NFL Preseason Handicapping Basics–Part 11: Preseason ‘Revenge’ Strategies


Based on all that we’ve discussed concerning preseason NFL football betting it would appear unlikely that ‘revenge’ is a valid handicapping concept. It’s overvalued in regular season NFL and college games (along with all other betting sports for that matter) so there’s no way that you could do anything with it in the NFL Preseason right? Surprisingly enough, there are a few situations where ‘revenge’ (or something like it) can be a worthwhile handicapping component.

Recreational bettors have a very myopic concept of ‘revenge’. The general concept is that a team that loses to a specific opponent in a previous game will have greater ‘motivation’ to get ‘revenge’ for that loss. A variation on this theme is ‘home loss revenge’ where a team that loses at home will want to return the favor next time they play in the winning team’s venue. The reality is that it just doesn’t work that way, at least not to the degree that recreational players believe. Losing games is a part of sports and while no athlete enjoys it on balance it doesn’t create any specific animus toward the teams that beat them.

This isn’t to say that teams can’t improve tactically in the second meeting with a team that beat them in a previous matchup. In fact, this is a very effective handicapping strategy. Teams that lose a game—and especially in a rout—can go back, review film and figure out what went wrong. The winning team is often content with their performance and is vulnerable to this sort of tactical improvement from an opponent. This is especially true in situations where a team has lost twice previously in a season to an opponent—for example, a NFL team that plays a home and home series with a rival during the regular season and then catches them in the playoffs.

Another misconception is that any type of ‘bad blood’ between teams will manifest itself in a more intense, focused effort. This fallacy is most often observed in the more ‘physical’ sports like football and hockey. More often than not, whatever is ‘issue’ that caused a brawl, fight or ejection in the previous game is a non-issue. Part of this is just human nature in a long season. In some cases, the league office will call officials and/or coaches to give them the word that they better keep things on the up and up.

But enough about what doesn’t work (though we’ll return to a more in-depth discussion of regular season revenge in a future article). What does work in the preseason? Here’s a few situations that have been effective in the past:


One situation that has been effective historically in preseason NFL betting is to play ON teams that lost twice to their opponent in the previous season. While this might seem like an obvious case of ‘revenge’ it usually is more along the lines of the ‘tactical improvement’ we talked about above. A dominant team doesn’t care about a preseason game against a team they’ve handled easily in the past. The less successful team will focus more, even if it’s on a subconscious level. Sometimes a coach might prioritize such a game for a losing team if he thinks it might help bring about a ‘culture of winning’. At the very least, he might hope that a strong showing in an exhibition game will make the opponent less intimidating during the regular season. Whatever the reason behind it, this situation has been a very effective pointspread performer in the past decade.


A ‘one sided rivalry’ is when a game matters a lot to the less successful team but matters little, if at all, to the other team. You see this a lot in college sports. For example, when Coastal Carolina plays the University of South Carolina in college basketball it’s a huge deal to the smaller school but just another preseason game to the bigger school. In the NFL, the more frequently the teams are compared to one another the stronger the situation. In NFL preseason play, the most enduring of this type of play is the annual preseason game between the New York Jets and New York Giants. The Jets have long been perceived as the ‘poor cousin’ to the Giants which makes this game a bigger deal (at least among fans) than the garden variety NFL preseason game. That’s at least part of the reason why the Jets have historically been so strong in this game.


This is one of those situations that shouldn’t work but it does. In theory, you’d think that NFL teams would know that beating a team that eliminated them from the playoffs the previous year doesn’t matter in August. You’d think this, but for some reason the team that lost the playoff game is invariably a strong play. This is even stronger if the teams met in the NFC or AFC Championship or Super Bowl.