Detailed Guide on Football Prop Betting
Props are very popular, especially among recreational bettors, and are often viewed as fun wagers rather than a way to make any serious money. The word prop is short for proposition, and a proposition bet can actually be on any outcome at all. In sports betting terms, props are generally those that are not directly related to the final outcome of a match.
Even though props are often dismissed as luck-based wagers, they can still be handicapped just like most sports bets can be. Football props in particular can be profitable, and you should l earn how to use them effectively alongside points spreads, moneylines and totals. On this page, we aim to help to help you do just that.
We'll start with a brief explanation of football props, and then explain why they can be profitable.
What Is a Football Prop?
A football proposition bet is a wager that's decided over the course of a game, but that involves something other than the point spread, total, or moneyline. They are often phrased as questions. Here are some examples.
- Will a specific player score a touchdown?
- Which team will score first?
- Will the total points be odd or even?
- How many field goals will be kicked
- Will the team that scores first win the game?
Some of these are very hard, if not impossible, to predict. That's why so many people don't view football props as serious bets. A lot of props are easier to make informed judgements about though. Here are some examples of these.
- Over/under on a specific player's touchdown passes.
- Over/under on a specific player's passing yards
- Over/under on the number of sacks in a game
With the right approach, props such as the ones above CAN be profitable.
Why Are Football Props Beatable?
Important to understand is that football propositions are the lifeblood of many small stakes football betting professionals. Bookmakers offer props merely as a recruitment and retention tool rather than as a means of profit. If this sounds illogical, consider that 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 is bet on props. Simply put, the bookmaker uses very basic formulas to price props and through automation, adjusts the prices as he books bets.
An important point to note here is that the bookmaker will also compare the median to the mean. Let's say a QB's passing in the past five games was as follows.
- 220 yards
- 245 yards
- 250 yards
- 420 yards
- 545 yards
The mean is 336 (this is the total number of yards divided by the number of games). The median is 250 (this is the number in the middle of the range of numbers).
A quick analysis is needed to decide which is better: mean or median? If we see that he had 545 yards because his team was a huge underdog and was getting blown out, so he was forced to throw the entire second half, it explains why the average (mean) is inflated. In this case, using the median would be more appropriate.
This is sincerely more or less 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 some sites, bettors can place as many $100 wagers as they'd like. However, each one 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 this; he simply adjusts the prices by automation.
Basically, if you spend ten minutes researching a prop bet, the chances are this is eight minutes more than the bookmaker who priced the prop spent doing the same. And that, in essence, is why football props are beatable.
Analyzing Props: An Example
To give you an idea of how to analyze a prop, we're going to show you an example. This uses the same bet as outlined above, the over/under on how many passing yards a quarterback will have in a game. Specifically, this example uses the 2011/12 AFC Championship game between the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens. Although this is now some time ago, the methodology is still sound.
When we priced this prop before the lines even came out, we started by pulling the following 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
We then did the following calculations, using the formula we showed you earlier.
We then did the following calculations, using the formula we showed you earlier.
The line for Flacco looked like this
The difference was understandable looking at the stats of the previousfive games, and also knowing the Patriots had a huge fan bias. We watched this fan bias bet the lines until they looked like this.
Meanwhile, another site came along and posted these lines.
This second site is a site that generally targets recreational punters, and they probably didn't handicap these props themselves. They likely just copied the market and included a lean for fan bias. What they hadn't accounted for was the fact that the rapidly changing prop prices during the Conference Championships made the market nowhere close to efficient.
Here's the way we looked at this proposition before betting. We had capped Brady at 278.7 and would be happy to bet under it even with the juice. We had capped Flacco at 288.9 and would be happy to bet over that even with the juice.
Why? Because the Patriots were a strong seven-point favorite which means a greater chance they would end the game taking a knee after having just spent the 4th quarter wasting clock. On the other side, the chances were greater that Flacco was out passing, looking to come from behind, save his team's season, and bring them to the Super Bowl.
Needless to say, we found this to be a massively +EV prop betting opportunity. It also worked out that Brady passed for 239 and Flacco for 306, almost exactly what our handicapping suggested would occur. Of course, even with props that are largely +EV you'll still lose a fair percentage of the time. But if you find the right spots, and follow the kind of thinking we've outlined here, they can be profitable overall.
Using Props as Derivatives
Many football propositions are derivatives, which basically means that one line derives from another. For example, the old sucker's bet that either team will score three consecutive times is a derivative of both the betting total and the point spread. 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. The secret is out on this one, so the same opportunities no longer exist unfortunately.
Another example of a derivative is a prop on which team will score first. This is a derivative of the game's half time point spread and total. In fact, so much so that 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 following formula
Let's say we're looking at a game between the Patriots and the Jets, where the first half point spread is as follows.
First Half Point Spread
The odds for both teams are -110. The first half total is as follows.
First Half Total: 24.5
We first 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, we see the predicted score is: Patriots 14.5 Jets 10. Now we plug this into the above formula.
The fair odds for which team will score first would therefore be Patriots -145 / Jets +145. If you can find those odds, or better, you've got a +EV bet.
Using Poisson Distributions For Props
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 lines like this for the same game.
Total Sacks: 4.5
Total Sacks: 4
Total Sacks: 4
If you 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 you then know whether a bet on under 4.5 at -140 is +EV? For this, you could just run Poisson calculations. What's a Poisson? Read our article on using Poisson for football prop betting to find out.
Prop Betting Against Friends
If you're comfortable betting with friends, here's a great way to take some money from them. You won't find this wager offered online, but it's an awesome one to bait your friends into making a sucker's bet. The prop is simply to 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 us, while the bet you book might look ugly, we book this bet every year and rarely ever does anyone win! Always, one of the bottom six teams in the league super unlikely to get in the playoffs ends up making it. It's very difficult to pick five teams that won't make the playoffs; picking six teams is a heavy long shot.
Final Word on Football Props
In this article we 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 that there's 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 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 that they're all similar. Just with the props we showed how to work out, you have been provided with enough information to crack fifteen others. Crack these and you'll be well on your way to cracking them all.
If you're frustrated and wish we had given the formulas for several more, some day when you have all the keys to prop betting, you'll be extremely glad this was all that we shared. Remember, props are small markets; and for at least the time being, they are not all that difficult to beat.
As a very final point, let us give you one more piece of advice. For the best chance of making money from props you should ideally have accounts at all of the top football betting sites. For some help in deciding which sites to join, please see our recommendations.
Author: Jim Griffin
Updated: September 2017
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