NFL Preseason Handicapping Basics–Part 1: Don’t Listen To The ‘Squares’


In our previous article we examined preseason football betting in general and suggested a ‘quick and easy’ way to successfully bet NFL exhibition games. Now we’re going to start at the beginning and teach you how to do it right. NFL preseason betting might not be the ‘license to print money’ that it once was but it is still a good opportunity to find line value while at the same time preparing yourself for the long regular season ahead.

We’ll start with a few important rules that will provide a foundation for handicapping and betting preseason football like a pro and devote a separate article to each. Look for additional articles expanding on many of these concepts down the road:


The heading above needs a bit of clarification. There are times when it is wise to listen to the ‘squares’, or ‘public’ recreational bettors. You can do a lot worse than being a ‘contrarian’ and going against the prevailing public opinion. This is particularly true in the NFL due to it’s huge popularity and longstanding relationship with betting and pointspreads (thanks, Jimmy ‘The Greek’). For that reason it’s often a wise idea to listen to ‘squares’ and follow the media outlets where they get their information (ESPN, FoxSports, USA TODAY among others).

Listening to ‘squares’ has some value because you can take that information and do the diametric opposite. What you definitely shouldn’t do is accept anything they say about sports betting theory or practice as having any validity whatsoever. There is a complete disconnect between the ‘public’ perception of sports betting and successful handicappers and the reality. Simply put, the average ‘Joe Six Pack’ is as qualified to discuss serious sports betting concepts as I am to walk into the Boeing factory in Seattle and start rebuilding jet engines.

Specific to the topic at hand, never listen to anything they say about preseason NFL football and particularly betting NFL exhibition action. You’ll hear the same refrain numerous times throughout the preseason—usually from local TV station newscasters or low level members of NFL broadcast teams. Someone will mention the pointspread on a particular game then the two meatheads will discourse at length about the stupidity of betting on ‘games that don’t count’ before dismissing anyone that does wager on NFL exhibition play as a ‘degenerate’. They’ll chortle about it, have a good laugh and then start talking about high school girls’ softball or something of similar irrelevance.


They’re right about one thing—the ‘average guy’ aka the ‘square’ has little interest in betting on preseason games primarily because he’s had his thinking clouded by the know-nothings in the mainstream sports media. You know who does like to bet on NFL preseason action? Guys that live in big houses on golf courses in Las Vegas. ‘Sharp’ sports bettors love preseason football because it’s not only a great opportunity to be a ‘contrarian’ and find value but also because the key to winning NFL exhibition bets is information. And professional sports bettors know how to find, process and assimilate data better than anyone. The ‘public’ doesn’t even know the right criteria to use in order to evaluate these preseason matchups, let alone where to find the actionable information.

As a footnote to this, whenever you hear mainstream sports types or other media outlets that attract ‘public’ recreational bettors make fun of betting on a particular sport or proposition it usually warrants further investigation and research. Case in point—many of the ‘wacky’ Super Bowl proposition bets. The ‘square’ zeitgeist likes to goof on this type of bet because they don’t understand that sports betting is about finding value, not ‘picking winners’. It isn’t a coincidence that many of the ‘sharpest sharps’ ignore the component of the Super Bowl that the general public is fixated on—the side and total—to instead focus on proposition bets. The Lingerie Football League is another—in fact, we’ll talk about Lingerie Football betting very soon since it illustrates an essential point. So keep your eyes and ears open—any time that people outside of the fraternity of serious sports bettors start to ‘goof’ on the notion of wagering on a specific event that’s your cue to dig around a bit and see what you come up with.

There’s an important ‘macro’ reason to not listen to the ‘squares’. If you’re going to become a successful sports bettor you need to learn to trust your opinion and analysis. ‘Squares’ simply can’t do this—they might start out with one opinion on the game and after listening to their buddies, the catch phrase spewing meatheads on ‘SportsCenter’ and the banal chatter on NFL pregame shows they start to experience cognitive dissonance. They’ll often reach the point where they let themselves get ‘talked in’ to betting on the diametric opposite of their original position.

You won’t always be right. But if you don’t start to gain confidence in your ability to interpret and analyze a variety of metrics to make a decision on a bet you’re going to have a hard time of it. If you let yourself get ‘talked out’ of your position on a game by a 3 minute feature on ‘SportsCenter’ you might as well throw your money in the street. The way I’ve always viewed it—I know that I’ve put in the time and effort to come to a deliberate and logical decision. There’s no way of knowing the analysis behind what you hear on TV sports shows, if there is any. When you start to understand that your view on a game can be different—and better—than the mainstream media and general public you’re on your way.