Betting on the NFL preseason isn’t for the faint of heart, but there are edges out there for those willing to do the research. This article will discuss the best process for finding winning wagers in the NFL preseason and identify some best practices for research. In addition, there will be a handful of best bets for Week 1 of the NFL preseason.
NFL Preseason Betting Tips
When you’re looking to place bets on the NFL preseason, the number one priority is figuring out which teams will be playing their starters and for how long. The best way to find this information is by following beat writers, scouring Twitter, or doing Google searches to see what you can find.
For example, Sean Payton has been vocal that the Broncos will be playing their starters in the preseason this year after Nathaniel Hackett, last year’s head coach, let the starters rest. On the other hand, Kevin O’Connell rested his starters for essentially the entire preseason last year and is poised to do the same.
Coaching in general is huge in the preseason when we’re watching backups and third-stringers on the field. In this article, I’ll reference ATS trends for coaches in the preseason that I found at Action Network. These trends help fill in the picture as to which coaches prioritize the preseason.
The following is a list of a few more things I prioritize when betting on the NFL preseason:
- Teams with quarterback battles – these teams will be more incentivized to play their starters in the preseason
- Backup quarterbacks with rushing upside – this helps the offense tremendously as the quarterback doesn’t have to rely on backup and third-string skill players as much
- Don’t worry about key numbers as much in the NFL preseason – lines aren’t as efficient so the marginal differences in the spread aren’t as important
With all that being said, add in your own hunches and opinions when betting on the NFL preseason. While it shouldn’t be something you’re risking your whole bankroll on, there’s money to be made in preseason markets given the lower betting limits and the less efficient lines. Let’s see if we can find some winners.
Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks
Kevin O’Connell, head coach of the Vikings and former offensive coordinator for the Rams, comes from the Sean McVay school of thought – he doesn’t play starters in the preseason. O’Connell prioritized “keeping starters healthy by not playing in preseason games” last year, and he went 0-3 SU and ATS as a result.
Pete Carroll, meanwhile, has been profitable in the preseason throughout his coaching career. Last year was an anomaly as the Seahawks went 0-3 in the preseason – Carroll is 26-20 straight up and 26-19-1 ATS (57%) all-time in the preseason.
While I don’t expect that we’ll see much Geno Smith in this game, we also won’t see any Kirk Cousins, and I like Seattle’s backup quarterback situation more. Nick Mullens has just four touchdowns to eight interceptions in the preseason in his career.
Drew Lock, meanwhile, has a solid track record with a 62.7% completion rate and seven touchdowns to four interceptions in the preseason. Jaren Hall and Holton Ahlers are both intriguing third-string rookies to keep an eye on.
More importantly, the Seahawks have had among the most draft picks in the NFL over the last two years. After finding a handful of gems in last year’s rookie class, general manager John Schneider seems to have another strong group on his hands. Let’s bet on those first and second-year players and an always energized Carroll to get the win.
Best Bet: Seahawks spread (Bet at-2.5, currently at -4.5)
Green Bay Packers at Cincinnati Bengals
Zac Taylor is a Sean McVay disciple and he has shied away from playing his starters in the preseason. We already know we won’t see Joe Burrow, as he’s working through a calf injury. I expect Daxton Hill and Vonn Bell to get some run as they’re the new starting safety tandem in Lou Anarumo’s defense, but most of the rest of the starters will sit.
Matt LaFleur, meanwhile, is a fellow McVay disciple but is preparing to give new starting quarterback Jordan Love some significant run here. “You can’t give him enough reps,” LaFleur said. “I’m really excited … now it’s going to apply that in a real situation.” Love has seen extensive preseason reps for Green Bay over the last two years.
Aaron Rodgers has long been opposed to any preseason action, saying “I definitely don’t see any benefit to it.” Rodgers didn’t play a single snap for the Packers under LaFleur, but the approach changes now with an inexperienced quarterback under center.
I also have a hunch that LaFleur could shift his strategy a bit. After not playing his starters in either of the last two preseasons, the Packers have struggled in Week 1 losses to the Saints (38-3) and Vikings (23-7). “There’s benefits to going through the mental preparation of getting yourself ready for a game,” LaFleur said last year. Perhaps with Rodgers out the door, the Packers shift their approach and lean into more reps for their young starting lineup.
Best Bet: Packers Spread (Bet at -2.5, currently at -4.5)
Denver Broncos at Arizona Cardinals
Sean Payton has been in the headlines a ton recently after publicly insulting Nathaniel Hackett, last year’s Broncos’ head coach. Payton said it was “one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL.” Payton’s approach will be entirely different, and that includes the preseason – expect the Broncos’ starters to be on the field this year.
“I do know that we’re playing tackle football, and you have to practice tackle football,” Payton said. “We are going to play all of them. In the preseason? Absolutely we are. That’s the preseason.”
The Cardinals, meanwhile, are rolling out first-time head coach Jonathan Gannon and two first-time coordinators, all of whom are 40 years old and younger. It will likely take some time for the schemes and coordination to gel. Gannon said he will determine whether he’s playing starters on a “case-by-case basis.”
The Broncos already have more talent top to bottom than the Cardinals, and they seem to be the more motivated team as Payton looks to make a statement in his first coaching appearance with his new team. While Russell Wilson and the rest of the starters likely won’t play much, we can still bet on Denver to come out strong here.
Best Bet: Denver Broncos spread (Bet at -3.5, currently at -5.5)
New York Jets at Carolina Panthers
The Jets made their preseason debut last week, and it was ugly at times. Despite building a 16-7 lead at halftime, they surrendered 21 points in the second half. Backup quarterbacks Tim Boyle and Chris Streveler completed just 7 of 18 passes combined behind shaky offensive line play. The Panthers have a deep defensive line that can create issues.
For what it’s worth, Matt Ryan played a full quarter for the Colts in Week 1 of the preseason last year, attempting 10 passes, so we might see more of Bryce Young than some expect. General manager Scott Fitterer expressed that he feels he “needs reps.” We will also likely see a lot of second-year quarterback Matt Corral.
Corral missed all of last season but has remained highly motivated through his injury, surgery, and the draft pick of Young. Corral said the preseason games would be “very important” and a great time to “showcase” what he can do, and the Panthers would love to see him play well and boost potential trade value. In his final season at Ole Miss, Corral had 20 touchdowns to just four interceptions, and he possesses rushing upside.
Frank Reich’s dismissal from Indianapolis raised some questions about owner Jim Irsay, and Reich will be hungry for an opportunity to prove himself. I also love the idea of fading the Jets here as the Hard Knocks team is just 21-31 ATS (40.4%) since the 2007 reboot of the show. Look for a young, talented Panthers team to win outright at home here.
Best Bet: Panthers Spread (Bet at +2.5, currently at -3.5)
Philadelphia Eagles at Baltimore Ravens
If you’re looking to bet on the NFL preseason, chances are you’re well aware of the remarkable Ravens’ trends. John Harbaugh has been a preseason covering machine, winning 23 straight games and going a pristine 20-3 ATS (87%) over that span. Overall, he’s 43-12 SU and 38-16-1 ATS (70.4%) as the head coach of the Ravens.
Harbaugh has covered handily in most of those games – in the Ravens’ last 14 preseason games, they’ve won by an average of 14 points and covered nine of the 14 spreads by 10+ points. Perhaps Harbaugh is onto something here as Baltimore has gone 11-4 in 15 Week 1 games since he was hired.
The Ravens also boast strong backup quarterbacks, starting with 2022 Pro Bowler Tyler Huntley. He has been elite in the preseason, completing 76.5% of his passes for 814 yards with 6 touchdowns and just one interception. After him will be Josh Johnson and Anthony Brown, both of whom have strong preseason stats.
Nick Sirianni is 1-4-1 SU and ATS in the preseason as the head coach of the Eagles, and he won’t put any veteran starters at risk in these games. With Baltimore’s added motivation to continue ironing out the new Todd Monken offense, let’s bet on Harbaugh to continue his torrid preseason stretch with a reasonable 3.5-point spread against the Eagles.
Best Bet: Ravens Spread (Bet at -3.5, currently at -6)
San Francisco 49ers at Las Vegas Raiders
The 49ers are one of the teams with a quarterback competition this year, making them an appealing option for a preseason wager. While Brock Purdy is expected to be the Week 1 starter, Trey Lance and Sam Darnold are being given a fair shake in the offseason. Even Brandon Allen is a highly competent fourth quarterback.
Purdy might not play much at all in this game as he’s still recovering from his elbow injury, but I expect we’ll see a fair amount of Lance. The improvement in his mechanics has reportedly been evident in camp and he has the rushing upside we like to see in quarterbacks in the preseason.
Jimmy Garoppolo, meanwhile, is having a rough training camp that peaked with three interceptions on Saturday. The Raiders didn’t play Derek Carr in the preseason at all last year, however, so I don’t expect to see Jimmy G until August. The rest of the Raiders’ quarterback room doesn’t do much to inspire confidence against a deep 49ers defense.
Beyond the quarterback situation favoring the 49ers, I’m also looking to fade Josh McDaniels in the preseason this year. He won all four preseason games last year as he wanted to make a statement as a first-year head coach, but that shouldn’t continue against Kyle Shanahan, who’s 7-3 straight up over the last three preseasons.
Best Bet: 49ers Spread (Bet at -3.5, currently at -3.5)