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Prop Bets: A Beginner’s Guide

By CaptainPicks

The ascendance of daily fantasy sports and the more recent rise of sports betting has helped the proposition betting market mature drastically over a short period of time.

Prop bets aren’t just fun, but increasingly, the most seasoned bettors see the expansion of prop betting markets as an opportunity to find valuable, even preferable, betting angles. Recreational sports bettors can also benefit from the expanded surface area of betting opportunities.

So what is a prop in sports betting? And how should you approach prop betting markets? Let’s dive in.

Prop Bets, Explained

Unlike moneyline bets and spread bets, which relate to the results of a game, proposition bets are not directly tied to the outcome of a game. Rather, proposition bets are wagers on occurrences within the game. Instead of betting on who will win, you might bet on a statistical outcome for a given player in the game.

Prop bets are offered in every major sport, though they are particularly popular in basketball and football, which have a multitude of player performance stats. Most online sportsbooks allow you to combine multiple prop bets into a parlay, which increases your potential payout. In many cases, you can even parlay prop bets across different sports.

There are two primary types of prop bets; player props and game props.

A player prop is a wager on a countable statistic or outcome for a specific player in a game.

With player props, the bettor attempts to project a player’s performance in a game. In this way, prop bets share many similarities with daily fantasy sports.

For example, you can bet on Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen to throw over or under 274.5 passing yards in a given game.

Let’s say you bet on the over. If Allen throws for 275 or more passing yards in the game you would win the bet, and if he threw for 274 or fewer yards, you would lose the bet.

Player props can be anything from passing yards by a quarterback, receiving yards by a wide receiver, rebounds by a power forward, strikeouts by a pitcher, and much more. On your online sportsbook, the Josh Allen prop bet would look something like this:

 Josh Allen Passing Yards

Over 274.5 (-115)

Under 274.5 (-110)

Oddsmakers analyze the matchup, historic data, and Josh Allen and the Bills’ recent performances to project his expected passing yards for the game.

Game props are based on outcomes that happen throughout the game and are not tied to a team or individual player.

Examples of game props include the team to score first, whether there will be a score in the first five minutes, and over/under for the longest touchdown scored. They are often yes or no situations, like will there be a defensive touchdown or a safety. Game props can be based on outcomes that happen in a quarter, inning, period, or half, or for an entire game.

It’s essential to shop for the best lines to find value when betting on props. Unlike spread and total markets, which tend to settle close to a consensus across the books, prop lines can vary widely from book to book. Prop bets also tend to have relatively low betting limits compared to moneylines, spreads, and totals bets.

Why Bet Props?

Proposition bets allow bettors to gain an edge on sportsbooks they don’t typically find on popular, high-volume wagers like moneylines, spreads, and totals. So much money is wagered on spreads and totals that those markets are hyper-efficient – oddsmakers are very good at setting those lines.

But prop betting markets are often not the top priority of sportsbooks. Because of the multiplicity inherent in prop betting markets, prop lines tend to be far less efficient than point spread and totals lines. This makes props an easier market to find an advantage but is also why prop betting limits are much lower.

Let’s not ignore the most simple reason to bet props – they provide more opportunities to find games within the game to root for. Cheering for a wide receiver every time they haul in a catch when you bet the over on their receptions total adds an extra layer of excitement to watching the NFL.

NFL Props

The NFL typically has a robust prop betting market across all the major sportsbooks.

Some of the most widely available and popular NFL player props you can bet on include: over/under for passing yards, rushing yards, receiving yards, receptions, and quarterback touchdowns and interceptions. You can bet on if a player will score a touchdown and which player will score the first touchdown of a game. There are also plenty of game props available, such as the distance of the longest TD or reception.

In a given Packers game, you may bet on Aaron Rodgers over/under 2.5 touchdowns, on running back Aaron Jones to go over/under 3.5 receptions, or on Jones to run for over/under 73.5 rushing yards – you can even parlay all three together. As with each sport, your strategy depends on your analysis of matchups, expectations for a team’s game plan, and how you project a game will play out.

As we will say again, it’s imperative to do your research when betting on props.

Suppose you were considering the Aaron Jones rushing prop. What factors might support that bet? 

The opposition’s run defense ranks low in yards per rush allowed. Or maybe they are missing a key interior defensive lineman or linebacker that has led to recent regression in their run defense. Perhaps you believe the Packers’ offensive line will overmatch the opposing defensive front in the trench battle.

In the NFL, a sport constantly beset by injuries league-wide, when a team has a cluster of injuries to a specific position, this can be an area to exploit with props.

These are the types of factors you’ll have to consider when betting on NFL props.

NBA Props

With smaller rotations and relatively consistent player minutes and usage, the NBA has become an increasingly popular prop betting market.

Some NBA player prop bets include game-scoring leader, over/under for player points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, 3-pointers, and stat combo props such as (total points + rebounds + assists). For example, a total points, rebounds, and assists (PRA) prop bet might look something like this:

 Cade Cunningham Total Points, Rebounds, & Assists

Over 29.5 -120

Under 29.5 -110

In considering your NBA prop betting strategy on a given night, you might start by analyzing defensive matchups and projecting which player(s) on each team you expect to guard the key players on the opposing team.

For a simplified example, suppose a wing player like OG Anunoby or RJ Barrett has been struggling a bit with his shot lately. If they are projected to be guarded by an elite wing defender such as Mikal Bridges, Jrue Holliday, Herb Jones, or Jaylen Brown, you may look to bet the under on Anunoby or Barrett’s points scored prop. On the flip side, maybe a team is missing their most valuable wing defender in a game where they’ll face a top scorer. These are just a few examples of what you might consider when betting on NBA props.

MLB Props

Tons of MLB props are available for pitchers and batters in every game on the daily baseball slate.

Bettors can find batter props for home runs, total bases, hits, rbi’s, runs scored, stolen bases, singles, doubles, and triples for every player in the starting lineup. You can also find pitcher props like strikeouts, outs recorded, hits allowed, and earned runs allowed.

For example, the strikeouts prop bet for Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw in a game vs. the Angels looks like this:

Clayton Kershaw Strikeouts

Over 6.5 (-145)

Under 6.5 (+110)

For most hitter props, the over/under will be set at .5, with a few exceptions for the top hitters in the game. What bettors will see vary across the board is the odds.

For example, every player in the starting lineup for a Yankees vs. Red Sox matchup has an over/under of .5 hits, except for Aaron Judge and JD Martinez. Judge is +205 to have more than 1.5 hits and -285 to have one hit or less in the game. His Yankee teammate Giancarlo Stanton has -210 odds to record at least one hit (over .5) and is +155 to go hitless.

Suppose you wanted to bet on a strikeout prop for a right-handed starting pitcher. In this case, you might check the pitcher’s strikeout rate and the opposing lineup’s whiff rate, chase rate, and strikeout rate against righties, and the matchup history between the pitcher and the opposing lineup. Baseball has a wealth of splits and advanced statistics to dive into as you consider MLB prop bets.

NHL Props

In the NHL, you can bet on player props for a player to score a goal, who will score the first goal, over/under for assists, points, shots on goal, saves, and even penalty minutes. You can bet on whether a goal will be scored in the first ten minutes of a game, which team will score the first game, and over/under total power-play goals, among other game and team props.

Analyze Matchups & Find Your Angle

As you may have realized in our discussion of prop betting in each sport, bettors need to possess a working knowledge of teams and players, and they need to research and analyze matchups to be successful in betting on props over a long period.

Think through the strengths and weaknesses of each team and try to map out how you envision a game playing out. Look for how one team or player might be able to exploit the opposition. Also, pay attention to coaching trends and stay on top of injury reports, no matter what sport you bet on.

While recent performance is always important, it’s not quite as simple as riding the hot hand. Average bettors are biased to favor overs, and so sportsbooks tend to shade prop lines toward the over, which means unders often have more value.

One way to boost your chances of success betting on props is to specialize in the one or two sports you have the most interest in and knowledge of and on a few types of specific props that you have success with. Prop betting allows you to lean into your strengths and hone in on the sport and facets of the game you have a good read on.