Coaching is Key in NFL Preseason Betting

NFL Aug 15, 2021

In the previous article, we examined some of the factors worth consideration when betting the NFL preseason.  We also refuted the myth that NFL preseason games are a crapshoot.  Fact is, NFL preseason games are every bit as intriguing as well as potentially lucrative as regular season games.


Head coaching is the most important factor when handicapping the preseason.  It's essential to know which coaches want to win and which coaches don't care. Frankly, this is why the early games provide excellent opportunities for smart handicappers.  After all, coaches and players always want to win the the regular season.  So, there's no edge.  But imagine a slate of game where one team care about the outcome versus a team that doesn't.  See, that's why these August games are so tempting.

Pete Carroll likes to win in the preseason.

The most successful coaches in the preseason against the spread since 2005 are Brian Flores (Miami Dolphins, 4-0), Jon Gruden (Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Bucs, Las Vegas Raiders, 18-8-2), John Harbaugh (Baltimore Ravens, 33-15-1), Mike Zimmer (Minnesota Vikings, 17-8) and Pete Carroll (NY Jets, Seattle Seahawks, 25-14-1).

The least successful coaches in the preseason against the spread since 2005 are Mike Vrabel (Tennessee Titans, 2-6), Andy Reid (Philadelphia Eagles, 29-35-1), and Bill Belichick (New England Patriots, 28-32).

Here's a look at ALL coaches and their records by season.  For coaches with lengthy careers, note they sometimes change their motivation in preseason.  For instance, Sean Payton (Saints) was a good preseason bet earlier in his career (21-15 first 8 seasons) but more recently doesn't seem to care as much about winning (7-13 the last five seasons).  Also note the streakiness of Mike Tomlin and his Steelers teams in preseason:  (SOURCE HERE)

With some exceptions, note that – as reflected in the preseason records of Reid and Belichick, teams that dominate in the regular season and postseason usually don’t perform as well in the preseason.  Why?

One explanation is that these winning franchises tend to have depth charts mostly determined ahead of Week 1.  So, they play it safe in the preseason to stay healthy, while the teams who fared poorly the season prior have much more to figure out. However, let's be careful with Belichick this season since he doesn't have the talent of the great teams of the past.  So, this must all be taken with a giant grain of salt.

Conversely, many of the players on “bad teams” are looking to rise up the depth chart during preseason play. The first- and second-stringers are also likely to take more snaps, compared to those on “good teams.”

Andy Reid: Great regular season coach, but not to good in preseason.

It's also worth noting the records of new head coaches, that is coaches who were hired in the past offseason.

Entering 2021, there are seven first-year coaches – including Urban Meyer (Jaguars), Brandon Staley (Chargers), Arthur Smith (Falcons), Nick Sirianni (Eagles), Dan Campbell (Lions), David Culley (Texans) and Robert Saleh (Jets).

Typically, new head coaches want to establish a winning attitude and inspire confidence early.  In many cases, they've waited a lifetime for a chance to coach in the NFL, so when they get their first stint on the sidelines, they want to make the most of the opportunity.  There are exceptions, of course.  But while the lack of head coaching experience is usually a liability in the regular season, it's often a bonus during the preseason – especially for bettors.