Value in NFL Player Props?
by Trevor Whenham - 12/15/2006
Face it - we're all a bunch of degenerates. If we weren't then books wouldn't be throwing out more and more ways for us to bet on football all the time. Back in the old days you used to have to pick which team would win, lay -110, and hope you were right. Now there are hundreds of different ways you can give the sportsbooks your money - totals, halves, quarters, futures, teasers, reverse teasers, parlays, team props, individual props. The one thing that many of those offerings have in common is that the books are going to get your money sooner or later, because their edge on most of the offerings are ridiculously high.
One of the fastest growing segments of NFL bets is player props. There are all sorts of different ways you can bet on the performance of an individual player, or on which one of two players is going to have a better game, season, quarter, or half. Are they worth your time? If you're a serious handicapper, then the short answer is probably no, but here's a look:
The first kind of player props you'll see is your opportunity to bet on how many yards a quarterback will throw for in a game. Usually they will split the possibilities up into groups of 40 or 50 yards - 101-150, 151-200 - and offer different odds for each group of yards. If you get it right then the payout is usually pretty decent - somewhere in the range of 2/1.
The problem is that it is very difficult to determine accurately how many times a player will pass in a given week. In week 15, for example, you can bet on the passing performance of Matt Leinart as he plays against Denver. Handicapping this is a real challenge. Over his 10 starts he's averaging about 212 yards per game. Over the last three weeks, though, he's passed for 232, 186, and 405 yards. When he threw for 405 yards he made 51 pass attempts. The next week he threw 24 times. Unless you have an advanced look at the Arizona playbook it is very difficult to know what the team plans. Looking to the Denver defense doesn't provide much help, either. Last week they allowed 279 yards passing, but the week before they only allowed 168. In other words, this whole bet boils down to not much more than an educated guess, and if I am guessing between six different possible outcomes then I want to be paid more than 2/1 if I'm right.
The next type of player props are the wide varieties of match-ups you can bet. Larry Johnson and LaDainian Tomlinson are meeting in a battle of the running titans on Sunday night, and you can bet on any number of things - who will run for more, who will score first, who will get to 100 yards first, who will have the longest rush, and more. The problem here, when you are dealing with two of the best running backs, and running offenses, in the league, is that every one of those bets is essentially a coin flip. Depending on a number of factors - the performance of the O-lines, the D-lines, the weather, the health of the two backs, the effectiveness of each team's passing game, the score - either back could have a bigger day than the other back and it wouldn't be a surprise. On most of the bets you are paying at least -115, and often more. If you're willing to bet $115 on a coin flip with a chance to win $100, then call me because I have a deal for you.
The latest player props to gain popularity are the fantasy football player match-ups. Capitalizing on the fantasy football rage, these bets let you choose which one of two players is going to have a better fantasy day. Pinnacle, for example, uses a scoring system that awards one point for every 50 passing yards, a point for every 20 rushing yards, six points for a touchdown, two points for a two point conversion, and a loss of two points for a lost fumble or an interception. The problem here is that performances can vary wildly from week to week for any player. This is especially problematic when touchdowns are weighted so heavily. A running back with 18 yards and a touchdown probably doesn't have a better game overall than a back that rushes for 118 yards, but he would win this bet. The one thing that gives these bets some appeal is that the underdog usually returns more than even money. That means that you can make a decent return if you can find some live longshots.
As a general category, player prop bets are not the easiest road to riches. As with virtually any bet, though, that doesn't mean that they don't have their place. If you're just looking for some action and another thing to cheer about while you watch a game then they are perfect, and you might even make some money out of the deal. There are also quite possibly situations where individual prop bets can provide value in your mind. If you are fairly confident that a defense doesn't match up well with an offense, that a team will favor a particular type of offense more strongly than normal, or that a player has an injury that could have a serious impact on his performance, then player props could provide another opportunity to leverage your opinion. Like anything, you just have to make sure that you consider your bet and know that the price it is costing you is less than your perceived return.