicapping the NFL preseason.

1. Start with the Quarterback

The most important position in all of sports still keeps that title during the preseason. When it comes to evaluating a matchup, it’s all about whether or not a team needs their starting quarterback to get some work in before Week 1.

Here’s a situation which happens just about every single year:
If you can identify it in a preseason game you can take advantage: A team might have a quarterback who leaves the team due to retirement, a trade, or free agency, and needs to replace him. The team will have a drafted a rookie QB and also acquired a veteran to be the “bridge” guy until the rookie is ready. The preseason now has a new meaning for both quarterbacks as they battle it out to see who will get the nod in the first regular season game.

Obviously, if a team has even some interest in actually trying to win a game during the preseason, they’re at a huge advantage simply because most teams are using the games to evaluate a couple bottom-of-the-roster players, and not much more.

When the team’s quarterbacks are trying to put on a good show to impress the personnel decision-makers, you can bet they’ll have great success against a team’s second or third-string defense.

Rookie quarterbacks, fair or not, get judged on just about everything they do during preseason games (and even during practice if we’re being honest). For that reason, the rookie class of QBs is a favorite bet of handicappers if the odds have some degree of value. Even if they’re only playing the first quarter, getting out to an early lead is always beneficial, and first quarter prop bets might even be the best choice in this scenario.

2. Think about the Moneyline If It’s Available

No matter what you do, don’t ever think that a team’s preseason performance will have anything to do with how they perform in the regular season. Historically, some of the greatest teams – including many Super Bowl winners – have gone winless in the preseason. Simply put, the results just don’t matter.

Why do I bring this up?
Because it’s a reminder that every game is essentially a coin flip in terms of who will win. Sportsbooks are aware of this, unfortunately, and for that reason there are many sites that won’t list a moneyline. With that being said, if you shop around and look at different sports betting platforms you can probably find one that will give you moneyline odds.

Imagine if you had the option to take +120 odds on a coin flip – of course, you would take that every time. The same can be said about an NFL preseason game, generally speaking.

Please Note:
It may not exactly be the same as a coin flip, but I don’t think anyone has ever been able to accurately predict the outcome of a game where the main goal is simply to not get hurt.

You might not be able to track down a book that will offer it for you, but the moneyline can be a great tool to make the most out of the preseason. Keep in mind that you’ll have to play it at a high volume in order to reap the benefits.

3. Live Bets

Similar to the moneyline option, not every sportsbook is going to give you the option to live bet preseason games. However, you’ll probably have more success finding live bet options than you will finding moneylines.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, live betting refers to bets you make while the game is going on.

The odds change based on what’s happening on the field, and these plays can provide tremendous value if you’re able to make your bet at the right time.

When it comes to the preseason:
I’m a huge fan of the live betting play because comebacks happen with unparalleled consistency. The reality of the situation is that teams don’t really care if they end up winning the game. The best you can hope for is that players perform well without getting hurt, so nobody’s putting their body on the line to stop that fourth-quarter touchdown from happening.

If you’re able to make a live bet on a preseason game, your money should almost always be on the team that is losing at the time. Now, it should be noted that these bets are all about the odds – in my opinion, it’s not worth it to bet on the team that’s winning at the time you make the bet – the risk isn’t worth the reward.

Please Note:
Occasionally, first-teamers will get some work in during the first quarter of a game, although typically their services are only utilized for a drive or two.

The personnel that plays out the rest of the game are likely not going to see much playing time throughout the regular season, so you can expect them to play a bit harder than the starters. I’m not going to suggest that you should try to research how good each team’s backups are, which is why I’m saying that any time you can find plus-money odds, you should take advantage.

4. When in Doubt, Take the Points

Similar to the philosophy that suggests taking the moneyline underdog is the smart move, the same idea applies to the point spread: go with the dog. As I mentioned previously, preseason games are essentially a coin flip in terms of whether or not the favorite will win or lose.

With that in mind, why wouldn’t you take the side that’s getting points?

I’m already a fan of betting the underdog – even during the regular season – because the public has a bias toward favorites. The online sportsbooks are relying on the public to take favorites, and are mindful of this when they set opening lines.

In the regular season:
A good team is going to beat a bad team…sometimes in a blowout. Although blowouts still do occur in the preseason, it’s anyone’s guess as to who will be the winner of the rout.

The bottom line here is that you don’t have anything to lose by choosing the underdog, and you have the benefit of getting a few points added to the team’s total which will do nothing but help you come out on top.

5. Follow Experts

The majority of sports bettors just don’t have the discipline (or inclination) to sit down and spend an hour evaluating a preseason matchup as it pertains to the odds. Luckily, there are a few who can consider handicapping their ‘day job’ and so they have the time to look at these matchups in depth.

Finding a site with a gambling analyst you trust can be the only tool you need in order to profit off the preseason. I hate to give the advice of, “just follow what someone else does,” but in this situation I think it’s safe to say they’ll know better than you do when it comes to a preseason matchup.

At the very least, you should try to read through a few articles and see why the writer thinks a certain side is the better play. Gathering as much information as possible is the key to becoming a winning bettor…and this even applies to the preseason, too.


If nothing else, betting on the preseason gives you a little warm-up for when the games actually count.

In fact:
If you’re able to nail down a real strategy that’s tailored to the preseason specifically, you might even have a few extra dollars to play with come September. At the end of the day, handicapping preseason games involves the same type of research and search for value as any other type of sports bet.

Even with all the variables, the basics stay the same. With that in mind, there’s only one question to ask: are you ready for some football?


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Rex Hoffman / Author

Rex Hoffman is a passionate sports writer, with over five years of experience covering sports journalism in line with the Vegas betting landscape. His favorite subjects include football, basketball, and baseball. As a Las Vegas resident, he enjoys finding an edge against the local sportsbooks and aims to share his extensive knowledge with both beginners and experienced bettors. Rex also dabbles in horse racing wagering and enjoys typical casino fare like blackjack and poker in his spare time.

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