What is a prop bet? Are they worth your time?

Find market advantages across various sports and have some fun in the process with these unique wagering opportunities.

Super Bowl Ticket Drop

Every year, one of the most popular proposition bets – typically referred to as prop bets – is the coin toss at the Super Bowl. A prop bet is best described as a wager on whether or not something occurs during a game or event, but is not directly tied to who wins the game or the game’s score total. Moneyline, point spread and game totals are some of the most popular straight bets, leaving a unique aspect to betting on props.

There are regular season prop bets that can be wagered on, such as team win totals or individual accolades like MVP awards. These bets that last the length of a full season are widely known as futures bets. Then there are prop bets that only apply to a single game, or even one specific moment within it. In the coin toss example, you would simply be betting whether or not the outcome of the coin toss is heads or tails.

In a Yahoo Sports article published prior to 2020’s Super Bowl between the Chiefs and 49ers, Frank Schwab noted the most popular prop bet on a yearly basis is ‘who will be the first player to score?’ This is always a fun one because, even if you have invested money into the final outcome of the game, you don’t need to have bias toward either team for this prop. You can simply pick a player that has a good shot at falling into the end zone for the first score of the game. Whether it be an advantage in red zone targets for a wide receiver or tight end, or a great rushing matchup for a team that loves to run the ball – especially at the goal line – there are market advantages to investing in this prop bet.

There are too many different types of prop bets across the sports betting world to list each of them here. However, highlighting some from various sports can help paint a clear picture of certain types of prop bet wagers you may want to place, and where a market advantage can be found. Before we do that though, let’s touch on some of the logistics around placing prop bets.

How to bet props

Before we get any further on the various types of prop bets, it is important to pay attention to the odds that sportsbooks typically offer on a certain bet. Let’s use the Tampa Bay Buccaneers season win total prop as an example.

First, let’s talk about odds. Odds are set by a bookmaker or oddsmaker – a practice commonly known as handicapping – based on what they deem to be the probable results of a given game. Even money (-100 or EVEN) indicates a 50% probability of a potential outcome. Once the original line is set, the market will then move the line based on the action coming in. The closing line is generally the sharpest line and toughest to beat, as the market is very efficient. As we go through betting content for sports during the season, it will be important to try to get down our bets shortly after they open, in order have the best chance of beating the market efficiency.

Using the 9.5 win total for the Bucs on Draftkings as the example, the current odds are -110 for OVER 9.5 wins and -110 for UNDER 9.5 wins. When you see odds listed, the easiest way to calculate how much you have to risk, or how much you would win, is to base it off $100. So, in the -110 line set by the bookmaker, in order for you to win $100, you must wager or risk $110. If the odds were +110, this means you are taking on more risk due to backing a lower probability outcome, and therefore the sportsbook is willing to pay you out more. In this line, every $100 wagered will win you $110 and payout $210, which is backwards from the -110 example. Wagering $100 per bet isn’t required, it’s just easy to use as a base before calculating your potential winnings according to how much you normally wager on each bet (also known as a unit).

In this example, the sportsbooks are giving you odds that support a 52.3% chance that the Buccaneers exceed their win total. The 52.3% is known as implied probability, and is calculated based on the -110 line set.

So you should consider whether you are willing to risk $110 to win $100 (or even $11 to win $10 for smaller bankrolls), on an outcome that is projected to occur 52.3% of the time based on the sportsbook’s projections. If you think there is a 60% chance the Bucs can eclipse the 9.5 win total for the season, then this would be a good bet for you to make.

Just for learning purposes, let’s hypothetically change the odds on the Buccaneers OVER 9.5 wins to -300. In this scenario, you would be required to risk $300 to win $100 (or $30 to win $10). In turn, this results in an implied probability of 75% that the Bucs would go OVER their win total. This should change your thought process on whether or not you want to still place the bet, regardless of what you think the outcome is. Does the reward outweigh the risk? If we maintain our confidence that the Bucs would eclipse this total 60% of the time, then this would be a bad bet for us to make, despite the fact that we do think the Bucs will go over their win total.

NFL

After mentioning the coin toss of the super bowl, it feels appropriate to jump right into some of the prop bets in the NFL.

Team prop bets

As mentioned in the opening, you can wager before the season starts on various types of prop bets such as team win totals, individual player accolades (rushing yards for running backs, receiving yards for wide receivers, passing yards for quarterbacks, etc), division and conference winners, and even super bowl winners. Team win totals for the season are some of the more popular season-long prop bets that the NFL has to offer. There are many things to consider when placing these team prop bets.

Team win totals

  • Prior year results – Understanding the makeup of last year’s team, and the results of their season, is naturally important for projecting the next season’s outcome. Coaching schemes tend to stay consistent year over year, so a lack of coaching changes helps to provide a base projection of output for the current year.
  • Roster makeup – Offseason trades, draft picks and free agent acquisitions help to determine what makes a team better or worse than last year.
  • Schedule – Playing in a tougher division means there are six games that will be harder to win than for teams playing in a weaker division. Out of division home and away games are also important because a team only plays each out of division opponent once. Playing easier teams on the road and tougher teams at home provides a slight boost.

Division champs

Deciding who to bet on as the winner of each division is similar to the process of predicting individual team win totals. But instead of assessing just one team’s outlook, you apply the above criteria to each team in a division, to project who will finish with the best record.

Conference champs

This bet is more risky, and therefore you get better odds. Home field advantage matters in the playoffs, so picking a team that can win the first or second seed is ideal. In order to try to accurately project this, you need to apply all of the above criteria to the entire conference.

Super bowl champs

This is the toughest to predict as injuries can easily derail a season in football. However, if you are able to come up with one or two potential conference champs from both conferences, you can then create hypothetical Super Bowl matchups and pick a potential winner.

Player prop bets

Individual player props are available for wagering before the season and before each specific game. Many factors are worth considering when it comes to the more popular prop types.

Passing yard props

  • Prior year yardage total – For the full season passing yardage prop, you want to get an idea of how many yards the player threw last year, how many attempts they threw, and how much volume they had. If a player is projected to generate an increase in volume or efficiency from the prior year, they should have a corresponding increase in their output of passing yards.
  • Roster makeup – If the team added a superstar wide receiver in free agency or spent a first round draft pick on a wide receiver, this is a boost to the quarterback. On the same note, if the team made no defensive upgrades, and we project a decent amount of shootouts, this also leads to more quarterback pass attempts and higher yardage totals.

Rushing yard props

  • Matchups – A personal tool that I use as an indicator of good or bad rushing matchups is to compare the offensive line and defensive line data for the two teams facing each other in a given week, using footballoutsiders.com. They provide in-depth line data like adjusted line yards, which helps describe how well the offensive lines are blocking and how well the defensive lines are stopping the run. These stats are more detailed than rushing yards allowed, and can be more predictive in nature for that reason.
  • Injuries – Let’s say a team’s backfield has two talented running backs accustomed to sharing carries, and one of the running backs gets hurt in the middle of the season. In the next game following the injury, there could be value on the prop bet for the healthy running back since he will get the majority of the carries, as opposed to sharing as he had been. 
  • Prior year rushing attempts and efficiency – Similar to the quarterback position, using prior year is a good baseline if there are minimal coaching/scheme changes. If we know a team is going to run the ball approximately 42 percent of the time, and give their top running back approximately 85 percent of the total carries, we now have a baseline for rushing attempts for that player. We can use the adjusted line yards metric from above to try to help predict yardage outputs on a per carry basis.

Receiving yard props

  • Air yards – Airyards.com is the easiest source for air yards data. Air yards have demonstrated a high correlation with receiving yards. Receivers who catch deep passes don’t need as many targets to reach a higher yardage total when compared to receivers who have lower depth of targets.
  • Target share – While air yards are important, so is target share. Seeing a high percentage of targets on a high volume passing attack will lead to higher yardage outputs.
  • Scheme – Stop me if I’ve mentioned this before, but the coaching scheme matters. Some offensive coordinators like to heavily involve the passing attack, while other coordinators like to lean more on the run. On pro-football-reference you can search by a coach’s name and look up their league rankings for different categories like pass attempts and rush attempts.
Dec 16, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) runs against Arizona Cardinals free safety Antoine Bethea (41) during the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

In-game prop bets

A wild, but fun type of wager is the in-game prop bet. Did the Seahawks defense not show up in the first half and they’re trailing by 17 at halftime? This means they’ll likely have to abandon their run-first offense and let Russell Wilson air it out for the remainder of the game. At halftime, you can find wagers on second half passing yards and touchdown totals. Considering the amount of tricks Russ usually has up his sleeve, if you have a hunch he can lead his team back from three scores down, then fire up those second half player prop bets!

The Seahawks tend to be one of the more run-heavy teams in the NFL on a yearly basis. They ranked 27th and 32nd in pass play percentage over the last two seasons, per teamrankings.com. Meanwhile, in 2019 Russ was the highest-graded passer in the NFL per Pro Football Focus, and it was actually his highest personal grade to date. Essentially, the Seahawks are better off letting Russ throw, and that’s why we can get value on those in-game betting opportunities when they’re trailing.

MLB 

Team prop bets

Similar to all the other major sports, the MLB team prop bets that are offered relate to team win totals, which teams will win the divisions and conferences, and the eventual World Series champion. Of these, team win totals are among the most popular prop bets offered.

Team win totals

  • Team depth charts – It goes without saying that both pitching and hitting matter. These are the most important criteria when it comes to betting on baseball. Some divisions have teams that are loaded with pitching but have a weak lineup. Other teams are the opposite. To further break down the pitching side, some teams have talented starters but a horrible bullpen to back them up, which can lead to late-inning losses. Ideally, you want to bet on teams that are good in at least two of these three aspects of the game (hitting, starters, bullpen), but you may prefer having confidence in all three areas if the team plays in a strong division.

Division champs

  • Division strength – MLB teams play 76 games against divisional opponents, which makes up about 47% of their schedule. This needs to be weighted more heavily than when betting on the NFL, where divisional games make up just 38% of the schedule.

Conference champs and World Series champs

Anything can happen in baseball, especially in the playoffs. Teams can get hot or cold at the right or wrong time. In 2019, The Nationals went 19-29 in their first 48 games before catching fire in the second half of the season and throughout the playoffs. Similar to the NFL, picking from your pool of projected division champs is a good way to shorten your list of potential teams to bet on. You can then create individual series matchups to assess who may take home the crown.

For more on how to bet MLB props, read our guide here.

Player prop bets

Combined hits, runs and runs batted in (RBIs)

  • Pitcher profile – Fangraphs and Baseball Savant are the two best sites for advanced data on baseball players, including pitchers. Looking at predictive pitching stats like FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and xFIP (expected Fielding Independent Pitching), in conjunction with hard hit rates and fly ball and ground ball rates, helps us find pitchers that are likely to allow offensive production. WHIP (Walks plus hits divided by innings pitched) is another good indication of how many base runners a pitcher gives up on a per inning basis.
  • Hitter profile – The same method we use to break down a pitcher’s profile on the aforementioned sites, can be applied to hitters as well. Hard hit rates, ground ball and fly ball tendencies, as well as predictive stats like xBA (expected batting average), can help us identify hitters who are swinging the bat well.

Specific player will homer

When looking at a pitcher’s profile on Fangraphs, you may have some confidence in the likelihood of him giving up a home run or two. You can then pick from the big name hitters on the opposing team and bet on them to homer.

Total strikeouts for a starting pitcher

  • Whiff rates – Using Baseball Savant, we are able to see whiff rates (swings and miss percentage) by pitch type for pitchers, and the percentage of time that each pitch is thrown by the pitcher. We are also able to see whiff rates for batters as a whole, and whiff rates against specific pitch types. Let’s use a pitcher like Luis Castillo as an example. Per Baseball Savant, in 2019 he threw his changeup the most at a rate of 33%. This was his best pitch, especially when it came to strikeouts, as he was able to generate a 48% whiff rate with this pitch. If he is facing a team that has struggled to make contact with changeups, this solidifies our interest in betting the over on strikeouts for Castillo in that game.
  • Percentage of 2-strike counts – In order to strike someone out, you have to get them to 2 strikes first. Even if a pitcher doesn’t generate a ton of whiffs as mentioned above, he can still rack up strikeouts by getting a hitter to 2 strikes via foul balls or called strikes, then getting one swing and miss for a punch out.

NBA

Team prop bets

Team win totals

Unlike the NFL and especially the MLB, divisional games don’t matter as much for an NBA team’s win total outlook. NBA teams play approximately 20% of their games against division opponents, and the season schedule is pretty spread out as a result, making strength of schedule tougher to apply. 

I have noticed though, that NBA win totals tend to be rather consistent with prior year outcomes, unless there are major changes to a superstar’s status or team. For example, the Warriors had one of the higher team win totals before the 2019-2020 season despite Kevin Durant going to Brooklyn and Klay Thompson missing most of the season with a torn ACL (which he tore during the previous season’s playoff run). Knowing team makeup and talent fit is your best advantage in the NBA.

Conference and finals champs

The conference and finals champs are popular futures because divisions aren’t as big of a deal in the NBA as they are in other sports. The playoffs are populated based on the top eight teams from each conference, and division play doesn’t affect things very much. With the superstars in today’s NBA teaming up to form mega teams, betting on the teams with multiple superstars is the most profitable strategy. One or two of the best players can take over a whole game. LeBron even carried a no-name Cleveland Cavaliers team to the finals when he first entered the league.

Player prop bets

Points

  • Injury – Similar to the NFL, the NBA provides great opportunities for prop bets when an injury occurs. When injuries or rest come up pay close attention to news and stats like usage rate and the expected change in minutes or role a specific player might experience.
  • Matchup – Some NBA teams choose not to prioritize defense and/or to play at a faster tempo than normal against certain opponents. Either option (or both combined) can lead to higher point totals for opposing teams, and could create a boost in point values for opposing players.

Assists

  • Injury – Similar to point scorers being affected by an injury, when there is an increase in usage for a player due to a sidelined teammate, more assist opportunities will also open up as they inevitably touch and pass the ball at a higher rate than normal.
  • Matchup – When more points are scored, there are more assist opportunities to go around. When teams are playing against weaker defenses or against a faster tempo team, assist opportunities will go up.
  • Player style – Certain players tend to pass the ball more than others. Maybe a team is going through a cold shooting streak where they are not scoring their typical amount of points. This would lead to lower than normal assist totals, and the bookmakers could in turn set lower than normal lines. When the team returns to their usual shooting form, assist totals could increase once more, and this is where we can take advantage of a market inefficiency due to recency bias.

Rebounds

  • Injury – As with points and assists, some players end up seeing the court more due to injuries to their teammates. Sometimes injuries are announced just a few minutes before a game starts. When that happens, the props are not accurately adjusted for a backup player who could be getting a spot start. If he were a center, this would be a good opportunity to bet his rebounding props.
  • Matchup – Again similar to points and assists, when tempo goes up, so do the total number of shot attempts. Teams will still shoot around the same percentage from the field, so this means both more made field goals and more missed field goals are probable in an uptempo game.

Points plus assists plus rebounds

There are also combinations of the above props into single prop bets. For example, instead of just betting whether LeBron racks up 6.5 rebounds, you can bet whether or not he goes over or under 45 points, rebounds and assists combined. This is similar to the hits, runs and RBIs bet for MLB. You can use the same criteria above to make a combined projection.

NHL

Team prop bets

Team to score the first goal

The most popular super bowl prop bet is the player to score the first touchdown. So if you are new to hockey, this is a great prop bet to keep you interested at the start of a game. Even better though, you only have to pick a team and not a player. As teams in the NHL rely on multiple lines (groups of skaters who play together on the ice at the same time), picking the player to score first can get a bit dicey. Every team rotates their four lines of skaters every couple of minutes to prevent fatigue. 

Number of goals scored by a team in a specific period

Maybe a certain team is starting a backup goalie and you think the opposing team may try to attack him with as many shots on goal as possible early in the game. In this scenario, you could bet on the number of goals the attacking team scores in the first period.

Player prop bets

Specific player to score a goal

Most of the time you will see this specific prop listed as “total goals for Player X over or under 0.5”. Since a player can’t score 0.5 goals, he will either score a goal or he won’t. It’s that simple. Considering the opposing goalie, plus the average shots on goal and goals allowed by the opposing team, you have lots to factor into your decision whether or not to make this type of wager.

Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews (34) pursues the play against New York Rangers in the first period at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Which of two players will score more points (goals plus assists)

In a matchup between the Penguins and Capitals, you could choose to bet on who will have more goals and assists between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, two of the superstars in the NHL. Considering the goalie that each player is facing, as well as the average shots on goal and total goals allowed by the opposing team, you have plenty of data to help assess which superstar to wager on.

PGA

Player prop bets

The PGA is an individual sport and there are a multitude of different props you can bet on for competitors on a weekly basis. 

Tournament win, top 5, top 10, top 20

  • Strokes gained in the past at a specific course – In order to get an idea of how golfers might perform on a given week, a good place to start your research is at datagolf.com. This site has different tools, including strokes gained by category for the same tournament in prior years. This is important because usually a specific style of golfer will excel at each course on a yearly basis. If a course is lined with trees and has narrow fairways, you may want to target golfers who are more accurate off the tee as opposed to golfers who can bomb it a long way.
  • Strokes gained by category for each player – Once a course fit is determined and the most important stats are decided on, pgatour.com has a plethora of strokes gained stats we can sift through for every golfer. Golfers who excel in each of the important stat categories, have played well recently (known as having good recent form), and have good course history are the ones most deserving of our betting exposure.

Matchup props

The oddsmakers will pick some head-to-head matchups and set odds as if two of the selected golfers were playing each other. These props can be offered by round and/or for the whole tournament.

We can use the same criteria from the above golf props to understand which of the two matched up golfers should perform better.

Off the wall prop bets

The most fun, unorthodox bets are generally the Super Bowl props. As mentioned, the coin toss is a big one that can be wagered on, and there are many other awesome props that make for a fun sweat. Think the singer of the National Anthem is going to extend the word “brave” to really milk the ending? You can usually bet an over/under line of the total time for the National Anthem to be sung. For this prop, we can use past renditions from the specific artist as a guide, or possibly reports from rehearsals during the week leading up to the Super Bowl, which would give us an estimate of how long the rendition is likely to last.

One of my personal favorites to wager on, especially if I don’t have a rooting interest in either Super Bowl team, is the color of the Gatorade bath at the end. Wagering on this also encourages you to watch the game all the way through. There is something oddly satisfying about closely watching the screen and sifting through the pure chaos of postgame celebrations, trying to see which color of Gatorade the winning team dumps on their head coach.

It does seem that the NFL has the best collection of possible prop bets, with yet another example being the wagers that can be made surrounding the NFL draft. If you are a big fan of college football and just know that Trevor Lawrence is going to be the first quarterback off the board next season, or even the first pick overall, that’s a bet you can make right now. Some other fun draft-related prop bets focus on the pick number for each player. Think a player is a lock to go in the top 10, but his draft prop is pick 12.5? You can wager on the under as the draft approaches.

Final thoughts

At Line Movement, we will feature ongoing prop betting coverage to help you dissect some of the best available bets in the market for both the full season and individual games. Make sure you check in frequently for betting recommendations. Also, it is very important to shop around with multiple sportsbooks to get the odds that are in your best favor, as each book generally gives different odds. Let’s hammer bets early and often!

Super Bowl Ticket Drop