How to bet NFL player props

Tom Brady's numbers haven't impressed this season, so how to rate his passing yardage support ahead of Week 3?  (Butch Dill/AP)
Tom Brady’s numbers haven’t impressed this season, so how to rate his passing yardage support ahead of Week 3? (Butch Dill/AP)

As legal sports betting spreads, odds makers are offering more and more options for your betting dollar.

In addition to standard spreads and total points, bettors can bet on a huge menu of individual player statistics for a game, also known as player props. In typical NFL games, bettors can bet on a quarterback’s pass 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, an amazing array of options for any given competition.

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 pricing.

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“It was obvious that we can beat them with our projections,” Adam Levitan, co-founder of Establish the Run, in an interview. Originally, his team’s projections focused on daily fantasy sports, but later diverted to the player prop markets. “It’s not like sides and totals where millions of dollars are being wagered and the market is trending toward efficiency,” Levitan said. “It’s less fluid and the limits are lower and the lines are undeniably smoother.”

A simpler market with upside potential? Sounds good. Remember that “easier” is far from easy. Even if your goal is primarily free time, there is still a lot to do before you place your first bet. Here’s an example of how you might rate a prop.

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

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

We will come back to these total discrepancies in a moment. First we need an estimate for Brady.

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According to Fantasy Pros — which averages projections from STATS Inc, NumberFire, NFL.com, CBS Sports and ESPN — Brady is expected to throw for 267.6 yards on Sunday. That’s well above the 251.5 yards offered by Caesars, making the over attractive, especially at its current price of +102. Additionally, Pro Football Focus plans Brady to throw for 305.8 yards, another data point for the over.

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Of course, you need to consider other factors as well. What’s the injury situation in Brady’s ailing receiving corps? How does Mike Evans’ one-game suspension affect him? Can his offensive line protect him long enough to make the plays he needs for the over? Projections are just a starting point; Now it’s time to add some context.

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It’s also important to remember that player forecasts usually focus on average production, while prop markets are based on average production. The median is the midpoint of the entire distribution of results, with half the results above the projection and half below it. The average will generally be higher than the median because a passer is more likely to throw for 400 yards than for zero.

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

If you’re feeling adventurous there are also some outlets like Unabated to help you create your own projections.

Once you have predictions you like, you’re ready to look for value.

As always, line shopping is the key to success. We’ve already seen two different sums offered for Brady’s passport performance at two different outlets. That’s common. Sometimes the gap will be significant. For example, FanDuel offered Jacoby Brissett’s passing yards overall at 185.5 for this week’s game on Thursday night, while Caesar’s offered 193.5. That’s another big difference for the same basic bet, although the prices are also slightly different.

Anytime touchdown markets also often have exploitable price differentials. In last Thursday’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers, rookie fullback Zander Horvath’s price for a touchdown was +600 on DraftKings — a $100 bet would win $600. The same bet cost +1200 on Caesars and +1600 on FanDuel, huge differences.

Alternative prices can also be a source of value. The odds for Kansas City’s Marquez Valdes scantling to go for 74.5 yards against the Chargers were +550 at BetRivers, but FanDuel only bid +390 for him to go for 80 yards — a worse price for a larger number .

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“There’s a big discrepancy in juice between the books and there’s a big discrepancy in that [player prop] lines,” said Levitan. “Every time you bet on anything, getting the best possible line is so important.”

Some player props are to be avoided

One player support you might want to avoid: First touchdown scorers, popular for the occasional big payout and exciting outcomes. It’s just difficult to find any viable pattern in these markets. Buffalo scored the first touchdown in 16 of its games last season and the players who scored the touchdowns were, in order, Gabriel Davis, Davis again, Devin Singletary, Dawson Knox, Stefon Diggs, Josh Allen, Isaiah McKenzie, Singletary, Knox and Matt Breida, Davis, Allen, Knox, Emmanuel Sanders, Singletary and Davis.

You should also avoid suggested player parlays. These almost never offer fair value compared to the risk involved. If you are interested in a suggested combination, see if you can repeat the bet at another sportsbook. You’d be surprised how often you can find a better price – even if the original parlay was supposedly “boosted”. Pat Freiermuth, who scored a touchdown and went for 49½ yards Thursday night, would pay +550 with a “boost” at Caesars. It would pay +668 as a single game parlay that you create yourself at FanDuel.

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