It happens every August, and it always puts a smile on my face. I casually mention the point spread of an NFL preseason game and then eagerly await what follows. Sometimes it is dead silence. Occasionally it is a chuckle. Mostly it is a glare. Welcome to professional sports betting.
The Hall of Fame game between the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens marks the start of what wiseguys consider the best stretch to make money on professional football. Yes, you read that correctly. That means more than the NFL regular season, and sometimes even college football.
"A lot of people think the preseason is a complete crapshoot," professional bettor Ron Boyles told ESPN. "I don't think there's too many things better, actually."
That's the thing with Vegas sharps. There's no style points to be had -- all tickets cash the same. Just find an advantage.
"A lot of people would say the same thing about betting WNBA or even tennis," professional bettor Preston Johnson told ESPN. "If there is an edge to be had, it's usually the professionals to take advantage of an opportunity."
Finding that opportunity requires a unique and thorough commitment. How long will starters play? Will a backup quarterback play with the first-string offensive line? Professional bettors scour news outlets and beat-writer Twitter feeds with the hopes of uncovering a valuable nugget.
It is also impossible to ignore glaring statistics and trends. Mike Zimmer has won 14 of 17 preseason games as a head coach. Pete Carroll is 34-14-1 against the preseason point spread, while John Harbaugh has covered nine straight, according to OddsShark.
"The best thing is finding out a team that is game-planning against a team that is not," Boyles said. "It is just like free money, and I like to bet the first half."
Wise guys can also play the role of amateur psychologist. Coaches on the hot seat tend to seek out wins. Last summer, following a 1-15 campaign in 2016, Hue Jackson and the Cleveland Browns won all four preseason games, before going winless in the 2017 regular season.
Sportsbooks reduce limits for preseason games to about $2,000, whereas they will routinely welcome five-figure bets during the regular season. Ed Salmons, the head NFL oddsmaker at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, revealed that about 80 percent of the sportsbook's preseason handle comes from professionals, while they represent only 20 percent of the regular-season handle.
"The preseason is absolutely more beatable than the regular season," Salmons said. "You have teams playing more starting talent against lineups with no talent, and there's a huge advantage. You just have to find the information."
But all wise guys are hunting the same prey, and the lines will move with the action much faster than they do during the regular season. With lower limits and so much uncertainty, sportsbooks demonstrate the utmost respect to a professional's bet and adjust the odds. Point spreads can change by as many as five points in a soft preseason market.
"If you get the information, you have to bet it immediately," Boyles said. "The sharp guys find it and the line will move."
Johnson says he will wager twice as much money on a preseason game than a regular-season game.
"You can get +3.5 on a team that you feel should be a favorite, but that never happens in the regular season. So if the edges are bigger, you should be betting bigger, too."
So, think twice before judging that friend sweating out third-stringers this month. The pros all know it's where the money is made.