Do sportsbooks from Atlantic City to Las Vegas have a proposition for you? Absolutely — hundreds of them, in fact. From the time of a headliner’s anthem to who’s headed to the endzone first, the world of the proposition bet (or “prop bet” for short) is a whimsical one. If you’re looking for fun, NFL props betting is the place to be.
What is prop betting?
Unlike other types of NFL betting where you wager on the outcome of an event (like the Super Bowl with the point spread, over/under and moneyline), props offer NFL betting odds on a specific aspect of the game, both on-field and off. This could include guessing what the number of touchdowns or passes will be, or even offbeat bets on things like whether an animal will run on the pitch, or if any players will be arrested after the game.
In almost all cases, the actual outcome of the game itself will have no effect on a prop bet. Indeed, what makes them so popular, especially for big-ticket events like the Super Bowl or the NBA Finals, is that you don’t really need to be a hardcore gambler or sports fan to make a prop bet.
The history of NFL prop betting
NFL prop betting became popular in January 1986, at the iconic Las Vegas casino Caesars Palace. The mighty Chicago Bears had just steamrolled through the NFC to reach Super Bowl XX against the New England Patriots. As expected, there was no competition and the Bears went on to demolish the Cinderella Pats 46-10. But, because of the near certainty the Bears were going to win the big game, Caesars decided to add a little spice to its NFL betting lines.
Literally and figuratively, defensive lineman William Perry might have been the biggest Bears player of them all. Nicknamed “The Refrigerator”, Perry broke all football conventions during the regular season, scoring touchdowns on the ground and through the air in goal-line sets.
So, for the first ever prop bet, Caesers set an NFL betting line at 20 to 1 that Perry would score a touchdown in the Super Bowl. And sure enough, much to the chagrin of Walter Payton and the Palace bookmakers, Perry did just that, costing Caesars Palace over $100,000. But really, everyone was a winner, as the famous Perry prop unleashed the modern era of the prop bet.
The Super Bowl is the pinnacle of NFL prop bets
In the betting world, no league is more prop-friendly than the NFL, and no event as prop-friendly as the Super Bowl. Think of all the statistical measurements and milestones that go into an individual NFL game, and then imagine the possibilities for prop bets.
Team prop bets
Consider Super Bowl LIII between the Patriots and Rams. Here are some of the prop bets available to the public:
TEAM TO SCORE FIRST
New England Patriots -132
Los Angeles Rams +100
WILL THERE BE A SCORE IN THE FIRST 5½ MIN?
TEAM TO SCORE LAST WINS THE GAME?
WILL EITHER TEAM SCORE 3 UNANSWERED TIMES?
WILL THERE BE A TD SCORED IN 1ST QTR
WILL THERE BE A TD SCORED IN 3RD QTR
TEAM TO SCORE LAST IN GAME WILL BE?
New England Patriots -130
Los Angeles Rams +100
TOTAL PUNTS IN THE GAME BY BOTH TEAMS
Over 7.5 +100
Under 7.5 -125
As you can see, the sportsbook doesn’t balance its odds of a “win” or a “loss” with the object of the wager, but with the moneyline (the figure showing how much a bettor must wager to win $100). By skewing the moneylines on each side of the wager, the book is trying to entice the bettor to wager on the least likely scenario from what are, essentially, a set of extremely exotic over-unders.
Individual player prop bets
In the examples above, team achievements are at the heart of the prop. But some of the most popular NFL prop bets are attached to individual performances, focusing on how many points, touchdowns or yards a player might make. In Super Bowl LIII, these were NFL props available for Tom Brady:
Total Pass Attempts: 37.5
Total Completions: 25.5
Total Passing Yards: 282.5
Total Rushing Yards: 1.5
Total Pass TDs: 2
Now imagine a similar string of bets for every key player in the game. Even defensive players can get in the act, with props on sacks, fumble recoveries and interceptions.
Weird and wonderful prop bets
While many NFL prop bets can be properly diagnosed with analysis of the teams and players involved, others are gimmicks, and require almost no research. Here are some examples from Super Bowls gone by:
- O/U on the length of the National Anthem
- The color of Gatorade poured over the winning coach
- First song played by the halftime performer
- Number of Geico ads in the first half
These give casual viewers an incentive to bet on the sport, drawing in those that have limited interest in football itself. Online sites such as FanDuel, Caesars and William Hill are fine sources of both serious and quirky prop bets for major events and regular season games.