The fastest growing market in the sports betting industry is also often the most overlooked. Handicappers and the public alike dedicate all of their time to the more traditional moneyline, totals, and point spread wagers while ignoring proposition bets.
I can’t say this is without reason. Prop bets are commonly associated with the biggest sporting events, like the Super Bowl, March Madness, and the College Football Playoffs. Anyone who has spent time wagering on sports can tell you that the games with the most eyes on them are also the ones you should stay the furthest away from; it’s almost impossible to find value!
But that doesn’t mean props are never worth your time. In fact, if you know where to look and time your picks correctly, you can find quite a bit of positive value out there in the world of online sports betting.
Oddsmakers are always looking to expand their slate of odds, including things like entertainment, politics, and even professional wrestling. These are the perfect markets for a smart handicapper who wants to gain an edge at a specific niche that the bookmakers aren’t dedicating much of their attention towards.
In this article, I’m going to take a look at five golden prop bets that I’ve had success with and that I think can be profitable for you as well.
What is a Prop Bet?
First, let’s talk about what a “prop bet” really is. “Prop” is short for “proposition,” and covers any betting line that doesn’t fall neatly into the other categories of wagers, and doesn’t necessarily pertain to the results of the contest.
For example, moneyline bets are about picking which side will win straight-up. Point spreads apply a handicap in an effort to equalize each side’s chances of winning the quarter, half, or full game. Totals are based on the combined scoring of both teams, either for an entire contest or one of the halves.
Prop bets use some of those same concepts to wager on just about everything else. You can gamble on the coin toss, the length of the National Anthem, or how many three-pointers James Harden will make in a game. You can bet on which NFL team will commit the most penalties one Sunday or which side will be the first to score 10 points.
So, now that you have a clearer picture of what we’re working with – I’d caution you not to go too crazy with the fun stuff; guessing what color the Gatorade poured on a coach will be or how many songs Maroon 5 will play at halftime are fool’s errands.
Sports betting is all about picking your spots to gain as much of an edge over the bookmakers as possible. I want to share five markets that I’ve found to be particularly profitable in recent years.
NFL – Team Wins Props
My favorite proposition betting lines for the year usually come during the NFL offseason.
Recency bias convinces most of the public that the good teams will continue being good – if not better – and compete for a championship the next year and that the promising young teams will make the leap to becoming a playoff contender. They ignore the handful of teams that fall off the radar every season and the 3-4 surprise performers who everyone expected to stink.
After Jacksonville’s trip to the AFC Championship in 2018, they went 5-11 the very next year, finishing last in their division. And if you knew about Leonard Fournette’s problems with injuries or how weak their 2018 schedule was, the result wasn’t especially surprising.
The way the NFL schedules their games is one of the critical reasons we see such inconsistent results from teams from year-to-year. Organizations play six games against their three divisional opponents –playing each twice.
Then, they play against all four teams in another division within their conference, and another four against a division in the opposite conference. Each year, the divisions rotate – giving a squad roughly eight different opponents than they faced the year prior.
The last two games are determined based on a franchise’s divisional ranking from the year before. So, even if your team finished first in the worst division, they’ll have to face other first-place teams the following year.
So, when you’re looking to wager on win totals – don’t even bother looking at a team’s record from the year before; it’s pointless! Besides that handful of divisional games, there will be almost no continuity.
What you want to find is a squad that overperformed based on an easy schedule that will be utterly in-over-their-heads against top-tier opponents during the upcoming season. The Houston Texans, who finished first in the AFC South after a fourth-place record the year before, are a prime candidate to fall apart in the 2019-20 season. If the line is 6.5 or higher, I’m going under!
The other reason NFL seasons looks so drastically different each year is due to tons of player movement each offseason. The average NFL career only lasts 3-4 years, and with seven-rounds-worth of fresh new players entering the league each year, lots of veterans get cut or traded.
You can’t use a team’s wins and losses from last year to make any decisions, because – for the most part – they’ll be an entirely different roster. Take a good hard look at who a team gained and who they lost during the offseason. If the core is strong and you trust the front office and coach, they’re likely to repeat similar outcomes; but those situations are few and far between in the NFL.
MMA / Boxing – Method of Victory Props
In combat sports, the saying goes “styles make fights.” Truer words have never been spoken, and it’s this motto that will be the guiding light leading you to massive proposition bet profits.
Whether you’re looking at boxing or mixed martial arts, there are hundreds of variables that will determine how the bout will ultimately play out; almost none of which will ever be discussed in-depth by the pundits and talking heads on ESPN.
Different fighting styles have unique strengths and weaknesses that will either be exposed or not – depending on the opposition. Sometimes the two combatants’ tendencies will combine to create an absolute war – with thrilling, fast-paced action that could result in either fighter going down. On other nights, they produce boring judges’ decisions.
I’ve noticed a few trends in both sports that I’ve found to produce profitable results for “method of victory” prop bets.
Now, I’ll admit; boxing does not offer the same range of results from which you can choose like MMA. The bout will either be decided by a (technical) knockout, disqualification, or judges’ decision. At the highest levels – I’m talking the marquee fights — of the sport these days, most fights end in a decision.
Don’t put too much stock into how many KOs a fighter has on their resume coming into one of these contests. These days, stars are often manufactured into promising prospects by beating up dozens of overmatched tomato cans for the first few years of their career. It seems like everyone is undefeated with 20 knockouts before you’ve ever heard their name!
Pay closer attention to the style a boxer employs. Are they defensive — looking for places to land a counterpunch, or do they like to move forward – willing to get hit to land a shot of their own? What is each fighter’s wingspan? How good are they at maximizing a reach advantage? Not everybody with long arms knows how to keep an opponent on the end of their jab like Lennox Lewis.
What about footwork? A plodding power puncher is going to have a nightmare of a time trying to get Vasyl Lomachenko to stand still long enough to hit.
Pay attention to who is promoting the event as well. I told everyone I knew that Gennady Golovkin would not be allowed to win a decision over Canelo Alverez. There was too much money on the line for Oscar De La Hoya, who promotes Alvarez – but not GGG. So, the bet came down to whether or not I believed Golovkin could knock Canelo out.
Canelo Alverez is one of the best fighters in the sport, defends well, and has a sturdy chin; that’s all I needed to know. While I picked GGG to win if they fought in a vacuum – where boxing wasn’t corrupt – I knew a decision could only end in a draw or a win for Canelo.
In boxing, you only have two weapons: your fists. In MMA, you can strike with your hands, elbows, shins, heels, and knees – and that doesn’t cover grappling. There are athletes from all types of backgrounds and disciplines with skillsets based on wrestling, submission arts like jiu-jitsu, judo, kickboxing, boxing, and karate.
There are so many more variables to take into consideration and more ways a fight can end. In addition to knockouts and decisions, it’s possible to win by submission as well.
MMA can be incredibly unpredictable, which makes betting quite challenging sometimes. With all those limbs flying around and so many unique styles of fighting, it’s tough to find value. That’s why I look for a few specific scenarios on which to bet.
Rule 1: When two world-class grapplers/wrestlers are fighting, the bout will turn into a sloppy standup war with zero grappling 90% of the time. Think Tyrone Woodley vs. Damien Maia.
Rule 2: The tough-guy brawler types that like to come forward and land haymakers get humiliated by elusive counterpunching karate styles. Chris Leben and Forrest Griffen vs. Anderson Silva were two of the best examples of this.
Rule 3: Those same elusive counterpunching fighters match up horribly against grapplers. With one competitor looking to go to the ground and the other waiting for their opponent to engage — so they can counter, the bouts become plodding actionless decisions almost every time.
Rule 4: Grapplers that excel at pressuring opponents win with submissions over knockout artists. Many of the athletes with the most power fold when they’re frustrated. After a couple of rounds, they’ll turn over and give up the choke to get out of there. We’ve seen Daniel Cormier do this to Anthony Johnson and Derrick Lewis; Khabib vs. Conor McGregor is another great example.
Political – Election Results Prop Bets
Never in my life have I found more betting value than what was out there during the 2018 Midterm Elections in the United States. If there’s one good thing about modern politics and how they’ve become increasingly vitriolic and polarizing, it’s the impact it’s all had on betting lines. People are so “team-oriented” these days, they can’t see the matchups objectively.
During the Midterms, winning money was as easy as visiting FiveThirtyEight.com, looking at the probabilities they had set for each race, and comparing those numbers to the implied probability expressed by the betting odds.
People were so confident in the “blue wave,” that dozens of Democratic candidates were overvalued significantly. Part of this has to do with the media mostly just reporting what they want to have happen; but perhaps a more significant issue is how we’re increasingly living in validation bubbles — where we block anyone with an outside opinion and only read the news or talk to friends with the same beliefs.
Is that a good thing for society? Absolutely not; but it’s ideal for winning prop bets.
The 2020 Election – Prime Prop Betting Potential
Right now, you can find tremendous value online for the 2020 election. The makeup of this field of Democratic candidates will make defeating Trump much less likely than anyone wants to admit.
The strongest potential nominees are all young progressives, who all run the risk of alienating the establishment Dems. Plus, Howard Schultz has threatened to join the race as a third-party candidate should any of them be nominated – as rich people are afraid of paying taxes.
Then there’s your establishment picks like Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton (who is absolutely waiting in the wings and still considering jumping into this race), who may be able to sneak past the field of progressives as they all split those leftist votes, but don’t stand a chance against Trump.
All that will happen is the youth will be disenfranchised again, and the Bernie, Beto, and Tulsi Gabbard people will once again refuse to get behind the ticket – either to stay home on election day or cast an “F*%^ you” vote for The Donald.
Now….after saying all of that, check this out: You can find betting odds right now on Sportsbetting.ag, under the “political prop bets” section for “Party to Win the 2020 Presidential Election;” the Republicans are +130 underdogs. I don’t have a dog in this fight emotionally, but that’s stealing money.
And by the way, this works both ways; right now, it’s the left that’s creating betting value through their emotionally-driven narratives, but conservatives were doing the same during President Obama’s years in office.
NBA – Player Props vs. The New York Knicks
On any betting site that sets lines on NBA games, you can find a “player props” section with odds on a wide variety of individual player statistics for their upcoming game. You can almost always bet whether they’ll go over or under a totals line set for points scored, assists, rebounds, and various combinations of other stats.
What I like to do is target games being played at Madison Square Garden. For whatever reason, superstars love showing up to the Garden and absolutely decimating the home squad in front of their fans. And it’s not just because the Knicks are bad; lots of teams are bad. But no other stadium has a reputation for bringing out historic performances from opposing stars.
Now, the bookmakers are aware of this phenomenon and undoubtedly adjust their lines accordingly. But they rarely go far enough out on a limb to scare me away from taking the “over” on points scored. Though, it also depends on the superstar.
You want to shy away from the older guys and players on teams where it’s “championship or bust.” At this stage of his career, it’s probably not worth it to LeBron to stay in the fourth quarter to pile on points against the Knicks, when he could be preserving his legs for the playoffs (back when he was a lock for those, anyway).
A team with sustained success at the highest levels, like the Golden State Warriors – and the Spurs before them – will also relish the opportunity to rest starters once a wide enough lead is gained. You want to find teams and players with something to prove – especially if they’re in the running for a season-long honor like MVP or the scoring title.
James Harden is always one of my favorites for player props because the stat-lines he produces are consistently more ridiculous than anything the oddsmakers would possibly anticipate. Devin Booker, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Damian Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Russell Westbrook, and Paul George are all examples of players who are fun to bet-on against the Knicks at home.
Next season, when the Knicks miraculously land Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency, the sportsbooks are going to adjust the lines downwards expecting opposing teams to have to slow down and actually compete. Don’t fall for it!
There’s magic in that building, and visiting athletes get up for those games, regardless of the competition. I can’t wait to hammer the over for young players like Luka Doncic and Trae Young early in the 2019-20 season.
WWE Wrestling Props
If I weren’t already committing gambling blasphemy by supporting prop bets, I surely am now that I’m suggesting you wager on a fixed competition. But, there’s a weird divide in the wrestling world at the moment that makes these props worth wagering.
On the one hand, the WWE is attempting to “get with the times,” promoting a more diverse cast of characters of all races, genders, and physical stature, rather than just pushing the roided-up tan guys with long blond hair.
The “women’s revolution” has become a key piece of this rebrand, which is why – in 2019, WrestleMania is being headlined by women for the first time in WWE history.
On the other hand, Vince McMahon still gets the last word in terms of storylines and booking (who wins, how, etc.). What Vince wants to have happen and what the entirety of the rest of the world thinks should happen are often in conflict. When I look at the betting lines, they tend to reflect the results everyone wants and expects; but that’s not the WWE.
The more you try to change McMahon’s mind with chants and jeers, the more likely he is to alter long-term storylines at the last second – drawing up ideas that will enrage the loyal followers, all in the name of “heat.” (Heat is a wrestling industry term for a desired negative reaction.)
On any given pay-per-view, there will be two or three results that could have been bet at long odds, usually between +350 and +750. To know which matches to pick, you need to understand this very unique industry and read wrestling message boards to see who the hardcore wrestling fans love.
Find the people who have paid their dues only to be passed over by the giants like Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns time and time again. I’m talking about the Daniel Bryans, Bayleys, and Finn Balors of the world. Sure, they have their moments of triumph, but a few times a year, you know Vince is going to pull the rug out from underneath them.
As long as the old man is still in control of the company, look for situations in which it finally looks like some internet-favorite underdog will score the upset the fans have been waiting for. Then bet on the big guy, especially if he’s not supposed to win. That last-minute change-of-plans is coming, I promise you.
The Wrap Up
Prop bets have long been ignored by the masses of “sophisticated handicappers” with their complex analytical models and rigid rules. So many bettors are told that these betting lines are “suckers’ bets” and that you should stick to moneyline, point spread, and totals wagers. The safe stuff.
Well, I disagree. Unless you are one of the few MIT statistical geniuses, who have figured out how to consistently beat the oddsmakers at the major sports (and they haven’t stopped letting you place bets yet), finding the road less traveled is the best way to gain an edge quickly. To what are the oddsmakers paying the least amount of attention?
I believe the five scenarios shared in this article can help you pinpoint some excellent opportunities to profit from proposition betting. The trick is to use the public’s biases to your advantage. Recency bias can get you paid on NFL props, cognitive dissonance will fuel your political wagers, and one crazy old man can be counted on to score big gambling on professional wrestling.
It doesn’t matter how the sausage is made, all that matters is winning. Follow these five strategies, and you’ll be golden!