A Guide to NFL Prop Bets and Football Propositions

NFL coin tossProposition betting has existed for a long time – since back in the 1870’s when bookies would accept wagers from baseball stadiums on the results of each pitch and at bat. In 1960, a man named David Threlfall convinced William Hill to give him 1000-1 that a man would step foot on the moon that decade. Although proposition existed for many years prior, the man most credited with bringing them to football betting is the late, great Sonny Reizner. In the early 1980’s he created parlay cards that included NFL props and offered them from the Hole on the Wall Sports Book he managed; this was located inside Castaways Casino Hotel which stood center Las Vegas Strip until it was replaced by The Mirage in 1987.

NFL proposition bets are still offered at many Las Vegas Sports Books. In fact, at the Las Vegas Hilton football props are almost as popular as any of the other types of football wager. For the most part though, today the internet is where football prop bets are most frequently placed. At www.bovada.lv all nationally televised night games for US sports (ex: Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football) offer live prop betting opportunities. As you watch the game you can bet on the results of each play, series or drive as well as other unique propositions. While this is certainly exciting and unique, most prop bets are placed prior to the game starting and there are dozens of online sportsbooks that offer NFL prop bets.

Best NFL Prop Betting Sites

All reputable online sportsbooks are great for NFL prop betting the Sunday and Monday night games as well the playoffs and Super Bowl. When it comes to finding propositions bets for each and every game of the NFL season – there are three sportsbooks I know offering this.

#1 Bet365 – Even though they don’t accept US players, Bet365 is hands down the market leader for NFL prop betting. For each and every game of the NFL season they offer no fewer than 38 propositions and for the night games it’s not uncommon to find 60-70 NFL props. With far too many to cover here, I encourage you to visit www.bet365.com to view their line up with your own eyes.

#2 Bookmakerwww.bookmaker.eu is the number one site that accepts US players, offers NFL prop bets for all games of the season, and has live betting where you can make prop bets in real time while watching the game on TV. Their prematch offers available for all games include:

  • Which Team Will Score First?
  • Will There Be a Score in the First 7:30?
  • Will The First Score be a Touchdown?
  • Will The Team That Scores First Win the Game?
  • Will Either Team Score 3 Unanswered Times?
  • Will There Be A Score in the Last 2 Minutes of the First Half?

Those six football propositions are the ones guaranteed to be on offer for all NFL games. For nationally televised games you’ll find far more on hand, and also keep in mind via their live betting interface NFL props exist for the results of every drive, series and play.

#3 Intertops – Here the offers are quite unique. For example most every betting site offers the prop “will the first score of the game be a TD or a FG/Safety?” Intertops doesn’t offer this, what they instead offer is a six-way market where you can name the first scoring team and whether that score will be a TD, FG or Safety. Also most betting sites offer the proposition will there be a score in the first 7:30 seconds of the game? Intertops offers this with 6:59 instead of 7:30 used as the timer. Another unique feature is mystical matchups; this pits two teams not playing one another together with a point spread. How many points each team scores in the game they’re actually playing that week is used to decide the mystical matchup result. To view these and other props offered, visit their website.

Keep in mind Bet365, Bookmaker and Intertops get the nod due to being the only online sportsbooks that offer NFL propositions on every game of the season. When it comes to Sunday Night and Monday Night football there are many sites with even better value, for example bovada.lv and betonline.ag offer outstanding value on televised games.

Prop Betting Strategy

There are certain propositions that are mere chance. For example, will the coin toss be heads or tails? heads -105 / tails -105; this is a proposition that has negative expected value (-EV) no matter which side you choose. To address the critics: the NFL uses a coin that weighs equal on each side and physics behind coin flipping are not enough to overcome the 2.38% advantage. The first rule to prop betting strategy is avoid bets that no matter how much you study them, you can’t win.

The next thing to understand about prop betting is there a tons of ways, whether intentional or not, that the bookmaker can cheat you. One example is a prop bet made on which team will be penalized first? You bet Team A, the first penalty is called on team B which is declined. Note that this team hasn’t been penalized (it was declined). Next penalty is called on Team A. Considering the wording of this prop bet and the fact declined penalties do not appear in official NFL stats your bet should win; I’ve seen this graded the other way numerous times. Prop bets that have any ambiguous wording, or any possibility for multiple interpretations, should be avoided because disputes are frequent; one year there was actually a dispute about whether the shirt Kim Kardashian wore to the Super Bowl was brown or black.

Many Football Props are Beatable

Once you move past all the sucker bets and the bets where you could be freerolled by interpretation, a ton of value can be found. Props are a small market the bookmaker handicaps and prices using simple math. They then keep the limits small say $50 to $300 maximum and adjust the odds as they accept bets. Many online sportsbooks (and even Hilton in Las Vegas on the B&M side of things) have gone on record, stating they routinely lose money on football propositions. The reason is these are novelty wagers meant to keep people showing up, or keep players funding their accounts. Many bookmakers take millions of dollars in wagers on the point spread of each and every game, and take just a few thousand on a given prop. For them close enough is good enough – and as a result the smaller limit professional can make decent money analyzing and shopping props. Chances are you spend more than 10 minutes on a given prop; you’ll have analyzed it FAR more than the oddsmaker has.

How to Learn Prop Betting?

Don’t expect to find too many professional punters willing to give you the ins and outs of every proposition bet on the board. Each prop is a small market and those best at handicapping and pricing props are unlikely to help a competitor; teaching you to handicap and price means one more person to potentially beat them to the punch. If you’re going to beat props you’re going to need to be sharp and learn through trial error until you determine how the odds are set. I will however walk you through a given prop to show you how my thought process works.

Handicapping and Pricing a Specific Prop

Although this example will be outdated by the time you read this, the basic math is still the same. At the time I’m writing this article the Week 13 Thursday Night Game is about 10 hours away and features the Eagles -3 @ Seahawks +3. A prop I expect to find offered at online sportsbooks is over/under on total passing yards for Tavaris Jackson. In order to price this prop I went to his stats page and found he’s played 10 games this season and is average 206.5 yards passing per game.

In order to know if this statistic is usable I search his box scores and see he’s passed for 197, 159, 171, 319, 166, 323, 221, 217, 148 and 144. I need to now take a look at the 319 week; here he played Atlanta and I see this was a heroic come back where Atlanta nearly blew a 20 point second half lead to hang on 30-28. I then check the 323 and this was a game he didn’t start (due to injury) came in during the second quarter and playing from behind was forced to pass constantly. Upon further look at his stats I see his median passing yards is about 184 per game, so his average is inflated. I also lean on the fact he’s went considerably under that total the last two games and this is more the result of injury concerns than a fluke.

The next thing I do is check how many passing yards the Eagles are allowing per game. Here I find they are giving up 234 yards passing per game. I also look and see the league average is 230.6 yards per game. The correct math here is (QB yards) * (defense’s passing yards allowed / league average passing yards allowed), so in this case 184*(234/230.6)= 187 yards expected. Now I suspect because bookmakers are lazy when it comes to pricing props they mostly likely priced this one using his average yards which were 206.5, so I’m expecting to see 206.5*(234/230.60) = 209.5 for this game. The next thing to look at quickly is the point spread. Here the Eagles are favored by 3 points, so this isn’t a major concern. In games with high point spreads the favorite is likely to have less than their average passing yards and the underdog more than average passing yards. I then the look at the total and see it’s 43.5 and this is close to league average as well.

Factors giving me a bias towards the under: 1) Tavaris Jackson has not been performing well as of late. 2) Tavaris Jackson has a much higher average passing yards than median passing yards. 3) Tavaris Jackson is injured – if he doesn’t start the wager is a push, if he does start and then comes out the game it has action and is even more likely to go under.

My next step is to stop shop dozens of sites looking for any prop bet with a 10% or larger advantage. I’m expecting these exist because already familiar with how bookmakers price this prop, I’m excepting them to cap it at 209.5, but I’m capping this at 187 with a lean on the under. At this point if I can find under 202, which I probably will, I’ll wager it. Shopping the odds this is what I found:

  • Bet365: o220.5 +100 / u220.5 -140
  • Bovada: o205.5 -115 u205.5 -115
  • 5Dimes: *unique* o209.5 -120 / u209.5 -110

At this stage no one else has lines on this exact prop. The first thing I can tell you right away is Bet365 is giving me the worse odds here because 11.5 difference only moves the line from -110 to -129. The next decision: Bovada is offering Tavaris Jackson over/under odds, where 5Dimes is offering Seattle QB passing yards. This is an interesting choice because on one hand if Tavaris comes into the game and then leaves due to injury my wager at Bovada stands; but if he doesn’t play it is voided. There’s a slim, but also realistic chance, he might not play in which case I get Charlie Whitehurst who has never passed for even close to 209 yards in an NFL game. I’m going to start with under 209.5 @ 5Dimes here. Disappointingly so, I just discovered 5Dimes has a $100.00 maximum bet on this prop. So I bet it, line moved to -120, bet it again and it moved to -130, bet it again and now at -150 I pass on betting anymore and quickly head to the next site. My next move was Bovada which I hit up for $300.00 max (which was allowed in one shot), and finally I made a $150 wager on Bet365’s line; I now have $750.00 total action.

What you need to understand here is many years ago I had no clue the math behind prop betting, I store blankly at odds for years trying to reverse engineer how bookmakers priced specific props. Once I learn how the bookmaker is setting the line everything else was easy; I now know in advanced whether there is going to be value or not. I don’t get it correct all the time, because like the bookmaker I’m lazy too; with props I can afford to be because there are hundreds available and spending too much time on any given one, causes me to miss several others where a large edge can be found.

So you now have my thought process and the formula to price one particular prop, for another read my article on derivative betting, where I break down the simple but powerful prop which team will score first. Finally, if you enjoyed this article perhaps you’ll enjoy others linked from our hub that covers helpful football tips to maximize wins.

Author & Professional: Jim Griffin
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