A guide to NFL prop betting

Culminating with the Super Bowl, where you can bet on virtually everything from start to finish.

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Prop betting is one of the easiest ways to get into sports betting.

Props became mainstream in 1986, when Caesar’s Palace bookmaker Art Manteris offered the public 20/1 odds that William “Refrigerator” Perry would find the endzone in the Super Bowl. Perry ultimately had just one carry in that game, but he turned it into a touchdown and sealed a sweet payday for all of his backers.

Prop betting has only intensified since then, and it is now a huge part of wagering on the NFL. Player prop bets can be found for every game, and the number of players that are included only continues to grow.

It all culminates with the Super Bowl, which is basically a national holiday for NFL prop bettors. There are hundreds – if not thousands – of props to wager on, and you don’t even need any knowledge of football to join in on the fun.

If you’re looking to bone up on your NFL prop betting skills before the start of the regular season, you’ve come to the right place. In this piece, I’ll detail some of the basic prop bets that can be found every week, some general do’s and don’ts, and some more specific prop bets for events like the Super Bowl and the NFL Draft.

Let’s start with the basics.

What is a prop bet?

A proposition bet – or prop bet for short – is a bet on a particular event happening within an NFL game. You are not betting on a team to win a specific game, but rather on a team or player to accomplish a specific task within the given contest.

Prop bets are often listed in one of two ways: Yes/No or Over/Under.

Yes/No props are pretty simple. You are betting on whether or not you believe a specific event will happen during an NFL game. Something like “Will Player X score a touchdown?” is a very common example of a Yes/No prop.

Over/Under props work very similarly to the Over/Under for a game, in that you are betting whether or not you believe a player or team will go over or under a given threshold in a particular category. A common example of an Over/Under prop is “Will Player X throw for over or under 245.5 yards?”

In both cases, the odds for each side of a prop bet will differ. These odds can vary dramatically depending on how frequently each event is expected to occur. The more common the occurrence, the higher the “juice” or “vig” you’ll have to lay.

Let’s look at a hypothetical example. A very common prop is whether or not there will be a safety during the Super Bowl, which occurs pretty infrequently. With that unlikeliness in mind, a safety prop might look something like this:

“Will there be a safety during Super Bowl LV?”

Yes: +900

No: -1400

This means if you want to bet on “no”, you would have to risk $1,400 to potentially win $100. On the other hand, betting on “yes” yields a potential profit of $900 on just a $100 investment.

This example demonstrates why prop betting has become so popular, thanks to the potential to win big on a small investment.

What are player prop bets?

Player prop bets are the most common form of NFL prop bet. These are bets on the outcomes for specific players in each game, making them an easy transition to the NFL betting market for those with a background in fantasy football. You can bet either for or against a player, in a variety of categories.

Passing props

Quarterbacks are kings in the NFL, and the same is true in the prop market. Every starting QB is going to have prop bets listed each week in three main categories, all of the over/under variety:

  • Passing yardage

This number is set based on a few key factors, the first of which focuses on the QB himself. How many yards per game has he averaged so far this season? What is his reputation? How popular is he? The more prolific the QB – and therefore the more likely he is to be targeted by the public – the higher you can expect the number to be.

Other factors include the weather, the projected game environment, whether the team is home or away, the matchup, and the injury situation for both teams. Poor weather or a bunch of injuries at the WR position could result in a lower total than usual, while a positive expected game environment or matchup could result in a higher total.

Some elements that result in a positive game environment are the projected pace and Vegas information. Pace stats can be found at Football Outsiders, while the Vegas data can be found at a number of different locations.

Lastly, the Vegas information and home field advantage can have a pretty drastic effect for certain quarterbacks. For example, Ben Roethlisberger has averaged 301.5 passing yards per game over the past four seasons, but that number drops to just 278.44 on the road. Matthew Stafford actually averages more yards per game as an underdog than a favorite.

  • Passing touchdowns

This is another way to target the quarterback position in the prop market. Each quarterback has a number of passing touchdowns set as an over/under, and that number can be as low as one or occasionally as high as four.

Keep in mind, the touchdown market is volatile. Sure, you can predict with some degree of certainty how many points a team will score in a given game, but how do you know who is going to score? What if a QB piles up tons of yardage leading his team down the field, but gets vultured at the goal line by the running back?

Ultimately, the Vegas data is going to be the most important tool for touchdown props. Each team will have an “implied team total”, which is derived using the point spread and the total. The higher the implied team total, the more touchdowns you can reasonably expect a team to score.

Matchups are also important here. Certain teams are more generous at allowing passing touchdowns than rushing touchdowns, especially in the red zone where the majority of scoring occurs. For example, the Cardinals allowed the second-most passing touchdowns last season, but they surrendered the fifth-fewest rushing touchdowns. You want to target defenses that aren’t just bad but are bad in the right way for your prop.

  • Completions

Completion over/unders are another prop that can be difficult to judge. In order to rack up a bunch of completions, you obviously need to have a lot of success offensively.

That said, offensive production can be a double-edged sword. If you’re racking up too much yardage on each successful pass, you’re going to score too quickly to pile up completions.

This is where air yards can be a successful tool. Air yards refers to how many yards each pass is thrown in the air before arriving at the receiver. Passes that travel further down the field are great for fantasy purposes, but they are the enemy of completions. These passes are harder to complete in general, and they move the team down the field quickly when completed.

If you’re betting the over on a completion prop, you’ll want to target quarterbacks and defenses that feature the short pass. Teams that play at a fast pace are another plus.

Air yards data has become increasingly available, but Josh Hermsmeyer’s Air Yards website is the OG in that department.

Dec 1, 2019; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (22) carries the ball during the fourth quarter against the Washington Redskins at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Rushing props

The rushing props are where the running backs get to shine. The categories for rushing props are basically the same as the passing props for the QBs, but there are typically fewer to choose from. You can bet the over/under on rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, and you can occasionally bet on whether or not a particular player will eclipse the 100-yard threshold. Some sites will also offer bonuses if you think a running back can score multiple rushing touchdowns. It’s obviously riskier to bet on a player to score multiple touchdowns instead of just one, so you’ll be rewarded with a bigger payout.

One thing you’ll need to monitor if you’re looking to bet on rushing props is the injury situation for each team. The running back position is more easily replicated than other positions, so an injury has the potential to create value in the prop market.

Let’s look at an example. If Patrick Mahomes gets hurt, you would never expect the backup to come in and perform at a Mahomes-like level. The quarterback position is just too tough for each team to have multiple productive options.

The same is not true for running backs. Of course, certain runners are better than others, but there is a glut of talent at the position. If one guy goes down, there is usually at least one more player on the roster capable of doing the job.

The offensive line and defensive matchup probably have a greater impact on rushing totals than the guy who is actually carrying the ball. The top rushing teams in football all grade out positively in the Football Outsiders offensive line rankings.

The other major factor that goes into rushing props is the Vegas data. With quarterbacks, we were looking for players who play in games with high implied team totals. That’s not necessarily the case with running backs.

If you’re looking to back the over on a RB’s rushing yards prop, targeting a heavy favorite is likely your best bet. The best formula for a team to run the football is to get out to a big lead.

According to Sharp Football Stats, teams threw the ball 59% and ran the ball just 41% on average in 2019. That’s obviously not ideal for racking up rushing yards.

However, when teams got up by at least 10 points, the play calling split changed to 46% pass and 54% run. That’s a massive difference! When a team got up by more than two full scores, their run rate increased to 60%. The bigger the lead, the more likely a team is to lean on their running back to try to grind the game to a halt.

Dec 1, 2019; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin (12) looks on during the fourth quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Receiving props

Receiving props are divided into three major categories: receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. These props are very similar to the rushing props – with receptions being the major difference – but they cover a wider spectrum of players.

Even with more teams using a committee approach in the backfield, the rushing attempts are still limited primarily to the running back. There are some QBs who command a RB-like workload and some WRs who might average one or two carries per game, but the majority of carries are still handed off to RBs. It’s not so easy to decipher where pass attempts are going.

Running backs and tight ends continue to eat into a larger chunk of the passing game each year. In the 2019-20 NFL season, more than 40% of pass attempts went to the RB and TE position. Four teams actually threw fewer passes to WRs than to RBs/TEs, and another three teams threw just 51% of passes to the WR position.

When teams are throwing to WRs, there are also more options available to catch passes. Virtually every team in football employs three WR sets as their base formation these days, so offenses are more comfortable spreading the ball around on a weekly basis.

Last year, only four WRs commanded a target share of above 25%, and only Michael Thomas was able to eclipse the 30% threshold. In 2017, 10 different wide receivers accounted for at least 26.7% of their team’s targets.

This means the receiving prop market is as deep as it’s ever been.

In addition to all the usual resources for props – injury reports, Vegas data, opposing teams – individual matchups are a must-utilize tool for pass catchers. Pro Football Focus has an excellent chart depicting the matchups for wide receivers and TEs, and that data can be used to exploit weak opponents.

It’s important to remember the No. 1 WR on a team doesn’t always matchup against the No. 1 corner. That does happen on occasion – and is typically referred to as “shadowing” – but most cornerbacks only line up on one side of the field. The data at PFF can show you how often each WR and cornerback line up on the left, on the right, and in the slot, which makes it easier to handicap these matchups.

Another useful tool to consider is how well each team guards each position. For example, the Patriots had the best pass defense in the league last season, thanks in part to their dominant play at the cornerback position. But did you know they actually ranked 21st in DVOA to passes versus the running back? The Titans are known as a solid defensive team, but they allowed the second-most yards per game to No. 1 WRs last season (88.5).

Exploiting situations like these can be very useful in the receiving prop market.

Combination props

Some player prop bets will allow you to combine multiple categories, with common examples like “will Player X go over or under 88.5 rushing + receiving yards?” or “will Player X have over 100 rushing yards and over 0.5 touchdowns?”

A prop that combines rushing and receiving yards is going to benefit multi-dimensional running backs who can run the ball and catch passes out of the backfield. These bets can be excellent for those players because it makes them “gamescript proof.” If his team piles up a big lead, he should get a large role rushing the football. If they fall behind, he can still stay involved in the offense by catching dump passes and screens.

What are team prop bets?

Prop bets aren’t restricted to betting only on players. There are a variety of team prop bets that are available each week as well.

Many of these props are going to be similar to the player props – which team will have the most passing yards, rushing yards, total yards, etc – but there are some other team-specific props as well.

You can bet on things like which team will score first, which team will accrue the most penalty yardage, whether any team will post three unanswered scores, or whether either team will record a safety. Alternate spreads and exact game scores also count as team prop bets.

For example, let’s say the Patriots are playing the Dolphins. The oddsmakers set the point spread at New England -10, but you think the Patriots are going to absolutely crush Miami. You can look at some alternate spreads like New England -14, New England -17, and New England -21 to try to increase your payout. The larger the spread, the bigger the boost to your potential earnings.

Now let’s say that you just KNOW the Patriots are going to win the game 34-17. Maybe you’re a psychic or maybe you’re Bill Belichick, but somehow you are absolutely certain that will be the final score of the game. You can bet on that exact final score for a massive payout. The odds vary game-to-game – with more common scores paying out worse odds than unique ones – but you are still looking at a huge payday if you can nail the final score correctly.

Personally, I prefer betting on alternate spreads than exact score props. You obviously don’t get the same odds, but you’re likely to win them at a much higher clip.

What are Super Bowl props?

The Super Bowl is to prop betting what Thanksgiving is to turkey lovers. It is a match made in sports betting heaven. If you can dream up a prop bet, it likely exists during the Super Bowl.

Want to bet on the length of the National Anthem? You got it. Want to bet on whether the coin toss will be heads or tails? No problem. Want to bet on what color gatorade will be dumped on the winning coach? Sure thing.

You can also bet on who will be the MVP. This market is heavily weighted toward the quarterbacks, since QBs have won the award in eight of the past 11 Super Bowls.

They even offer cross-sport props. If the Lakers are playing earlier in the day, there might be a prop like this:

Who will score more points on Sunday?

LeBron James (-7.5): -115

Super Bowl Favorite (+7.5): -115

These props aren’t just applicable to basketball either. Golf, soccer, or any other sport that might be going on will likely be involved as well.

These exotic props are designed to add to the spectacle that is the Super Bowl. You don’t really need any deep football knowledge to enjoy wagering on things like the coin toss or what song will be performed first during the halftime show.

Of course, all the usual player props are also available during the Super Bowl.

What are NFL Draft props?

Prop betting doesn’t stop at the end of the NFL season. You can also take advantage of the prop betting market during the NFL draft, and this can actually be a very profitable endeavor.

Some common props include over/unders on draft pick slots for most of the major rookie prospects, over/unders on how many players from a certain school will go in the first round, and over/unders on the number of players drafted at a certain position in the first round.

Some of the best value can be found with draft pick over/unders early in the betting process.

Kyler Murray’s initial over/under during the 2019 draft was set at 32.5. This means that if he was drafted in the first round, an under bet would win. Of course, we all know what ended up happening. Murray was selected No. 1 overall by the Arizona Cardinals, giving under bettors one of the easiest wins of their lives.

The reason these props can be so profitable is because the draft process is volatile. Players who weren’t considered first rounders can rise due to their performance at the combine, private workouts, and the interview process. NFL teams are also pretty secretive about their draft plans, so the general consensus about each process can contain a lot of misinformation.

My favorite way to take advantage of this is by targeting quarterbacks. Every year, we see QBs who are considered lesser prospects than guys who play other positions, flying up the draft board. Why? Because they play quarterback! You can’t win consistently in the NFL without good quarterback play, so teams are willing to “reach” to grab their preferred signal caller.

Prop betting FAQs

  • How are prop bets calculated?

These props are calculated the same way lines are calculated for games. An initial number is set based on a variety of factors – season averages, injuries, matchup, etc – and then adjusted right up until kickoff.

That said, sportsbooks are a lot less likely to “take a stand” on a prop than they are on a game line. Expect these lines to fluctuate wildly depending on the public action coming in on each bet. If you are going to be on the same side as the public – which is typically the over – you are going to have to pay an increased premium.

  • How much can I bet on props?

This figure will vary from sportsbook to sportsbook, but it is considerably lower than for an NFL game. Think about it: Each week there are at most 16 NFL games. The thought that goes into crafting and adjusting those lines has to be absolutely perfect. In the prop market, there could be hundreds of different wagers available each week. If you were allowed to wager the same on a prop as you can on a game, the sportsbooks would have tons of liability to professional bettors capable of picking apart their weak lines.

  • Are prop bets the same as futures?

Prop bets and futures are definitely related, but there is one key difference. Prop bets typically refer to just one individual contest or event, while futures are a more long-term wager. For example, betting on Michael Thomas to hit the over on his season-long receiving yards would be a future, but betting on him to hit the over on his receiving yards in Week 1 would be a prop.

  • Is live betting available for NFL props?

Yes and no. Player props are not typically available once a game has started, but more and more team props are popping up during contests. Some people believe that bets like “Will this next play be a run or pass?” are the future of sports betting, and the Washington Wizards have already begun the process of opening a sportsbook within their arena.

NFL prop betting strategies

A lot of my NFL prop betting strategies are the same as my NBA prop betting strategies, which I encourage you to check out. The main thing to keep in mind is that betting on unders is almost always going to be more profitable than betting on overs.

There are a few key reasons for this, but the main one is that the public simply wants to bet on overs. It’s more fun to bet on overs, and most people are overconfident in their ability to predict outcomes during sporting contests. If they see a wide receiver or a running back that has a good matchup, they can’t envision a scenario where that player doesn’t smash. This results in heavy action on the overs, which tilts the juice and moves the lines in that direction.

With that in mind, I’m going to need a really good reason to take an over on a particular prop.

The best overs to target are when you are “buying low” on a particular player. But how do you know that you are buying low? There are a few key factors I like to look at.

The first is snap share. Basically, this is going to tell you how often each player is on the field. You can’t rack up yards/catches/touchdowns if you aren’t playing, so you want to target players who are on the field a lot if you’re betting the over. If a player hasn’t produced recently but hasn’t seen a decrease in playing time, that’s a nice formula for buying low.

The next factor you’ll want to check is workload. This means pass attempts for quarterbacks, carries for running backs, and targets for wide receivers. Volume is more important here than production. If a player is seeing a bunch of opportunities but hasn’t capitalized, that’s another positive sign for a bounce back.

Finally, I want to check the air yards if I’m looking to buy low on a WR. If I’m targeting the over on a yardage prop, I want to make sure the player is seeing at least some targets down the field. If a player has a lot of air yards but that hasn’t translated into actual receiving yards, it suggests that better days are coming in his future. Long passes don’t always hit, but when they do, they’re likely going to result in an over.

Conclusion

Prop betting is one of the easiest ways to get into sports betting, and it can also be one of the most profitable. You can bet on a variety of NFL props for each game, including passing props, rushing props, receiving props, and team props. There are a bunch of excellent resources out there that can give you an edge over the betting sites, and when all else fails, remember to lean toward the under instead of the over.

NFL prop betting culminates with the Super Bowl, where you can bet on virtually everything from start to finish.

Good luck this season and happy betting!

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