The realm of NFL preseason betting on sharps, not degenerates

The days of being called crazy or degenerate for betting on NFL preseason games should be long gone. But they are not.

“I always get faces in the back room when I say, ‘The NFL starts next week.’ They’ll say, ‘Not until September,’ said longtime Westgate SuperBook bettor Ed Salmons. ‘People look at you like, ‘How do you bet that thing? But I’ve loved preseason for as long as I remember.

“For the most part, it’s been a steady source of income over the years.”

The Raiders are 1½-point favorites over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Thursday’s NFL preseason opener at the annual Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio.

There’s a reason most sportsbooks have limits of just $2,000 or $3,000 on the NFL preseason, compared to $20,000 in the regular season. And it’s not because bettors are losing a lot of money.

Pre-season is largely the domain of professional bettors, who generally find more upside than in the regular season.

“In preseason, you’re probably looking for 80-90 percent net money,” Salmons said. “They bet on any line difference and pre-season lines can move seven points. That’s why the limits are what they are.

“The public really fears the pre-season.”

ride the crows

Coaches and quarterbacks are the biggest keys to cashing in on preseason tickets. In general, it’s wise to support teams with quarterback competitions and coaches who want to win, including those in their first year with a team.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh clearly made winning a priority in the preseason. Baltimore has gone undefeated the past five preseasons and is riding an NFL-record 20-game preseason winning streak and an 18-1-1 ATS streak.

When the Ravens opened as 3-point home favorites against the Titans in their preseason opener on Aug. 11, Salmons bet on them. The line is now -4 at Caesars Sportsbook and -4½ at Westgate.

“It’s an automatic bet,” he said. “You bet the Ravens until they say they don’t care anymore. They’ve just been a machine built to win preseason games with their quarterback rotation.

Baltimore’s QB depth roster is Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley, Brett Hundley and Anthony Brown.

“You have to understand quarterback rotations,” Salmons said. “Some teams are good in the preseason because their third-string quarterback can play and the other team’s third-stringer can’t.”

Carolina in the lead

Professional sports bettor Jeff Whitelaw and Salmons both said Carolina could be a team to back behind former starters Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold.

“With both guys competing for the starting position, they feel like they’ve got a little more playing time than normal,” Whitelaw said. “You basically get two starting quarterbacks and they’re both motivated.

“And when the two quarterbacks are there, they won’t leave them unprotected, so the (starting) offensive line will be a little more present.”

Don’t sleep in Seattle

The Salmon can see a similar scenario play out on the Seahawks, where Geno Smith and Drew Lock are vying for the starting position.

“If you want to give them everyone a fair chance, that means you have to use the front offensive line,” he said. “It’s just a question of whether they’re actually going to do it or not.

“Find out all the information you can get. Look for a coach to say anything about winning matches. Or if there’s a new coach who wants to come out and prove something. The coaches are huge.

Fading McVay

On the other hand, look to bet against managers who clearly don’t care about winning in pre-season. Rams coach Sean McVay tops that list after sitting his starters for the fourth straight preseason last year while going 0-3.

“They just don’t care,” Salmons said. “And they won the Super Bowl, so I don’t expect them to change their approach.”

Contact journalist Todd Dewey at [email protected] Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.