Welcome to the NFL preseason crapshoot.
NJ online sports betting customers received their first taste of NFL wagering on the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, and New York Jets, this week.
What they found was an odds board reflecting the notion that preseason is another word for parity. Eight games had spreads of two points or less, including those involving the Giants, Jets, and Eagles.
The Eagles wavered between + 1 and -1 at DraftKings Sportsbook before losing 24 -16 to the Pittsburgh Steelers Thursday, while the Giants are +2 against the Jets on Saturday.
Quarterback Daniel Jones won’t play for the Giants. Jets quarterback Zach Wilson will reportedly play two series.
Gamblers know that light bets are most advisable unless they sense an edge.
But even light feels right.
This is the climate of anticipation, as preseason winds gamblers toward the September season openers.
Why does betting on the Eagles, or any other NFL team, produce the sense of a 50-50-coin flip?
Why NFL preseason betting is a crapshoot
Look at the tight over-under board.
It’s so unpredictable that sportsbooks must set betting limits to prevent a “wiseguy” from whaling them on a big wager, which may come from an advanced hunch.
The games fit a narrow scoring range, as coaches are more concerned with reps and a high volume of plays rather than one big play.
None of the over-under odds for preseason Week 1 at DraftKings exceeded 40 points on Friday morning. Most were in the 35-point neighborhood and the Eagles-Pittsburgh Steelers went off at 36.5.
The difference across the entire board was perhaps five points from the perceived lowest and highest-scoring games.
That pales to the 10–15-point swing, sometimes 20, from the lowest to highest-scoring NFL game-total odds during the regular season.
It’s even more unpredictable this year because there was no preseason last year. And because there are three games, this season, not four. That’s unchartered territory.
The chalk against … the chalk
The Eagles and Steelers were both favored from a moneyline perspective at DraftKings.
The Steelers were -115 on the moneyline, while the Eagles were -105. You can’t load up on a dog when there isn’t one.
The total Eagles points scored was projected at 17.5, meanwhile, and it was right in the ballpark.
What about the point spreads?
Two games were a pick ’em, six more had lines of two points or less under a field goal, and a total of 10 games had a betting line of a field goal or less this weekend.
Moneyline bets are good, but that could be it. Gone for the most part are alternate lines, the foundation of tease-parlay tandems that help gamblers create an edge at reduced betting odds.
Books like DraftKings, Caesars, BetMGM, and FanDuel can’t put up yardage and scoring props with confidence. There are some tweaks, like BetMGM -120 as the best price on the Jets, but books are keeping it simple.
A board dominated with prices between +100 to -120?
That’s a capital C version of Crapshoot and an indication that even the books think these games are too tough to call.
Playing time is a big NFL preseason betting factor
Who plays and how long?
The starters see limited action. Why would teams risk injury to key players, when intra-squad scrimmages can nearly capture the same level of urgency?
Philadelphia’s first preseason game was an evaluation venue for quarterbacks Jalen Hurts, Joe Flacco, and Nick Mullens. The games may decide who is first off the bench behind Hurts for the Eagles.
Based on Game 1, that will be Flacco, who is a South Jersey native.
Hurts and Flacco played well, Mullens was bad. The Birds had a 16-7 halftime lead that disappeared.
Nine different receivers caught passes for the Eagles.
Quez Watkins had a 79-yard catch-and-run from a screen pass in the first quarter. Hard to say you had an inkling about that with a straight face.
The Eagles visit the New England Patriots in their next preseason game on Aug. 19.
Other potential takeaways: someone changing uniforms may have a lot to prove.
Dwayne Haskins, who was let go by the Washington Football Team last season, battles Mason Rudolph for the backup spot behind Ben Roethlisberger for Pittsburgh.
Haskins had the best stats Thursday night, going 16-22 with 161 yards and a touchdown.
The Steelers are 2-0 in the preseason and Haskins is making a point to the coaching staff. That could be a betting angle moving forward.
Giants, Jets, taking no chances
In the meantime, here is the New York Giants’ plan.
Coach Joe Judge wants to use the first preseason game to see as many players on the lower half of his roster as possible. That will help him make roster cuts next week.
It’s hard to bet using his evaluation process.
Ultimately, Judge expects the starters to play a full half in the final preseason game, Aug. 29 against the New England Patriots. That game may have some betting sizzle.
The Jets’ picture is less clear. Just expect Wilson to be eased into the fray.
How NFL preseason times have changed
A Giants-Jets preseason matchup brings the changing nature of the NFL preseason to mind.
Fifty years ago (August of 1971), the Jets brought Joe Namath into the preseason opener after he had suffered a season-ending injury the year before. He was promptly hurt in that preseason game, missed most of the season and the Jets missed the playoffs.
Contrast that with Joe Burrow, the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback lost for the season much of last year with a torn ACL. He has a Namath-type impact on rejuvenating a bad Bengals team. And he will wisely sit for the preseason opener against Tampa Bay. Burrow may miss most of the preseason.
The Giants, meanwhile, sit their QB and use this game to evaluate talent. But they once fired a coach, Allie Sherman, because he’d been embarrassed by the Jets, 37-14, in an exhibition game.
The Jets had just won a Super Bowl and they humiliated their cross-town rivals.
As the NFL goes to a three-game preseason slate, meanwhile, some fans will remember that from 1970 to 1977, it was six.
The G-Men were 6-0 in the 1973 preseason.
And then they went 2-11-1 when it counted.
AP Photo/Chris Szagola