Sunday, March 02, 2008

Betting Preseason NFL; NFLX Sports Handicapping

The great Emmitt Smith did a commercial in which he said that championships are won in the preseason.  Of course I found it ironic that in said year he missed the entire preseason and the first two games of the regular schedule before leading Dallas to the Super Bowl.  But I digress. The thrust is that handicappers have a whole heap to win in the preseason as well.

I am exceedingly sure that you have heard it and percentages say that you have uttered it as well. When I first began handicapping I espoused the costly naivety too. 

The fallacy is that nobody in their right mind would try to foretell preseason battles.  The belief is that there are too many unknown factors to consider, too many nameless and faceless Division II players on each side of the ball who will be getting their only taste of the show for a few plays or series of downs.

True the argument behind this deduction is certainly based on fact, but the conclusion in not only untrue, but very much the contrary. 

The reality is that smart players realize that such mentioned disadvantages actually apply to the oddsmaker and not the gambler.  With the proliferation of offshore sportsbooks and the competitiveness leading to sportsbooks posting advanced lines earlier and earlier, the advantage continues to swing more and more towards the player, well at least to the wise player. 

Preseason lines are made now a week in advance.  After the first week, so often once both opponents have completed their preceding contest, a line is posted as rapidly as possible for the upcoming week.

The truthfulness is that the linesmakers have to deal with a lot more uncertainty that the bettor does.  Of course lines do adjust—sometimes over adjust based on this information and the public responding to it, but the sportsbooks are still limited in exactly how much they can move the lines or they would get destroyed by line shoppers and "middle" players.  "Bette Middlers" is what my cohort OC Dooley likes to call them.

Hometown newspapers are a Godsend for handicapping preseason football.  Rarely is there a game in which coaches will not give out accurate information on quarterback and key player rotations as well as injuries.  It is not remotely uncommon to find out because of injuries and other reasons that a team for example may be without four of their top six offensive linemen or many analogous situations. 

As a general rule of thumb both offensive and defensive schemes are pretty vanilla in the exhibition games (apologies to the late Mr. Rozelle, that's what they are).  But yet when teams have a new head coach or new coordinator or a lot of new players projected to play key positions often coaches will throw in more stunts, blitzes, etc.

But because the purpose is for the players to learn a system and not to catch their opponent off-guard, such game plan is almost never kept secret.  However rarely in preseason do coaches actually prepare for their opponent. Thus when research uncovers that one team is working on some more sophisticated packages, while the opponent  is going to keep it straightforward, the big plus goes to team planning on mixing it up.

There are eternal issues that affects how critically each team approaches a particular preseason game, such as new systems on both or either side of the ball, the number of established veterans on each team who will only play some token downs merely for timing and getting in shape, the number of positions and roster spots up for grabs, individual coaches philosophies on how to approach a preseason game.  The inventory really never ends.

But so often the coaches and key players own comments will give strong insight into whether or not there is an enormous dichotomy in how each team is approaching a forthcoming game.  Inevitably a coach especially one of a young or perennially losing team will flat out state something to the effect, "We need to instill a winning attitude and habit early.  We want to enter the regular season with some wins under our belt."  Not-so-uncommon annotations like that set off sirens at GodsTips, anchor of   

The Dallas Cowboys for years were one of the great preseason go-against plays, especially during the "Triplets" era of Irvin, Smith and Aikman because most of the key starting positions were already etched in stone.  Whether or not Jimmy Johnson or Barry Switzer was the coach, the Cowboys played future Arena Football players using the most basic schemes. 

Read those newspapers and you will find that on any given preseason weekend, there will be several matchups in which one team will be play key members longer than their opponent or that one team because of injuries and precautions will be much more shorthanded at kickoff than their foe.

It is always important to keep a close eye on teams whose first and second string players were on one side of a dominating performance.  So often such will effect how much work the key players will get the following week.  If a veteran first unit outscored their foe 14-0 one week, there is a good chance that they be given little work the next week.  But do not assume this to be the case.  Hometown newspapers leave little to speculation by printing coaches' answers to the obvious questions. 

It is a pretty good general rule of thumb that teams off of humiliating losses will come out with vengeance the following week.  But there is a reason that I qualified such statement with "pretty good" and "general".  Final scores can be deceptive in any and all sports but such is the case even more so in preseason football.

If a team loses 28-7 but the first and second teams were outscored 21-0, while the mop-up guys played evenly, it is a huge difference than if it were visa versa.  The third and fourth stringers if totally outplayed are digging ditches and contacting the Barcelona Dragons.  But if it were the primary players who were humiliated, they are the ones who have a fire lit under them. 

It is much more important to look at how the respective top two units played than the actual final score.  However one must very much take into account all the extenuating factors involved entering the game, as illustrated above.  Perhaps a teams top two units were shorthanded against an opponent who used complicated schemes breaking in new systems.  But I do love betting on teams whose first and second units got a good ole fashioned no-excuses butt whipping to rebound accordingly.

One has to though find that fine line between going with all of the above factors and being mindful of line moves. This is particularly so with the public jumping on the same side that you are.

I honestly can not give a definitive scientific explanation of exactly how my handicapping has been complimented so well by line moves, other than to know that it defies any laws of probability. But somewhere there is a congruency amongst my handicapping techniques, the opening line and public perception that affects the line moves.

I can with full honesty say that in preseason just as I do during the regular season, I win a lot more than I lose.  However so many times if early in the week I pencil side A as a play only to have the public bet side A so much that the line moves enough to scare me off of the game, only to have side B cover both ends of the line move.  Somehow there is a complimentary congruency in my handicapping that increases my winning percentage even further. 

But all factors equal, I very much like going against preseason line moves of 2' or more points. When those moves are not justified by the factors outlined about, I often make selections based about 85% on unjustified line, moves.  But line moves that I deem justified more times than not results in a no-play.

The modus operandi that applies in the regular season and postseason handicapping are completely different than that of the preseason.  Once a talented handicapper realizes that, he has taken first step towards a nice regular season bankroll. But after that, it still takes research, research, research…

Duffy's plays are part of the Dream Team at GodsTips, the anchor of .  He is perhaps the most published and respected author on sports gambling theory and has been featured as a regular guest as the handicapping expert on the Rick Ballou Show on Sporting News Radio. His Wise Guy Plays are widely respected as the biggest play in the handicapping abyss. 

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