How to bet on NFL player props

Tom Brady's numbers haven't swayed this season, so how do you rate the yardage prop before week three?  (Butch Dell/AFP)
Tom Brady’s numbers haven’t swayed this season, so how do you rate the yardage prop before week three? (Butch Dell/AFP)

With the proliferation of legal sports betting, odds makers are offering more and more options for the dollar you bet on.

In addition to standard point spreads and totals, bettors can bet on a huge list of the game’s single player stats, also known as player props. For typical NFL games, bettors can bet on quarterback passes, completions, yards, touchdowns, and interceptions, not to mention producing runs, receivers, and tight ends. You can even bet on the number of tackles, sacks, and interceptions your defensive players will have, and an amazing array of options for any given competition.

Compared to sides and totals – the most popular NFL bets – the player backing market attracts fewer bettors (and fewer dollars), which in theory means the books offer less efficient prices.

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“It was clear that we could beat them with our projections,” Adam Levitan, co-founder of The Run Foundation, in an interview. Originally, his team’s predictions focused on everyday fantasy sports, but were later redirected to player-specific prop markets. “It’s not like the sides and totals where there are millions of dollars betting and the market trends towards efficiency,” Levitan said. “It’s less fluid, the borders are less, and the lines are undoubtedly softer.”

Easier market with profit potential? It looks so good. Just remember that “easier” is a long way from easy. Even if your goal is primarily entertainment, there is still a lot of work to do before placing your first bet. Here is an example of how to evaluate a single strut.

All you need is a good display system. (It’s easier said than done.)

Player predictions are widely available online, albeit with a different quality. Fantasy Pros, Pro Football Focus, and Football Outsiders all deliver weekly player performances, some behind paywalls and some outside. As always, you get what you pay for, but what we’re looking for is to get straight to the point. In other words, we don’t need to know how many passing yards Tom Brady will have against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday; We need to know if his total display of 251.5 yards is likely to exceed the Caesars or under the 255.5 yards shown at DraftKings.

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

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Per Fantasy Pros — average forecasts from STATS Inc, numberFire, NFL.com, CBS Sports and ESPN — are expected to shoot Brady for 267.6 yards on Sunday. That’s well above the 251.5 yards that Caesars offers, so the overprice is attractive, especially at its current +102. Plus, Pro Football Focus projects Brady will throw it for 305.8 yards, which is another data point for even more.

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Of course, you have to look at other factors as well. What is the injury situation in Brady Corps receiver suffocation? How would it be affected by Mike Evans’ one-game suspension? Could his offensive line protect him long enough to deliver the plays he’d need more of? Expectations are just a starting point. Now it’s time to add some context.

It is also important to remember the expectations of players that usually focus on average production, while support markets are based on average production. The median is the midpoint of the full distribution of results, with half of the results above the projection and the other half below. The average will generally skew higher than the average, because a passerby is more likely to throw 400 yards than zero.

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

If you’re feeling adventurous, there are also some outlets, like Unabated, that help teach you how to create your own predictions.

Once you’ve got the projections you like, you’re ready to start looking for value.

As always, online shopping is the key to success. We’ve already seen two different sets featured for Brady’s pass-through performance in two different outlets. This is common. Sometimes, the gap will be big. For example, FanDuel displayed Jacobi Brissett’s total passing yards at 185.5 in this week’s Thursday Evening Game while Caesar displayed 193.5. This is another big difference for the same basic bet, although the prices are also slightly different.

Bear markets often have exploitable price differences at any time. At the Kansas City Chiefs-Los Angeles Chargers game last Thursday, rookie linebacker Xander Horvath was priced to score a +600 touchdown at DraftKings — a $100 bet he would win $600. The same bet was priced at +1200 on Caesars and +1600 on FanDuel, huge differences.

Alternative pricing can also be a source of value. The odds of Kansas City’s Marquez Valdes-Scantling going 74.5 yards against the chargers were +550 at BetRivers, but FanDuel was only offering him +390 to go past 80 yards—a worse price for a larger number.

“There are huge inconsistencies in juice across the books, and there are huge differences in [player prop] Levitan said. “Anytime you’re betting on anything, getting the best streak possible is very important.”

Some player props should be avoided

One player you might want to avoid: Top Scorers, which are popular due to occasional big payouts and exciting results. It is simply difficult to find any exploitable pattern in these markets. Buffalo scored his first touchdown in 16 of his games last season and the players to take relegation, in order, were Gabriel Davis, Davis Again, Devin Singletary, Dawson Knox, Stevon Diggs, Josh Allen, Isaiah Mackenzie, Singletary, Knox, Matt Breda, Davis , Allen, Knox, Emmanuel Sanders, Singletary and Davis.

You will also need to avoid suggested player offers. These hardly provide a fair value compared to the risks involved. If you are interested in a suggested combination, see if you can recreate the bet in another sportsbook. You’ll be surprised how often you can find a better price – even if the original offer was meant to be a “booster”. Pat Freymouth scores a touchdown Thursday night and goes over 49 degrees to receive a yard that will push +550 with a “boost” at Caesars. You’ll pay +668 for a single DIY game at FanDuel.

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