How to bet NFL player props

Tom Brady's numbers haven't impressed this season, so how to evaluate his passing yardage prop before Week 3?  (Butch Dill/AP)
Tom Brady’s numbers haven’t impressed this season, so how to evaluate his passing yardage prop before Week 3? (Butch Dill/AP)

As legal sports betting spreads, oddsmakers are offering more and more options for your wagering dollar.

Beyond the standard point spreads and totals, bettors can wager on a massive menu of individual player stats for a game, also known as player props. For typical NFL games, bettors can wager on a quarterback’s passing attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and interceptions, not to mention the production of running backs, receivers and tight ends. You can even bet on the number of tackles, sacks and interceptions defensive players will have, a mind-numbing array of options for any given contest.

Compared to sides and totals — the more common NFL bets — the player prop market attracts fewer bettors (and fewer dollars), which should theoretically mean the books offer less efficient prices.

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“It was obvious we could beat them with our projections,” Adam Levitan, co-founder of Establish the Run, said in an interview. Originally his team’s projections were focused on daily fantasy sports, but they were later redirected to the player prop markets. “It is not like sides and totals where there are millions of dollars bet and the market trends towards efficiency,” Levitan said. “It’s less liquid and the limits are lower and the lines are undoubtedly softer.”

An easier market with a potential for profit? Sounds good. Just remember, “easier” is a long distance from easy. Even if your goal is primarily recreational, there is still a lot of work to do before placing your first bet. Here’s an example of how you could evaluate one prop.

All you need is a good projection system. (Easier said than done.)

Player projections are widely available online, albeit of different quality. Fantasy Pros, Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders all project Weekly player performance, some behind paywalls and some outside them. As always, you get what you pay for, but what we are looking for is to be directionally right. In other words, we don’t need to know exactly how many passing yards Tom Brady will have against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday; we need to know if he is likely to go over his offered total of 251.5 passing yards at Caesars or under the 255.5 yards offered at DraftKings.

We’ll get to these total discrepancies in a moment. First we need to get an estimate for Brady.


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Per Fantasy Pros — which averages the projections from STATS Inc, numberFire, NFL.com, CBS Sports and ESPN — Brady is expected to throw for 267.6 yards on Sunday. That’s significantly above the 251.5 yards offered by Caesars, so the over is appealing, especially at its current price of +102. In addition, Pro Football Focus projects Brady will toss for 305.8 yards, another data point for the over.

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Of course, you have to look at other factors, too. What’s the injury situation in Brady’s banged-up receiving corps? How will he be impacted by Mike Evans’ one-game suspension? Can his Offensive line protect him long enough to make the plays he’d need for the over to hit? Projections are just a starting point; now it’s time to add some context.

It’s also important to remember player projections typically center on average production, while prop markets are based on the media production. The median is the midpoint of the entire distribution of outcomes, where half of the outcomes are above the projection and half are below. The average will generally skew higher than the median, because it is more likely that a passer will throw for 400 yards than zero.

There are tools online that allow you to enter average projections to get prices for various data points, making it easier to evaluate a specific prop bet at a specific price.

If you feel adventurous, there are also some outlets, like Unabated, which help teach you how to create your own projections.

Once you have projections you like, you are ready to start looking for value.

As always, online shopping is the key to success. We already saw two different totals offered for Brady’s passing performance at two different outlets. This is common. Sometimes, the gap will be significant. For example, FanDuel offered Jacoby Brissett’s passing yards total at 185.5 for this week’s Thursday night game while Caesar’s offered 193.5. That’s another huge difference for the same basic wager, although the prices are also slightly different.

Anytime touchdown markets also often have exploitable differences in pricing. In last Thursday’s Kansas City Chiefs-Los Angeles Chargers game, the price for Rookie fullback Zander Horvath to score a touchdown was +600 on DraftKings — a $100 bet would win $600. The same bet was priced at +1200 on Caesars and +1600 on FanDuel, Massive differences.

Alternate pricing can be a source of value, too. The odds for Kansas City’s Marquez Valdes-Scantling to go over 74.5 receiving yards against the Chargers was +550 at BetRivers, but FanDuel was offering just +390 for him to go over 80 receiving yards — a Worse price for a bigger number.

“There are big discrepancies in juice across books and there are big discrepancies in [player prop] lines,” Levitan said. “Anytime you are betting on anything, getting the best possible line is so important.”

Some player props are to be avoided

One player prop you might want to avoid: first touchdown scorers, which are popular because of occasional big payouts and exciting results. It’s simply difficult to find any exploitable pattern in these markets. Buffalo scored the first touchdown in 16 of its games last season and the players getting the touchdowns were, in order, Gabriel Davis, Davis again, Devin Singletary, Dawson Knox, Stefon Diggs, Josh Allen, Isaiah McKenzie, Singletary, Knox, Matt Breida , Davis, Allen, Knox, Emmanuel Sanders, Singletary and Davis.

You will also want to avoid Suggested player parlays. These almost never provide fair value compared to the risk involved. If you are interested in a proposed combination, see if you can recreate the wager at another sportsbook. You’d be surprised at how often you can find a better price — even if the original parlay was supposedly “boosted.” Pat Freiermuth scoring a touchdown on Thursday night and going over 49½ receiving yards would pay +550 with a “boost” at Caesars. It would pay +668 as a single-game parlay you create yourself at FanDuel.

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