Prop bets, short for “proposition bets,” are wagers on any aspect of a football game besides the final score or outcome. NFL bettors are prop-crazy, though international soccer fans get into the act during Gold Cup and World Cup tournaments. The idea behind props – sometimes called exotic wagers or just “exotics” – is to offer a huge range of bets based on just about any aspect of the game with a clear conclusion.
The most common types of prop betting are focused around team and player performances, but other forms exist as well. Here is a look at a few of the most common varieties of proposition wagers at online sportsbooks.
Examples of Prop Bets
Prop bets are, by nature, difficult to describe categorically. A variety of different props exist for different sports – and by definition, a prop bet can be any wager involving an event besides the outcome of the game. You can fill in your own blanks, there – people can (and do) place exotic wagers on everything from uniform malfunctions to the singing of the National Anthem and team songs.
Rather than list every possible prop bet in the world, I’ll cover the basic categories of common exotic wagers available at online sportsbooks around the world.
Team and Player Performance Props
For my money, the most interesting bets are the ones tied to performance. I’m not into exotic wagers, but I do have an affection for statistics, and I think any sports bettor who doesn’t know his numbers is playing a dangerous game with his money. Since these props are directly tied to how players and teams perform statistically, they’re easy to track, and easy (for an active bettor) to handicap.
Here’s an example –
How many three-point shots will Lebron James make tonight?
In this example, notice how the prop takes the form of a traditional game total wager. This is a really simple wager to understand – if you like King James to make three or more 3’s tonight, take the over. If not, take the under. I like this kind of prop because it’s easy to research – Lebron had a few games this past season where he made more than 2.5 threes, but it was usually against a team with a particularly poor defense. If you think the D he’s facing tonight is soft, go for the Over.
The majority of Super Bowl, World Cup, and March Madness wagers (and bets in other tournament series) take the form of Yes/No propositions.
A number of Yes/No propositions exist – Will There be a Penalty in the First Five Minutes?, Will Defense Score Before Offense?, etc. – that are extremely simple on their face but difficult to handicap as a bettor. Since they’re set up as win/loss bets, you can pretty much toss a coin and pick a side. For me, laying a bet on a prop like this is the domain of the extremely-detailed statistics nerd, who understands which side is more likely, or the risk-taker looking to make a quick buck.
Here’s an example –
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
Will there be overtime?
In this example, you read the figures like you would read a moneyline, where the side marked with a + is the underdog and the side marked with a – is the favorite. In the above example, a successful Yes wager would pay $800 for a $100 bet, while you’d have to wager $1,000 on No in order to bring home a $100 payday. Clearly, the game is not likely to go into overtime.
Alternate Lines Props
This is an up-and-coming category of exotic wagers that offers a lot of value for bettors with a strong feeling about a particular matchup. This one’s best left up to risk-takers and stat geniuses – but that’s the case with just about every prop on the board at your sportsbook.
Here’s how it works – let’s say New York is heading to Foxborough to play Brady and the Patriots. Your sportsbook gives the Pats three points but you’re confident that the line is soft. A prop exists that gives you the right to put your money where your mouth is and back the Patriots at even longer odds for a larger potential return.
Here’s what this prop would look like:
• Patriots -3.5: +210
• Patriots -7.5: +400
• Patriots -10.5: +550
• Patriots -14.5: +800
Depending on your confidence level, you can place a bet that pays out as much as 8 to 1. Of course, to earn that payout in this example, New England would have to blow out the Giants by more than two touchdowns.
This prop tends to pop up for conference and league championship games, and it’s most common at US-facing sportsbook in the football markets, including college football. If you have a ton of sport knowledge or are willing to take the risk on a blowout, this may be the ideal prop for you.
Prop Betting Strategy
Prop betting strategy is something of a misnomer – the only way to “prepare” for a prop is to have been a longtime fan with a photographic memory or to be a statistics junkie with a ton of research. Most prop bettors are regular customers at sportsbooks looking to kill a little time and maybe win some seemingly-easy money.
That’s not to say that strategy in prop betting isn’t possible – you should, of course, look for the best lines if you’re going to make a prop wager. Why take an increased line on the Patriots at +400 when the book down the street pays out +450 for the same outcome? Being a smart shopper is the first step to prop strategy – the second is, unfortunately, to get lucky.
Exotic wagers are traditionally considered the domain of the degenerate gambler – but I think many of them are legitimate wagers that are can be cracked with good old-fashioned statistical knowledge. If you’re planning on placing an exotic wager, be sure to visit a few different books to find the best odds and payouts. With a little luck, you can turn your encyclopedic knowledge of National Anthem lengths into a nice steak dinner.