The 2023 NFL season is fast approaching, with off-season training camps well underway. We've seen a talented new draft class and some shock trades that could turn the league on its head. It's all to play for this year, and in September we'll start to get a good look at which teams could steal the show and which teams could fall down the ranks.
If you're as impatient as me, you may be looking in the sportsbooks already. As the season approaches, I'll certainly be making some futures bets and spread bets on my favourite teams. But even before then, there are plenty of opportunities to place your bets on preseason football.
NFL Preseason Betting Tips
The NFL preseason is a very different game from the NFL regular season. If you want to beat the bookies you need to take on an entirely new approach to your wagers. This means tracking every player trade, watching the draft, checking in on coaching staff changes and much more. If you can keep a close enough eye on all the team and player information you can find that all-important edge against the NFL preseason odds.
Bet the Underdogs
It seems that the bookmakers know surprisingly little about preseason matchups...
According to Odds Shark, if you bet the underdog in every preseason game dating all the way back to 1995, you'd be in the money. The underdogs have beaten the odds 53.7% of the time in the last 18 years and have even gone 58-49-4 against the spread across the last 3 seasons.
This seems to make sense, as the best teams tend to sit their star players in preseason, while teams with younger rosters often give their players the chance to shine. This could include top draft picks and new trades. More importantly, teams that struggled in the previous year will use the preseason to see how their gameplay will measure up against opponents, while the top dogs will take it easy.
With that being said, the sportsbooks still manage to get the odds wrong more often than not. So, if you like an underdog bet, the preseason is the perfect time!
Watch the News
No, I'm not talking about CNN. I'm talking about trade news, player bans, contract extensions, free agents, injuries, coaching changes, roster depth and the game schedule too. Using all of the information at your disposal to inform your wagers is key to finding success when betting on the NFL.
Looking at the historical performance of a team, their tendencies, strategies, and trends over time, are all far less important for the preseason. Instead, focusing on injury updates, the evolution of rosters, and the starting players (as well as their game participation duration) is much more crucial.
Bet on the Coaches not the Players
Preseason victories often come down to the coaches more than the players. Some head coaches take winning in the preseason much more seriously than others and it shows when we take a look at the stats.
John Harbaugh is a coach well-known for his dedication to winning, especially in the preseason. With an impressive record of 37 wins and 15 losses (a 71.1% success rate) in the preseason, and an incredible 12-1 record for first week matchups, it's clear that Harbaugh takes the exhibition games very seriously.
Meanwhile, Bill Belichick wins just 50% of his preseason games, despite being the most successful coach in New England Patriots history and 3rd all time in head coach wins. Belichick's roster has always been capable of winning, so this record could indicate that he's not too focused on bringing home the W in the preseason.
If you're not familiar with this concept, to put it simply - large action on one side of the line can move the line for a given market. This is a way for the betting site to attract more bets and minimise their risk at the same time.
If there's an influx of bets on one side of the line, the bookmakers will alter the odds to create more balance on the spreadsheet. They do this by giving a more favourable line for the side that has seen less action, and worsening the line for the side that has attracted the money.
So, if you notice the numbers in a point spread bet getting higher over time (ie, more points between the teams), it means the majority of money is being placed on the favourite. And if the numbers are getting lower, the majority of the money is going on the underdog.
This is where the concept of a 'steam move' or 'chasing steam' comes into play.
A steam move is when you notice a shift in the line, indicating that big bettors favour one side heavily over the other. Line movements are often based on some knowledge that 'sharp bettors' have gained from their sources.
Once you spot the change, you can perform a steam move by finding a sportsbook that is yet to follow suit and alter their line, meaning you can place a bet at the original, more favourable odds and cash in on the bookies being out of sync.
If you keep a close eye on our Live Odds Comparison, you'll be able to spot easily and quickly where the spread has moved from the opening line and where your best opportunity lies.
Preseason wagers often have lower limits to stop big movements from happening, but if you keep an eye out you can often catch the line changes early.
Our NFL Preseason Picks
Let's be honest, it's far too early to be making any calls about the preseason, but we're going to do it anyway. With all the off-season trades and the fresh talent that came into the league this year, there are a few teams that will be looking to make a big impression early on...
New York Jets vs Cleveland Browns
The Jets will be kicking the preseason off against the Cleveland Browns with Game 1 on Thursday 3rd August.
Although we may not see Rodgers take too many snaps, Zach Wilson is a young QB who could shine against the Browns defense, especially if they choose to start some second and third-string guys.
The Jets have plenty of young talent on their roster from Breece Hall - who will be returning from injury this season and looking to get back on the turf - to Garret Wilson - New York's star WR who is entering his second year in the league and will want to form a good connection with new QB Aaron Rodgers before they get into the real action, where many pundits are predicting a trip to the Super Bowl for NY.
Meanwhile, the Browns have a very similar roster to last season, so they may not be quite as worried as New York about testing out shiny new players.
What's more? The Jets are listed as the underdogs, and we all know how that goes in the preseason...
Our pick: New York Jets to win (+100) at DraftKings.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Following a great finish last year and an incredible offseason, there are very high hopes for the Steelers. Mike Tomlin has led the squad to consecutive 9-win seasons and is expected to improve with their first third-place schedule since 2012.
Pittsburgh is yet another team playing a young offense, with second-year QB Kenny Pickett at the helm, who's backed up by a tough defense with serious depth in the roster. After having perhaps the best draft in 2023, they picked up some top talent in OT Broderick Jones, CB Joey Porter Jr., IDL Keeanu Benton and TE Darnell Washington. Tomlin will likely be looking to field most, if not all of his new talent to see how they fare in a real game scenario, putting them in a good position for off-season matchups.
Meanwhile the Bucs are expected to struggle after the retirement of Tom Brady. They picked up Baker Mayfield in the offseason, but early clips of training camp don't paint a promising picture for Tampa Bay's offense. Their best selection from the 2023 Draft Class was DT Calijah Kancey, who could make an impact in the matchup, but I don't expect their defense to outweigh the inconsistencies of Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask.
Our pick: Pittsburgh Steelers to win
Houston Texans vs New England Patriots
As we already know, Bill Belichick doesn't seem to take the preseason too seriously with his 50% win record, despite being one of most successful coaches in NFL history. This bodes very well for a Texans side that has a lot to prove this year.
After going 1-13-2 last season, Houston added a hoard of young talent to their roster in the draft. They took QB C.J Stroud and Edge WIll Anderson Jr. with the second and third-overall selections, who are both set to have a huge impact in their first year in the league.
New head coach DeMeco Ryans will lead the Texans in 2023 and as all new coaches do, he will be looking to make a big impression in the preseason run.
As for New England, Mac Jones has already established himself as a strong starter for the squad, while back-up Bailey Zappe will likely take on most of the preseason reps. On top of that, the Pats didn't pick up much in the draft besides CB Christian Gonzales, with 9 of their 12 picks falling beyond the top 100.
All of this points to a Texans win in their matchup on August 10th 2023.
Our pick: Houston Texans to win
So, there you have it. Our best tips for preseason betting, along with some of our favourites wagers for a few of the preseason matchups.