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Get ready for gridiron!

With the National Football League season approaching, Jack Randall gives fans on this side of the pond all the pre-season pointers they need ahead of the big kick-off

Imagine Manchester United are playing Hull City in a pre-season friendly and Sir Alex Ferguson has publicly announced he will not play any regulars because he wishes to use the game as an audition for younger talent.

In the other camp, meanwhile, imagine Hull have pledged to start all their top players following the news that the United coach intends to use the match purely to practice defensive drills and that pushing forward isn’t part of the game plan at all.

Now imagine that knowing all this information, you could still wager on the game.

Believe it or not, this situation actually exists – not in anyone’s imagination, but on odds lists at the start of the NFL pre-season schedule – because punters in North America are so mad about the NFL that demand for pre-season betting eclipses the appetite for other leagues in their entirety.

With that in mind, it should be no surprise that sportsbooks offer lines and totals on all of these matches, albeit only doing so with great trepidation and care.

The nature of the NFL’s pre-season is that coaches readily and regularly discuss their intentions with the media. Some coaches use the games as glorified practices, caring little about the outcome on the scoreboard, while others treat this exhibition schedule as an important jumpstart for the regular season, putting plenty of thought, effort and starter minutes into each match.

It puts far more information in the hands of punters than they would normally have, giving them an important added edge – and it’s the main reason why savvy sports punters can head into the regular season with a fatter bankroll than normal.

Imagine a regular-season Premier League match where the coaches discussed strategy, who would start, who would be substituted at what time and for what reason. Would that not encourage plenty of aggressive wagers based on that information? It does in the NFL, so here are a few other factors to consider when looking at NFL pre-season odds and matchups this season.

SO MUCH INFORMATION…

As mentioned above, every newspaper, every blog, and every team website will have reams of information and quotes from coaches and players. The coach will explain how he intends to use his starters for one series of downs and how the latest Draft Pick will play the rest of the game – no matter how well he performs – because they have just signed him for $50 million.

“This is where you can dig in with some research to learn how the backups perform,” explains OddsShark.com’s NFL betting analyst Rich Crew. “What are their strengths and weaknesses and do they mesh with their new team? Does it bode well for their performance based on the offensive or defensive schemes of the opponent?”

COACH TENDENCIES

From a psychological point of view, not all coaches treat the pre-season equally. For some, it’s a low-stress practice session; a chance to demonstrate new formations or audition new players in new roles. For them, watching specific players is far more important than watching the scoreboard and their pre-season coaching records usually reflect that fact.

In Arizona, coach Ken Whisenhunt has enjoyed three successful seasons with the Cardinals. However he presided over two winless pre-seasons and a third at 2-2 (i.e. 2 wins, 2 losses) for an inglorious 2-10 record.

However, new or first-time coaches often view exhibition games as a chance to validate their hiring and to encourage a culture of winning – first-time coach Jim Schwartz was 3-1 last season for the woeful Detroit Lions. Mind you, that success did not translate to the regular season as the Lions won only two of 16 matches.

Tony Sparano arrived in Miami on the heels of several horrendous seasons for the Dolphins. His team went 7-1 in two NFL pre-seasons and the Dolphins returned instantly to play-off contention. Will his philosophy change in his third pre-season?

Doubters of this theory point to the 0-4 mark posted by Kansas City’s Todd Haley or the 1-3 posted by Oakland boss Tom Cable. Well, miracles don’t always happen and in these cases, the Chiefs and Raiders were so awful that no amount of coaching or effort would produce wins.

In Indianapolis, doubters point to Jim Caldwell’s first season at 1-3. But he is a disciple of former Colts coach Tony Dungy, whose teams were 3-15 in his final four pre-seasons. For emphasis, the Colts are reliable fades in the pre-season, currently riding a 4-18 straight-up (SU) streak.

Mike Tomlin, who replaced legendary Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh, was one coach who got right to work winning pre-season games. He is 10-3 over three seasons getting his Steelers ready for battle.

SKILL LEVEL AND DEPTH

One of the big mistakes novice punters make is to overvalue an injury to a star player. They don’t consider the quality of the backup in that position.

“There are times when a backup player, for various reasons, may actually be a better fit than the starter,” says Crew. “A star player who is making millions may get the start normally, but perhaps he is blocking a talented young player. When the starter gets hurt, all the novice bettors run screaming in the opposite direction while all the experienced punters know that the impact is negligible.”

The same is true in the exhibition schedule. If one team is playing its starters for an entire half against the other team’s backups, it doesn’t automatically produce a rout. The talent disparity between some teams may mean that the backups for one team are actually better than the starters for another.

Again, pay attention to the depth charts and know the personnel. This is an area where fantasy sports fanatics can produce great information and picks because they know the individual players so well.

TEAM TRENDS AND STATS

Just because a team has covered the spread 10 times in a row against their opponents doesn’t necessarily mean they are a ‘lock’ to do it again – but for whatever reason, some of these trends and angles repeat themselves year on year.

Sometimes it is a mathematical aberration. Other times it’s a psychological barrier or unique rivalry situation that cements the trend as a worthwhile wager.

When the Saints visit Foxborough on 12 August, not only will it be a potential Super Bowl preview between defending champions New Orleans and the New England Patriots, it’s also a chance to wonder aloud why the Saints have won six straight pre-season road games and covered the spread each time.

Those same Saints, when you send them back to the Bayou, have covered the spread just four times in 20 pre-season home games!

The next day, Buffalo plays at Washington in Donovan McNabb’s first action with the Redskins after playing his entire career in Philadelphia. The Bills have played nine of their past 11 pre-season road games UNDER the total.

The aforementioned woeful Kansas City Chiefs also play on the road on 13 August at Atlanta and are 1-11 SU and against the spread (ATS) in their last dozen games in that situation. When you look at the Texans-Cardinals game in Arizona on 14 August, do you not see a ‘lock’ with the Texans at 7-1 ATS in their past eight on the road and the Cardinals at 2-7 ATS in their past nine at home?

Pre-season NFL wagering is a unique and interesting opportunity which, if properly handicapped, can produce excellent early wins and profits. What you do with that extra money is best left to one’s imagination.

Article courtesy of international odds feed provider service OddsShark.com

NOTABLE GAME-SPECIFIC PRE-SEASON TRENDS

14 Aug – Tennessee @ Seattle – OVER is 7-1 past 8 Titan pre-season road games while the Seahawks have won 7 straight at home (6-0-1 ATS)

16 Aug – Giants vs. Jets – 8 of the past 9 pre-season meetings played UNDER, while the Giants are 3-12 SU, 3-11-1 ATS past 15 vs. Jets

21 Aug – Jets @ Carolina – Jets 7-2-1 ATS past 10 pre-season games, while Carolina is a bankroll-draining 2-9 SU & ATS past 11 games

21 Aug – Green Bay @ Seattle – OVER is 6-1 past 7 Packers pre-season road games, while the host Seahawks are 11-1-1 ATS past 13 games

27 Aug – Philadelphia @ Kansas City – OVER is 6-1 past 7 Eagles pre-season road games, while the Chiefs lost 6 straight ATS home games in the pre-season

2 Sept – Buffalo @ Detroit – 8 of past 9 pre-season meetings between these teams played UNDER total, while it has been profitable for the visitors lately (road team won 5 straight)

2 Sept – Cincinnati @ Indianapolis – Bengals are 8-0 ATS past 8 pre-season battles, including 5 straight at Indy

2 Sept – Miami @ Dallas – On the surface, this would look like a home win and an OVER. Miami played 9 straight pre-season road OVERs while the Cowboys are 15-2-1 SU past 18 at home.
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