For many bettors, an NFL week isn’t complete without a healthy dose of prop bets. Betting on player performances has replaced betting on their favorite teams for many American bettors. Betting NFL player props may seem straightforward. On the surface, it appears beatable. Indeed, there is a lot of profit potential in betting player props. However, there are also some pitfalls that trip up many bettors. Let’s take a look at the rise of popularity in player props on both sides of the counter. What major mistake you may be making and the best process for getting an edge going forward.
The Popularity of NFL Player Props
One of the biggest differences between how sports betting was done just 10 years ago and how it’s done now is the breadth of the market. For years, proposition bets were just an amenity used to lure players in. Sportsbooks paid little mind to prop bets. They typically had low limits when offered for any game other than the Super Bowl. If you decided to specialize in just playing props, you would often be informed your business is no longer desired.
However, with legalization and regulation came a new generation of U.S. sports bettor. They were introduced to betting via Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS). As such, they were predisposed to the idea of betting on player performance. DraftKings and FanDuel’s massive brand awareness in the US is due in part to the legal age for DFS being 18 in most of the country. They get a 3 year head start on hooking potential sports bettors.
Today, betting on player props has never been more popular. For every game of the NFL season, there are hundreds of player props available at most sportsbooks. It’s a wide-ranging betting buffet for the hungry bettor.
Sportsbook Tolerance Is Different For NFL Player Props
Remarkably, the surge in popularity of NFL player props has created an interesting dynamic where sportsbooks are more tolerant to prop action than in the past.
Don’t get me wrong – sportsbooks will still limit you if they think you have an edge and you’re only looking to pick off their weak prop lines. However, whereas a few years ago it was unheard of to be able to bet $500 per prop consistently in the NFL regular season. Now, even sharp bettors are finding that $500 bet sizes fly under the radar at many of the bigger US books. Some books are willing to let anyone take quite a stake on some mainstream NFL player props.
The interesting dichotomy is, sportsbooks haven’t suddenly become sharper at player props. The same edges still exist. For many bettors who are growing their bankroll, betting NFL player props can be a lucrative grind each week through the season. Later in this article, we’ll explore some of the precautions you still need to take to preserve your account longevity.
How To Approach Betting NFL Player Props
In previous articles and videos, I’ve discussed how the Top-Down Method of sports betting can be ideal for many bettors. It’s natural for anyone who has practiced Top-Down to instantly want to know “Who is the sharp book to follow for prop bets?” I suspect someone in our Discord Community asks this question at least once a week. I don’t fault them. It’s a great approach to sports betting. However, the hard reality is:
There is no sharpest sportsbook for props.
At least, not yet. What makes a sportsbook “sharp” is their use of betting information from sharp bettors to shape their lines. This also requires higher limits to entice sharp action. In turn, this creates liquidity so that the sharp money can be a signal in the volume of bets coming in. If a sportsbook only caters to recreational money and limits sharp action while encouraging square action, they have no idea what the sharp money is on.
The Sharp Market Makers Don’t Care About Your Prop
The sharpest sportsbooks in the world, such as Pinnacle and Bookmaker, typically hang low limits on NFL player props. $250 before gameday, and maybe $500 or above on gameday. Meanwhile, they are taking $100k wagers on who will win the game. Do you think they’re going to use their bookmaking resources to finely shape the prop market for relative pennies of profit? No.
Pinnacle doesn’t even make their own prop lines. They outsource to Swish Analytics. If you’ve been told that the perfect line you should use for Top-Down betting in props is Pinnacle, you’ve been sold a load of jam.
Some people speculate that FanDuel may become a sharp market maker in player props. They own an analytics company in Numberfire, they have a DFS pedigree, and they have talented bookmakers. Indeed, they offer many of their player props at -110 on each side at gameday. It remains to be seen whether they become someone you could directionally use for Top-Down, but for now, I stick with my assertion that there are no sharp prop books.
Using DFS Projections To Beat NFL Player Props
After saying all that, there still is a viable Top-Down Method to use on player props. In fact, for many prop bettors, it’s something they are familiar with. DFS to the rescue! There are many sites and services out there that absolutely hawk NFL player performance. They have metrics and algorithms to project player performance for expert level DFS usage. These same projections can be used in sports betting analytics, and in many cases, beating NFL player props.
There are many different sites with NFL DFS projections. I’m not going to declare who is best here. However, I will list a selection of possible sources:
Typically, these sites will provide projections on the average basic stat line for just about any offensive player. Some of these sites are built on simulating the game, some of them are built on algorithmic approaches. You’ll have to do your own research as to which site, or blend of sites, becomes your source of truth. This leads us to the big mistake bettors make when using this approach.
The Biggest Mistake Bettors Make When Betting Props
Was the title of this article clickbait? No, absolutely not. Bettors consistently make the mistake of conflating mean and median. In a normal and balanced probability distribution, the mean and median are very close together. For instance, if we were to choose a whole number between 1 and 5 (1, 2, 3, 4, or 5) then after many trials, we would expect our list of chosen numbers would average out to 3. That’s the mean. We would also expect the median number on this list would also be 3. That’s the point at which 50% of the values on the list are above it and 50% of the values are below it.
However, with player performance in an NFL game, it is not a normal balanced distribution. The mean and the median don’t line up. That’s because a player may go off for a spectacular day, but the lower barrier is always going to be 0. This is considered a positive skew. Simply stated, the mean will be higher than the median.
The problem is, sportsbooks aren’t making their line based on the mean. If they did, then blindly betting all unders would be profitable across the board. Instead, they use the median. The point where 50% of the time the result will be over and 50% of the time the result will be under.
Many bettors don’t realize this. They take mean projections from a DFS site and attempt to use them as their answer key in a betting market. This results in betting far too many overs, and is almost guaranteed to be unprofitable for the bettor. They need to be using the median instead.
Converting Mean To Median in NFL Player Props
To convert a mean projection to an effective median you need simulation. For the average sports bettor, building a simulator is beyond their technical expertise. That’s why Unabated created our NFL Player Prop Simulator last season. It allows you to enter a projection and have it be simulated out 10,000 times. You get a distribution of outcome, and in the Summary tab, you get the median from the simulation as well. To many Unabated subscribers, this took their prop betting game to another level.
Using Unabated’s Props 2.0 Product To Beat The Market
This season, we developed an even more ambitious product which we internally dubbed Props 2.0. This would be one-stop utility for projections, simulations, and line shopping of NFL player props.
First, we debuted Phase I, which was a fully functional props odds screen. We feature markets for over 20 common prop bets. From Field Goals Made to Tackles & Assists. You can compare prices from 8 different sportsbooks with more on the way shortly.
As with our game odds screen, you can also view the line history for any prop bet on the screen.This is very useful in learning the impact of injury news and tout releases on the prop betting market. Given the inefficiency of prop markets, it’s not unusual to find vastly different lines available in markets. Just shopping odds alone can give you a huge edge.
Loading Player Projections
In Phase II, we’ve added the ability to load player projections from a variety of popular sources. Currently, we have deals in place with Numberfire, FantasyPros, and CapWize and we also allow you to blend those projections, and upload your own. While we don’t endorse these projections as being any more accurate than others you might find out there, we believe they provide value to bettors in forming their own projections.
If you select one of the six prop markets in the list with the SIM icon, you can load in projections using the menu at the top of the screen. You can also edit these projections in the props screen. Maybe adding in your own, or tweaking the provided projections. Then the magic happens. By pressing the green play button, you can run a simulation in-line.
The simulation produces a median value which is then compared against the current market for that prop. Your expected value (EV) is displayed next to each market. Any +EV will be highlighted in Unabated Green. You can toggle between your edge and what the true price should be by clicking the (+) sign.
If you want to see the full distribution of player performance, you can still use the stand-alone player prop simulator as well. You also get immediately pointed to the best line for either side of the prop wager using the Best Line column.
It really is as simple as loading the projections, running the sim, quantifying your edge, finding the best number, and then betting. It’s an incredibly powerful tool that will hopefully streamline your process when betting NFL player props.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
Anytime we create powerful tools at Unabated, we have some internal debates about how to protect people from using this incorrectly and causing harm to their betting portfolio. Props 2.0 is no exception. We design these tools so that they don’t simply spoon feed you answers. You need to do some work towards the process to make them profitable. Here are some points of caution I’d pass along when using the Props 2.0 product:
- Finding the best source of player projections is more difficult than it seems. I wouldn’t blindly trust any single player projection source. Compare results between multiple trusted sources to help solidify your signal. At the same time, blending all sources together is not a strong method either. That introduces too much noise into the equation.
- Large edges exist in NFL player props, but you should always be willing to be suspicious of edges that appear too large. See if there is something that might not be factored into the projection. Seek alternate opinions.
- Don’t solely bet props. Mix up your action. There’s plenty of tools and resources at Unabated to give you an edge in sides and totals, or futures, or in-game. Books will grow tired of someone who only bets props.
- Utilize line history to see how the market has moved. Especially on players who have been the target of a tout release. Betting the same side as a popular prop tout release can shorten your lifespan at many sportsbooks and if you’re betting after a major line move you’re missing out on a lot of the value.
These tools are all available starting at the Essentials tier, so if you haven’t trial subscription yet, you found the perfect time of the year to give it a whirl.