The Denver Broncos, trailing 10-7, drove deep into Atlanta Falcons territory late in the fourth quarter of the Hall of Fame game Thursday night. Hundreds of thousands of dollars -- much of it from professional bettors -- was at stake.
By kickoff, more money had been bet on the NFL preseason opener than had been wagered on some of the day's major league baseball games at sportsbooks around the nation.
At Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, the NFL game attracted more money from bettors than baseball games between the Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves, and Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians. The SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas had more money riding on the football game than three of the six night baseball games.
A spokesman for FanDuel's sportsbook in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania said more individual pregame bets were made on the NFL game than were made on the typical baseball game, while the handle (amount wagered) was similar.
"The masses don't normally get fully involved with the exhibition games," said Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading for William Hill U.S. "The average Joe doesn't even know who is playing. It's glorified tryouts."
However, while the betting public isn't always interested in NFL preseason, the smart money is.
During the regular season, the amount of money bet by the public dwarfs the amount wagered by professional bettors. At some sportsbooks, public bettors are responsible for 90% or more of the money wagered on a typical regular-season game. That's not the case in preseason, though.
Bookmakers say professional bettors often account for 50-70% of the money bet on a preseason game.
"The handle is pretty sharp-concentrated on straight bets on the NFL preseason," said John Murray, sportsbook director at the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas.
Influential bets on the Hall of Fame game moved the point spread several points across the market. The Broncos went from 1-point underdogs to 2.5-point favorites at some sportsbooks.
Because of the increased concentration of sharp action in the preseason, Las Vegas sports bettor Preston Johnson says the line movement on an exhibition game is more "trustworthy."
"That move on Denver is pretty legitimate and hasn't moved back any," Johnson, a betting analyst for ESPN, said before Thursday's game kicked off. "It peaked at 2.5 and stayed at 2.5. I think that's telling."
The Broncos turned a fourth-quarter interception into a game-winning drive, covering the spread in a 14-10 victory. They scored the winning touchdown on a tipped pass from third-string rookie quarterback Brett Rypien to sixth-round draft pick Juwann Winfree on fourth down with 1:26 to play.
The Falcons have failed to cover the spread in their last 11 preseason games. They've lost last their last nine straight up.
Odds and ends: NFL preseason betting market
• According to sports data site TeamRankings.com, the spread margin -- the difference between the closing line and margin of victory -- has been slightly lower in preseason games (9.2) than in the regular season (9.55) over the past three years.
• The spread margin was highest in Week 4 of the preseason, when games on average were decided by 10.57 points of the margin of victory. Week 3 had the lowest spread margin at 8.42.
• The total margin -- the difference between the closing over/under and the total points scored -- also was tighter over the last three preseasons (9.94) compared to the regular-season games (10.53) during that time.
• The total margin is highest in Week 4 of the preseason. Closing totals on Week 4 preseason games over the previous three years were off by 11.52 points.
• Betting limits on NFL preseason games often are 10-20% of what they are on regular-season games. Limits for Thursday's Broncos-Falcons game ranged from $1,000 to $5,000 at various sportsbooks.
• Jeff Stoneback, director of trading for the Mirage sportsbook in Las Vegas, said he couldn't recall ever taking a six-figure wager on an NFL preseason game but says some VIP casino guests will request extended limits and place bets in the $20,000 to $30,000 range.
• According to sports betting database Betlabsports.com, the betting favorites have won 58.7% of preseason games over the past 15 years. During that same span, betting favorites during the regular season won 59.7% of games.
• Over the past 15 preseasons, 51.4% of games stayed under the total.
Statistical data from ESPN Stats and Information and sports betting site Oddshark.com was used in this article.