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Betting Totals in the Preseason:

   by Ben Burns - 07/30/2008

Successful NFL bettors understand that there is a significant difference between handicapping preseason football games and handicapping regular season ones. During the regular season, with so much importance attached to each and every game, coaches adopt a "win at all costs" mentality. However, those same coaches typically have vastly different objectives during the preseason. While some coaches emphasize winning preseason games more than others, all of them want to give their starters enough time to shake off the rust from the offseason while at the same time avoiding injury. Additionally, the coaches want and need to evaluate the second and third-stringers. The difference in coaches' goals means that non-starters typically receive plenty of playing time in the preseason. This is particularly true of Week 1, when stars generally only play for a series or two, or sometimes not at all. These non-starters have often only practiced the various offensive and defensive schemes for a few weeks. Naturally, this has a major impact on the game and it's eventual outcome. This week, I'll be focusing on the final scores of preseason games from the past couple of seasons, breaking those scores down from a week by week standpoint. For the purposes of this article, I've included the "Hall of Fame Game" as part of Week 1 of the preseason.

Most coaches and players will agree that it's harder to learn the offensive schemes than it is the defensive ones. New quarterbacks have a ton to learn. They need to adjust to the faster speed of the game, while learning to read the defenses under pressure. Receivers need to learn routes and develop chemistry with quarterbacks, whom they may not have played with before. Meanwhile, the offensive linemen need to coordinate blocking against potential blitzes, while trying to work themselves into game shape. The effect of this is that defenses are often ahead of the offenses in the preseason, particularly in the first couple of weeks. Therefore, as one would expect, scores of preseason games tend to be lower than scores in the regular season.

Oddsmakers are well aware that preseason scores are lower. As a result, adjustments are made and over/under lines are also lower. However, for the first several years of this millennium, those numbers weren't adjusted quite enough, as roughly 55% of the preseason games from 2000-2006 fell below the total. As someone who typically plays more 'unders' than 'overs,' this six year 'under' trend suited me just fine. All good things must come to an end though and the oddsmakers and markets eventually adjusted accordingly. Week 1 of the 2006 preseason saw the 'under' go a profitable 12-4-1. The following three weeks were almost exactly even though, with the 'under' going 24-23-1. The 2007 preseason also got off to a mildly profitable start for 'under' bettors. Excluding one game which landed right on the number, nine of 16 game fell below the number. The 'over' bounced back in a big way in the second and third weeks though. Despite 11 of the 16 Week 4 games staying below the total, the 'over' held a slight 33-30-3 advantage for the four weeks combined.

As I've already mentioned, coaches have different goals in the summer than they do in the fall. Those objectives also vary with each individual week of the preseason. The starters see more playing time in Week 2, than they do in the opening week. In Week 3, the starters see their most playing time, often the entire first half or longer. Different coaches have different philosophies about the final week of the preseason. Sometimes, the way they handle Week 4 is dependant on how their team performed the previous week. If everything went relatively smoothly in Week 3, the starters typically see very little playing time in the preseason finale. However, a new coach on a team that is winless, or which struggled in Week 3, may elect to give his starters more playing time in Week 4. The reason for this being that they'd like to "right the ship" before the "real thing" kicks-off in September. Regardless, starters almost always see the most playing time in Week 3.

Due to each week of the preseason being treated so differently, it's imperative to also handicap each week differently. This holds true for both 'sides' and 'totals.' Beneath, I've broken down the final scores, on a week by week basis, from the previous three (2005-2007) preseasons. In addition to providing the average scores from each week, I've also noted how many of the games fell above, below and on the key numbers of 34 and 37. One might hypothesize that Week 3 would be the highest-scoring, as that's when the starters see the most playing time. Interestingly, over the three years of the case study, that didn't prove to be the case. In fact, Week 2 was by far the highest-scoring. Week 3 came next, followed by Week 4. Not surprisingly, the opening week saw the fewest point scored.

Week 1

From 2005-2007, the final combined scores of the Week 1 games averaged just 33.4 points.

2005

Thanks in part to a pair of extremely high-scoring games from "Hall of Fame Week," (Hall of Fame Game + a game at Tokyo) 2005 saw the highest average of the three year period, with it's Week 1 games averaging 37.88 points. Ten of 18 games stayed below the key number of 37 with one game landing right on 37. Nine games finished above 34 though with two games landing directly on that number.

2006

The opening week of the 2006 preseason was an extremely low-scoring one. In fact, the 17 games averaged just 31.94 points. Not surprisingly, the 'under' was a profitable 12-4-1. Thirteen games produced less than 37 points while 10 games fell below the 34 mark. On game landed directly on 34.

2007

Last preseason, the Week 1 games averaged 33.47 points. Eleven games fell below the 37 mark, while 10 of them produced less than 34 points.

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Week 2

From 2005-2007, the final combined scores of the Week 2 games averaged 40.15 points.

2005

The Week 2 games in 2005 produced an average of exactly 41 points. Three of the 16 games landed directly on the key number of 34 with 11 of the games finishing above that mark. One game finished with 37 points with nine finishing with more than 37.

2006

The 16 games played in Week 2 of the 2006 preseason produced an average of 36.88 points. Half of the games finished above 34 points while the other half finished below that mark. One game landed directly on the key number of 37 with nine games staying beneath that mark.

2007

Of the 12 weeks analyzed in this study, the second week of the 2007 proved to be the highest scoring. The games averaged a whopping 42.56 points. Twelve of 16 games produced greater than 34 points while 11 of the games finished above the 37 mark. One game landed directly on 37. Note that the 'over' was a profitable 12-4.

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Week 3

From 2005-2007, the final combined scores of the Week 3 games averaged 37.31 points.

2005

Despite a couple of high-scoring games which bumped up the average, the 16 games played in Week 3 of the preseason averaged only 35.44 points. Eleven games stayed below the key number of 37 while 10 of them produced less than 34.

2006

Week 3 of the 2006 preseason saw the 16 games average 35.19 points. Half finished below 34 points and the other half finished above that mark. Two games landed directly on the key number of 37 with eight of the games producing less than that amount.

2007

The 'over' was 9-6-1 in Week 3 last preseason, as the games produced an average of 41.31 points. Ten of 16 games produced more than 34 points with one landing right on that number. Nine of 16 games finished with greater than 37 combined points, once again with one game falling directly on that number.

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Week 4

From 2005-2007, the final combined scores of the Week 4 games averaged 34.94 points.

2005

The final week of the 2005 preseason proved to be relatively high-scoring with the 16 games averaging 40.19 points. Twelve finished with more than 34 points while 11 finished above the 37 mark. One game landed directly on 37.

2006

The final week of the 2006 preseason produced an average of 34.63 points. Eight of the 16 games produced less than 37 combined points with the same eight games also finishing below the 34 mark. Four games finished with exactly 37 combined points.

2007

Of the 12 weeks analyzed, Week 4 of the 2007 preseason proved to be the lowest-scoring. In fact, the 16 games averaged a mere 30 points with the 'under' going a profitable 11-5. Eleven games finished below 37 points with one producing exactly 37. The same 11 games also all finished with less than 34.

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