NFL Prop Betting Overview and Strategy

NFL Betting Strategy Course 107

Point spreads, game totals, and straight moneyline wagers are great, but when it comes to betting on the NFL, the list of options extends much further. Proposition bets have become a mainstay of the NFL betting scene. Each year it seems that sportsbooks make an effort to offer more and more props for bettors to peruse and wager on as they please. So, just what is an NFL prop bet? How should you approach betting on NFL proposition offerings at your sportsbook? What are some important tips and strategies to be aware of when attempting to find value amongst a long list of props? Read on for a full breakdown and guide to NFL prop betting.

NFL Prop Betting Overview

Proposition bets are defined as wagers that are made regarding the occurrence or non-occurrence of an event that does not directly affect the game’s outcome. As this definition suggests, prop bets allow bettors to have action on a specific occurrence within a game without necessarily being concerned about the eventual final game score. The following are a few examples of prop bets that might be offered for an NFL game:

  • Over/Under Prop: 300.5 total passing yards for Drew Brees
  • Side Prop: Which team will score first?
  • Yes/No Prop: Will there be a 2-point conversion attempt?

You can also find various prop listings for non-game related events as well. These can involve who will win the starting quarterback job out of training camp for a team, where a player will sign in free agency, and any number of NFL Draft props. The following images are examples of what offerings in each of these categories look like at a sportsbook.

Week 1 Starting QB Prop Bet Example

Free Agent Next Team Prop Bet Example

NFL Draft Prop Bet Example

With so many different types of in-game wagering options, the list of prop bets offered on a single NFL game can go on and on. Typically, player-specific props are designed to offer odds on stat lines for the most noteworthy stars in a game, like the Drew Brees passing yards example shown above. While the sharpest NFL handicappers will certainly know the ins and outs of players up and down a roster, you won’t typically find props listed for the third receiver on a depth chart unless it is a marquee game like the Super Bowl. In fact, both the popularity and growth of the NFL prop bet firmly trace their roots to the Big Game.

History and Origin of NFL Prop Bets

For the origin of Super Bowl and NFL proposition betting, one must go back to Super Bowl XX in 1986. Respective NFL history buffs might remember the 80’s as being dominated by the Chicago Bears and their “Monsters of the Midway” defense. Consistent with that, the ’86 Super Bowl saw the Bears blow out the New England Patriots 46-10. Oddsmakers decided to have a little fun with the game and set a line on Bears’ lineman William “Refrigerator” Perry to score a touchdown. The 15-1 odds proved profitable for those who bet, as Perry rumbled for a score in Chicago’s blowout win. It was then that the Super Bowl prop bet was born, and it has grown into a massive money-maker for sportsbooks.

William Perry

Nowadays, having action on the never-ending list of Super Bowl props is a bigger deal than just betting on the game outcome itself. From hundreds of player-related props to the coin toss and length of the pregame national anthem, bettors can have action on just about every facet of the Super Bowl. While sportsbooks don’t go through the painstaking process of offering as many prop bets on other NFL games throughout the season, the host of exotic offerings available at the Super Bowl does call to light the need to differentiate between two types of props.

Fun vs. Skill Prop Bets

The best way to differentiate between what is a “fun” and “skill” prop is to focus on those of the skill variety. If a prop bet carries with it the opportunity to find a betting edge through research or mathematical modeling, it is deemed a skill prop. Like a standard NFL bet, a skill prop offers bettors to wager with a strong opinion backed by research. Player statistics and game-situation are the most common types of skill props.

Fun prop bets are the alternative. Essentially, you can think of fun props as anything that cannot be bet on with an opinion backed by research. The Super Bowl thrives off of these, including the color of the Gatorade that will be dumped on the winning coach, how many outfit changes the halftime singer will have during the performance and many more. You won’t tend to see too many fun propositional offerings at books throughout the majority of an NFL season. They are primarily unique to the Super Bowl.

NFL Prop Betting Strategy

The art of handicapping prop bets is unlike any other in sports betting. Yet the same basic premise exists. If bettors know which strategies to implement, they will be on their way to finding success. This section covers several important things to keep in mind when venturing into the vast world of NFL prop betting.

Explaining EV and Juice

As with any form of sports betting, the key to a successful and profitable NFL prop betting venture is to find value in the lines. As the bettor, you are searching for opportunities with a positive expected value (+EV). For more on finding value when betting the NFL, CLICK HERE.

To account for betting action and keep their books balanced, oddsmakers attach “juice” to their prop betting lines. For those not familiar with the term, juice refers to the amount charged by the sportsbook for taking a bet from a gambler. If you have placed a moneyline bet before, or even just scrolled through the odds, you have likely seen various amounts of juice, from -135 on a short favorite to as high as -1000 or more on massive favorites.

The greater the juice, the higher the likelihood that side of a betting offering hits. As a result, sportsbooks need to collect more money relative to the payout they will distribute. It is because of juice that betting huge favorites regularly (or at all for that matter) is not a sound betting strategy.

While the same principles apply to prop bets, you won’t often find juiced odds on a prop bet anywhere near -1000. However, you still must be aware of the juice they do have when deciding where your expected value and chances of profitability lie.

Research Player Usage Rates

As previously mentioned, skill prop bets most often deal with specific player outcomes. Therefore, a good tip for those looking to have NFL prop betting action is to study specific player and team trends. How involved is a certain receiver in a team’s offensive game plan? Does the opponent have a strong run defense that could offset a steadily producing running back? Knowing the teams well and applying past outcomes in similar situations to the upcoming matchup you intend to wager on is the best way to find edges on prop offerings.

The following chart shows data for several wide receivers for an NFL season. The key usage rate statistic to note from this table is TAY%, which stands for the % Share of the Team’s Air Yards that the receiver accounted for.

WR Usage Rates

Note that usage is different from actual yardage and touchdown production. Courtland Sutton topped all wideouts in TAY%, but numerous players below him finished with more receiving yards and scores. So while usage is a very good indicator of player production when it comes to looking at prop wagers and gives an idea of the opportunities a player will get throughout a game, it does not guarantee success.

Predict the Game Script

When choosing which prop bets to wager on, you will generally want to envision how the game itself will play out. For instance, if you anticipate one team jumping out to an early lead, this will result in the trailing team needing to throw the ball more as they attempt to preserve the clock and comeback on the scoreboard. This game script would translate to a higher probability of QB passing yards prop going over, and perhaps the team’s top receiver would also have a big day.

Sharp Prop Betting Trends

There is a lot that can be learned from how professional bettors play prop bets as well. Interestingly enough, the old “Pros vs. Joe’s” adage, which refers to a game where sharp and public money oppose each other, can often be even more pronounced on prop bets. The public will often bet on what they want to see happen in a game, which is always going to be more scoring and player achievements. This mentality translates into a lot of “Yes” and “Over” wagers on game props. However, just because you want to see something happen doesn’t mean that it will, or even that there is a good chance it will. As a result, pro bettors tend to be against the public on a lot of props, taking the sides of “No” and “Under”, especially on big games like the Super Bowl that see heavy public betting action. The influx of money from the public can lead to increased value on the opposite side of the bet.

NFL Prop Bet Example

For an example of finding good value on a prop bet, let’s look at an offering from the most recent Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers. The prop in question is over/under 0.5 interceptions thrown by Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes (Better known as will Mahomes throw an interception?) at +105 odds.

While Mahomes had established himself as a generational QB talent prior to winning his first ring in Super Bowl LIV, a sharp bettor was likely willing to bet against Mahomes here. The 49ers had the NFL’s second-best passing defense in terms of adjusted efficiency. The game also figured to be close throughout, meaning the Chiefs would need to throw often, leading to more opportunities for a Mahomes pass to turn into an interception. Add in the bright lights and big stage of the Super Bowl and even the most talented of players can be prone to making a mistake.

Sure enough, Mahomes was picked off not once but twice in the game. By researching the teams, forecasting the game script, and accounting for other aspects of the situation, sharp bettors were likely able to expose the strong value on this prop bet and reap a profit for their efforts.

Benefits of NFL Prop Betting

There are several benefits to prop bet wagering that are not afforded through traditional wagering options. As evidenced in the array of props offered for the Super Bowl, this form of wagering is great for those looking to add an extra layer of entertainment to their sports viewing experience. Prop bets also serve as a great way to introduce new participants to sports betting. Even if the person isn’t a diehard sports fan, cheering for a certain player to score a touchdown or for the coin toss to land a certain way can get anyone excited. Most prop bets are straightforward and easy to understand, making them a great option for the general public that is just interested in having some fun action on a game.

Isolate an Edge

Props offer a huge amount of flexibility, enabling bettors to have action on smaller predictions within games. This ability to isolate a specific opinion or advantage makes prop betting popular among experienced and sharp bettors as well. For an example of this concept, suppose a bettor has a strong lean that Le’Veon Bell will score at least 2 touchdowns in the New York Jets’ next game against an opponent with a weak run defense. However, that same opponent could have a very strong offense that will be able to match the Jets score for score. Without the option of prop betting, the bettor would likely not be able to have action built off of their prediction, unless they wanted to risk wagering on the Jets to win the game. By instead choosing to put money down on a Bell prop of over/under 1.5 touchdowns, the bettor isolates his/her prediction that Bell will be able to have a big day in a strong matchup and doesn’t need to worry about how the Jets’ defense holds up against the opposing offense.

Final Thoughts

The most important thing to remember when looking at wagering on NFL props is to stay smart. While the big money payouts associated with some of the more “fun” prop bets might be intriguing, they have a big-money payout for a reason. Instead of chasing these long shots, focus on improving your knowledge and familiarity of the teams and/or players in question. Determine how the game might play out and look for edges based on research and your intelligence. Be mindful of the juice when weighing the expected value of different wagers. Finally, be sure to maintain healthy bankroll management practices when wagering on props. While the long lists of proposition wagers can be tempting, you still must stick to your means. Remember the rule of thumb to never have more than 10% of your bankroll in play at one time. By following these core guidelines and strategies, you will be on your way to NFL prop betting success.

  
Henry is pursuing a Communication Studies degree and a Psychology minor at SUNY University at Buffalo. He has been a passionate sports fan from a young age and got hisstart writing about Fantasy Football. In an effort to combine an aspect of specialization along with his enjoyment of any and all sports, Henry expanded to cover other Fantasy Sports while also foraying into the Sports Betting sector. He continues to relish every opportunity to learn, grow and network within the industry. He counts the New York Jets, Toronto Raptors, Vegas Golden Knights and San Diego Padres among his team loyalties. In addition to school and sports, Henry is passionate about health and fitness and is currently studying to earn certification as a personal trainer.

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