Detailed Guide on Football Prop Betting
A football proposition bet is a wager decided over the course of one game that involves something other than the game's point spread, total or moneyline. Examples include will a specific player score a TD, how many field goals will be kicked, will the team that scores first win the game, etc. In this article I'll cover the best websites for betting props, provide a solid introduction to this form of wagering and then give handicapping instructions on how to price a few commonly offered football prop bets.
Best Websites for Football Prop Bets
For Sunday and Monday night games every betting site I know of offers football propositions. A good strategy when betting night games is to simultaneously take advantage of sports betting bonuses and soft prop prices. For examples: www.topbet.com offers 50% up to $250 free (US players allowed) and www.bet365.com offers 100% up to $200 free (no US players). With these two sites the bonuses are cash, as opposed to free play, and can be used for any wager including point spreads, totals, moneylines, parlays, teasers and of course football prop bets.
You should also consider www.bookmaker.eu and www.intertops.eu (both accepting US players) for football prop betting. These two sites, along with Bet365 (no US players) are the only I know of that offer props for every single game of the NFL season; at most betting sites props are only available for Sunday and Monday night games. Finally www.bovada.lv is a great prop betting out, as they have best live betting interface. Here you can bet live in-play on props including bets like "will the next play be pass or run?" and "will this drive end with a punt, score or turnover?".
Props Are Beatable
Important to understand is football propositions are the lifeblood of many small stakes football betting professionals. This is for reason bookmakers offer props merely as a recruitment and retention tool, rather than as a means of profit. Now if this sounds illogical, consider this: many of the largest betting sites accept millions of dollars in wagers for each game of the NFL season, yet only a fraction of a percentage of it is bet on props. Simply put, the bookmaker uses very basic formulas to price props, and then through automation adjusts the prices as he books bets.
Pricing Total Passing Yards Prop
To show an example of how a bookmaker prices football props let's take the case of over/under betting on how many passing yards a quarterback will have in a game. For this he uses:
(QB average passing yards per game) * (defense's average passing yards allowed per game / league average passing yards allowed per game)
To note the bookmaker also need to compare the median to the mean. For example, if a QB's passing the past five games were 220, 245 250 545 420 the average is 336. However order those sequentially as 220 245 250 420 545 and you'll see the median (the number in the middle) is 250. In this case a quick analysis is needed to decide which is better to use; mean or median? If we see he had 545 yards because his team was a huge underdog, was getting blown out and he was forced to throw the entire second half, this explains why the average (mean) is inflated. In this case using the median would be more appropriate.
This is sincerely about the full analysis most bookmakers will give to the total passing yards prop, because it's a very small market. With dozens, if not hundreds, of other props to price that day, the bookmaker does quick calculations, adds higher than standard juice (often -115 / -115), and sets the betting limits small such as $100 per bet. At www.5dimes.com (a great site for betting this particular prop) bettors can place as many $100 wagers as they'd like. However each wager moves the line. For example after betting $100 on side A, the line might move to (-125 / -105), betting another $100 it might move to -135 / +105. Get the idea? The bookmaker doesn't spend much time on these; he simply adjusts the prices by automation.
Analyzing the Prop in Advanced
If you spend 10 minutes researching a prop bet, chances are that was 8 more minutes than the bookmaker who priced the prop spent doing the same. Take the case of the 2011/12 AFC Championship game between the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens. When I priced this prop before the lines even came out I started by pulling these stats:
Tom Brady Average Passing Yards: 327 (Median 325)
Joe Flacco Average Passing Yards: 226 (Median 225)
Patriots Average Passing Yards Allowed: 294
Ravens Average Passing Yards Allowed: 196
League Average Passing Yards Allowed: 230
I then calculated as follows:
Brady: 327 AYPG * (196 Ravens Allowed / 230 League Average) = 278.7
Flacco: 226 AYPG * (294 Patriots Allowed / 230 League Average) = 288.9
Now the beauty of prop betting is this. I watched 5Dimes open this line at Brady over o290 -115 / u290 -115 and Flacco o265 -115 / u265 -115. The difference was understandable looking at stats of the last 5 games and knowing the Patriots had a huge fan biased. In any case, I watched this fan bias bet the lines all the way to Brady o312.5 -115 / u312.5 -115 and Flacco o248.5 -115 / u248.5 -115. Meanwhile recreational site www.bovada.lv came along and posted:
Top Brady: o315.5 -125 / u315.5 -105 ($500 limit)
Joe Flacco: u240.5 -115 / u240.5 -115 ($500 limit)
This is what makes sports betting so profitable. You see, Bovada services recreational punters and I doubt they actually handicap props themselves. What Bovada did was copy the market from 5Dimes, and included a lean for fan biased. What they didn't realize is during the Conference Championships and Super Bowl, prop prices changed rapidly and the market is nowhere close to efficient.
The way I looked at this proposition before betting it: I capped Brady at 278.7 and would be happy to bet under that even with the juice. I capped Flacco at 288.9 and would be happy to bet over that even with the juice. Why? Because the Patriots were a strong 7 point favourite which means a greater chance they're ending the game taking a knee after having just spent the 4th quarter wasting clock. On the other side, the chances are greater Flacco is out passing looking to come from behind, save his team's season and bring them to the Super Bowl.
Needless to say I found this is a massively +EV prop betting opportunity. It also worked out; that game Brady passed for 239 and Flacco for 306, which was about exactly what my handicapping suggested would occur. Of course, even props that are largely +EV you'll still lose a fair percentage of the time, this isn't brag, but it does feel great when things do go as planned.
Using Props as Derivatives
A great deal of football propositions are derivatives, which basically means one line derived from another. For example the old suckers bet will either team score three consecutive times is a derivative of both the betting total and the point spread. I'll save capping this one as the secrets been well exposed, but back in the day this was highly profitable. Local bookies would offer this prop at even money expecting most would wager the no. Meanwhile a large majority of the time one team does score three consecutive times.
Which Team Will Score First
To show you a derivative far more useful, take the prop which team will score first. This is a derivative of the game's half time point spread and total. In fact, so much so, all you need to solve it is figure out what the betting line predicts for the half time score and then plug it into the formula -100*(Favorite Score/Underdog Score)=No-Vig odds that the Favorite scores first.
To show an example, if the first half point spread is Patriots -4.5 -110 / Jets +4.5 -110 and the first half betting total is o24.5 -110 / u24.5 -110, here we need to figure out what score has the Patriots winning by 4.5 and the game scoring 24.5 points. Doing some simple trial and error I see the predicted score is: Patriots 14.5 Jets 10. To plug that into the equation, this solves as -100(14.5/10)=Patriots -145. Consider there is no vig we know the fair odds for which team will score first are Patriots -145 / Jets +145.
As you might imagine, because this is such a simple prop to price, you won't find off market prices very often. However, let's say we see the bookmaker moves Titans +6.5 to Titans +6.0 to Titans +5.5 something just happened. This could be an injury reported, could be Billy Walter's syndicate making +EV bets; something tipped off that Titans +6.5 and +6.0 were +EV and the market is now racing to bet it before all sites move the line. In times you're too late to do the same, take a look at the team to score first proposition; more times than not you'll find value here on games that the current line is well away from the line the game opened at. If confused, read my article on handicapping the market.
More on Capping the Market
It's not even critical that you understand all the equations for pricing various prop bets to profit from them. If you're able to shop dozens of online betting sites you'll often find things such as this:
Total Sacks in a Game:
Bovada: o4.5 +100 / u4.5 -140
Pinnacle: o4 -108 / u4 -108
5Dimes: o4 -105 / u -115
If we kept searching enough to realize that the fair market consensus probability of under 4 sacks is about 50% or maybe a smidgen over (ex: 50.22%), how would then know if u4.5 -140 was +EV. For this we'd just run Poisson calculations. Wait, what's a Poisson? Good question, for this read my article on using Poisson for football prop betting.
Prop Betting Against Friends
You won't find this wager offered online, however it's an awesome one to bait your friends into making a sucker's bet. The prop is: pick any six teams that won't make the NFL playoffs. You want to be the one offering this prop just before the season starts, not the one picking the six teams.
Trust me, while the bet you book might look ugly, I book this bet every year and rarely ever does anyone win! Always one of the bottom six teams in the league super unlikely to make the playoffs ends up making it. In 2011/12 season the Bengals were on most everyone's pick-six-list, while 75% also had the Broncos. It's very difficult to pick five teams that won't make the playoffs; picking six teams is heavy long shot.
Final Word on Football Props
In this article I covered just a small sample of the literally hundreds of different football props offered by online gambling sites and Las Vegas Sportsbooks. What's important to note is there is no single book that's ever been written that covers solid prop handicapping advice for any more than just a few props. Props are small markets. If you want to learn to wager them profitably, learn and don't teach. The more competition you have, the less profit you'll make. Seriously for most props the market is so small that having just one added competitor will cost you.
So how do you go about learning other props? Be smart, look at forums, and seek out small clues. The more props you learn the more you'll start to realize they're all similar. Just with the three props I showed you how to work out here in this article, I've provided you enough information to crack fifteen others. Crack those, and you'll be well on your way to cracking them all. If you're frustrated and wish I'd give the formulas for several more, some day when you have all the keys to prop betting, you'll be extremely glad this all that I shared. Remember, props are small market and for at least the time being are not all that difficult to beat.