February 2005

Sports picksFebruary 1, 2005


NFL Preseason Picks – How to make the best predictions
Preseason NFL Picks: How to bet the preseason
(updated for 2012)

NFL preseason picks

  • 31% ROI with 60% winning seasons in NFL preseason
  • How to make money betting the NFL preseason
  • Analyzing coaches, team depth and gameplans
  • The role of statistics in betting the preseason
Football picks

Can money be made on NFL preseason picks? Absolutely. I have won 60% of the time (six of ten seasons), with $100 players making $3,115 in profit – a 31% growth in bankroll.

Can handicappers approach the preseason the same way they do in the regular season? Of course not. Should you bet the NFL preseason? That's up to you.

Why is the preseason different? For one, power ratings don't mean a thing. Past season performance doesn't correlate much to preseason performance either. And, there are few if any past games to look at that provide any true predictive value.

That being said, there are some indicators of ATS (against the spread) results in the preseason. In fact, the same issues that make these games more difficult to handicap make them more difficult for lines-makers to peg. Remember, it doesn’t take much of an edge – if we can beat 52.4% with our picks, we bank!

In 2002, I went 4-1-1 ATS in the preseason. In 2003, I went 9-6 ATS, in 2004, I went 11-9-1 ATS and in 2005 I was an incredible 20-8 in the "games that don't matter." I took a step back in 2006 going 13-14 but bounced back in a huge way in 2007, going 12-6 for +19.3 units. In 2008, I won again, going 17-12 for +8.0 units. I have produced small losing seasons in 2009-2011. In 2012 but my NFL preseason bankroll remains 31% higher than when we started. Overall, I've hit 56% (144-114) for +31.1 units ($5,357 for $100 players) in the lifetime of my preseason NFL picks.

nfl preseason picks

I make my preseason picks by analyzing the following:

Do they take the preseason seriously or use it for its intended purpose (to test out players and new schemes)? For example, take a look at the recently retired Bill Parcells. His focus on making every play count, whether in a real game or practice, and his disciplined approach has resulted in his team covering the spread in roughly two thirds of the preseason games he has coached. The retired Marv Levy of Buffalo was just the opposite and was a great "go-against" preseason coach. I track every coach's record and look for signals as to how they approach these games. Keep an eye on Jack Del Rio. In five seasons with Jacksonville, he has gone 17-7 with three 3-1 campaigns, a 4-0 year, and no losing years, indicating he takes the preseason seriously. On the flip side, Andy Reid, has only won 36% of his preseason games in Philly.

Be careful, however, about blindly betting "good" coach vs. "poor" coach. Over the past five years, "good" coaches (50%+ preseason ATS record) were 51% ATS while "poor" coaches (<50% preseason ATS) were 44% ATS. There is a difference, but it isn't huge. Further analysis is required to uncover more predictive trends. For example, put that "poor" coach in a favorite position and he'll cover only about a third of the time. Find another trend or two to combine with that and we have a very good bet.

Finally, what about coaching motivation? For many years, "new" NFL coaches did very well. The theory was that they have more to prove and more to play for than experienced vets who are secure in their jobs. In 2002, the four "new" head coaches went 11-5 (69%) ATS. In the 2003 preseason, the five head coaches who were new to their team went 12-8 (60%) against-the-spread. But in 2004, new head coaches went only 13-15 ATS. In 2005, they bounced back, going 8-3 ATS. But then from 2006 to 2009, new coaches compiled a very lackluster 54-59 ATS mark. I continue to watch this trend every year. I look for new head coaches in certain situations where they have an advantage vs. playing them blindly.

Team Depth
Backups play more than starters and some teams' backups are better than other teams' starters. Look for situations in which starters will be playing against backups. Teams with veteran starters who are not fighting for their job will tend to play these starters very little in the preseason. Look for teams with a couple of good players fighting for the same job. These players will get extra playing time as coaches try to determine the starter. Also look for teams with great backups, especially at quarterback. Some teams’ second or third-string quarterbacks could start for other teams. When they get to play against their opponent’s second or third-stringers, they’ll rack up the yards – and the points.

Game Plan
Coaches often announce their intentions for upcoming games. Sometimes they are looking to give a specific player a lot of playing time and other times they are just looking to get out of there as quickly as possible without any injuries. Sometimes after several weak preseason performances, coaches challenge their teams to show something before the regular season starts and meaningless game becomes meaningful.

Preseason Historical Systems and Trends
It is true that some simple older popular trends (bet on a team in its second preseason game if its opponent is playing its first) are no longer predictive (this one is <50% over the past six years). However, there remain very good predictive trends/systems for the preseason. For example, dogs of over 7 points do very well, especially when facing a team off a win. I track and apply over 150 preseason situations and trends when making my picks.

Keep these items in mind when handicapping the NFL preseason. I utilize a system that takes all of these variables into account on my preseason picks.

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Football picksFebruary 1, 2005


2005 NFL AFC Preview & Forecast
Pro Football

Who will make it to the playoffs in the AFC? Using a Super Computer, the StatShark simulation engine has played all regular season games 10,000 times each. Because quality of teams varies greatly within and between conferences, the best NFL teams are not necessarily the ones with the best odds of making the playoffs. StatShark’s value is in showing how a team’s performance within their conference and division translates to play-off contention.

During each simulated season the super computer has tabulated the number of times that each team made the playoffs either as a division winner or as a wild-card. In the event of a tie StatShark reviews the record the tying teams had vs. each other and their conference records. In a small number of cases the tie-breaker rules were inconclusive. StatShark has also tabulated the number of victories each team had in each simulation. The second table below shows the exact probability that each team has of winning anywhere from 16 victories down to 0 victories.



Forecast Data Provided by: StatShark


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STATSHARK ANALYST: This team excels in both tangible areas and the intangibles. While they lost long-time assistant coaches, the system and players remain and there is no doubt that this team is positioned for another run at the Super Bowl.
SPORTS DOG:They face some tough competition this year so don’t be shocked if their win total drops a tad from last year. New England is a good team that plays great. Chalk it up to Belichick or team chemistry or whatever you want.

STATSHARK ANALYST: A solid division contender whose chances for Playoff success could hinge on whether Curtis Martin can not only come close to last year’s performance, but also stay healthy (quality backup Lamont Jordan is in OAK). In simulations where Curtis Martin was injured the NY Jets odds of winning the division or making the Playoffs plunged.
SPORTS DOG:The Jets look poised to make a move this year although they will have their hands full trying to unseat division champ New England. A healthy Pennington will help but a big key this year is if Curtis Martin can still carry the load.

STATSHARK ANALYST: While JP Losman is an untested QB, the team’s strengths (defense, rushing) provide Buffalo with a 10% chance of winning the division. If this team were in the NFC they would probably be the 3rd or 4th best team in the conference.
SPORTS DOG:A good mix of talent and depth but always missing a few key pieces. Bledsoe clearly wasn’t the answer but he didn’t get a lot of help in pass protection either. Drew knows sacks better than a clerk at the local market.

STATSHARK ANALYST: StatShark has not included Ricky Williams in the Miami simulations because the terms of his return are not finalized. Even if he returns and plays significantly, do not expect Miami’s season forecast to change very much. Scoring and handicapping lines will be impacted, but not overall post-season performance.
SPORTS DOG: Miami is going to have a rough time all year. Their defense is nothing like what it once was and their offense. Well. Never mind.


STATSHARK ANALYST: Not surprisingly, this Pro-Bowl laden team is at the top of the Division given StatShark’s emphasis on tangible performance. Last year they were without a legit #1 or #2 WR suffered injuries / suspensions to Jamal Lewis and Todd Heap. With these healthy returns and the addition of WRs Derrick Mason, and Mark Clayton Baltimore is poised to take this Division, even without tremendous improvement by Kyle Boller.
SPORTS DOG:Will the real Kyle Boller please stand up. The Ravens are gearing their entire offensive scheme around the abilities of Boller. That would either payoff in spades or if Kyle fails to produce, make for a very frustrating season. The Ravens have proven they can run the ball but without a solid passing attack to balance it out, they could be in trouble. The acquisition of free agents like Mason and the healthy return of Heap should give Kyle the weapons he needs to succeed.

STATSHARK ANALYST: Their #2 finish in Division Winner % is not due to any decline in performance, but more reflective of the additions Baltimore made. Ultimately, expect a neck and neck race with the winner of the Division depending on head-to-head performance.
SPORTS DOG:The Steelers look poised make the Play-Offs. Last year was certainly well above expectations but I am not sure they can repeat last year’s Cinderella story. Look for them to be in the hunt at the end of the season but slightly below last year’s results.

STATSHARK ANALYST: An improving team whose upside (possibility of winning more than their average of 8) is bigger than their downside. StatShark expects steady improvement from Carson Palmer. Rapid improvement could take this team to the next level and create a 3 team race for the Division.
SPORTS DOG:Year three of Marvin Lewis has the Bengals full of hope. I swear I have written this before. Several times before. Will this season be different’ Hard for me to buy in on improvement when Cincy still has among the worst ownership in the league. Yet, a strong rushing game and burgeoning passing attack with Johnson and Johnson give the hope some credence.

STATSHARK ANALYST: Frankly surprised by their winning 0.8% of simulated seasons. That’s almost a 100 to 1 shot.
SPORTS DOG: Tough team to call, not in terms of whether they will win or lose (they will lose, a lot), but whether they will keep games close and beat the point spread. Not sure how a great new coach, Romeo Crennell, can possibly turn this team around by himself when you have injuries to Kellen Winslow, Trent Dilfer starting, and your three best players all playing the same position (RB Lee Suggs, Reuben Droughns, William Green).


STATSHARK ANALYST: High power offense that shows no signs of letting up. Even if Peyton Manning “only” throws for 40 TDs this team should cruise to a Division win.
SPORTS DOG:It doesn’t look like anyone can stop Indy from breezing into a division title. The only thing that remains is if Indy can secure a bye and home field advantage. Both are highly probably with their only tests being New England and San Diego. Once they hit the playoffs, that’s a whole other story all together.

STATSHARK ANALYST: Slight favorite for #2 position. By pre-season’s end, StatShark will carefully assess if Norm Chow institutes radically different offensive schemes than currently anticipated. Player statistics can be impacted, by radical changes, but do not expect significant improvement to the team’s chances of qualifying for the Play-Offs.
SPORTS DOG:Steve McNair is aging and watching Volek over his shoulder. Emerging running star Brown should provide a boost to the offense but the loss of Mason will hurt.

STATSHARK ANALYST: David Carr has made steady improvement every year and it will be most interesting to see if his comp% continues to improve as his int% goes down. Even with overall team improvement it is hard to envision how this team could win more than 8 games in the competitive AFC.
SPORTS DOG:Since entering the league, the Texans have not been able to put all the pieces together. Dom Capers was brought in after electrifying the Panthers quickly but he has not been able to repeat that success. A defensive genius, he has not been able to overcome a lack of talent on either side of the ball. Davis proves again that he can carry the load but an inconstant Carr and so-so receivers make Houston primed to be a close disappointment yet again.

STATSHARK ANALYST: Tremendous parity in this division when excluding front-runner, Indianapolis. It will be tough for the team to meet last year’s 9-7 record.
SPORTS DOG: I know that you will find this hard to believe but Fred Taylor is injured! I really thought he had put that behind him since he finally put together back to back injury-free seasons. The defense is not as good as experts were claiming half way through last season and they don’t put points on the board. A “poor man’s” Baltimore Ravens equals a below average team.


STATSHARK ANALYST: Statistically one of the best teams – great running system, potent passing, and a top rated defense. For whatever reason, they flop against IND in the Play-Offs. The fact that the team doesn’t live up to tangible expectations is why 2-time super bowl winning coach, Mike Shanahan, is on the hot seat.
SPORTS DOG:Not unlike Charlie Brown waiting for the Great Pumpkin; I am still waiting for Jake Plummer to be the 2nd coming of Joe Montana as predicted by Bill Walsh. Waiting. Jake has the tool and the talent but get under his skin and he’ll heave up picks at key times over and over again.

STATSHARK ANALYST: The team came out of nowhere last year, but it was not like several years ago when the Chicago Bears went 13 and 3. This team has real talent and even though they have a tough schedule, they have a good chance at winning the AFC West and a better chance of qualifying for the Post-Season.
SPORTS DOG:I admit it. It’s hard for me to get on the Charger bandwagon. This season will be a true litmus test of their level. A harder schedule should have the Bolts winning a few less games then last year. The Rosetta stone to their season is games against New England, Pittsburgh and Philly in a four week stretch and two of those games are on the road. If the Chargers can pull two of those three games, I’ll be a believer.

STATSHARK ANALYST: Injuries and early bad breaks led to a bad season last year. The team has all the offensive weapons for winning 9+ games and competing for the Play-Offs.
SPORTS DOG:Can anybody say Defense? Another off-season brings another round of free agents and draft picks, all signed to help shore up one of the most porous defenses around. Last year started off hopeful on the D-side of the ball but ended up right where they were before. Will this year be different?

STATSHARK ANALYST: The thing that Oakland fans will have to accept is that Randy Moss could play well, Kerry Collins could be better, yet the team could still finish with a dismal record. The Division and the AFC as a whole is filled with teams that run the ball well and it’s not clear how Moss could help Oakland stop the run.
SPORTS DOG: Commitment to Social Security. The Raiders never ending stream of aging veterans has worked just enough to give Al “just win baby” Davis to think this is a good strategy. Certainly the acquisition of Moss will be an improvement and if any team can deal with his attitude, it’s the Raiders.


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