Shout out to the folks at Covers for tweeting out the William Hill US prop bets for the 2018 NFL regular season.
— Covers (@Covers) August 2, 2018
In taking a look at this, first off I do not like the name-out-of-hat bets for season leaders. Tough to pick exactly who will have the most rushing yards. I am more attracted to the over/under lines that aggregate and often play on conventional wisdom.
Take, for example, the prop bet on the number of 200 yard receiving games at over 5½ at +105, under 5½ at -125. Yes, that is a fair amount of juice. But a positive multiplier on the over (which people want to root for anyway) is enticing. Plus, this is a passing league, right? From fantasy I know DeAndre Hopkins and Antonio Brown put up huge numbers.
The true tale though, is that 200 yard receiving games are rare even in a pass happy league.
|NFL Season||Number of 200 Yard Receiving Games|
That is over 5½ 200 yard receiving games in 4 of 10 years, or 40%. Which actually makes the under look like a decent bet. (Full data here at Pro Football Reference).
A season with 15 rushing touchdowns has happened 6 of the last 10 years, but only in one year since 2012 (though three players managed it that year in 2016 – hello, clustering!). Seasons with 15 TD receptions are even rarer, though, happening in only 4 of the last ten years. But the perception that this is a passing league means the over there is -110.
Similarly, a 40 TD season is really quite rare, though it has happened in 5 of the last 10 years. But the price to take the over is -125! Taking the under there seems to have a bit of advantage at +105.
One prop bet where the bias may not hurt as much – will there be a 500 yard passing game at -300. That implies a probability of 75%. It has happened 8 of the last 10 years (12 times overall). Ben Roethlisberger is responsible for 3 of those games, and other names who have done it are Brees, Rivers, Brady. But there are 10 different names on that list, including Matt Schaub and Derek Carr.
This would seem to play into the same biased perception that this is a passing league. But it does take advantage of the long tail in the distribution. There will be 256 NFL games this year, and there are plenty of good (if not great) QB play in the league. The chances of someone needing to throw that much to compete in a game is clearly high, and probably worth laying the odds.
But that is a lot to lay.
A bet I like is total FG for the season under 37½ at -110. Only once in the last ten years has any kicker attempted more than 42 field goals (David Akers for the Niners in 2011 with a crazy 55 attempts on a team that was ranked highly on defensive DVOA, poorly on offensive DVOA and therefore relied on the kicking game quite a bit).
Yes, three players did this last year – Greg Zeurlein from the Rams (thanks to a lot of turnovers and great field position), Harrison Butker for KC, and Robbie Gould (again for the Niners). But that is recency bias, and I think it bucks a trend.
If teams learned anything from the Eagles last year, it should be to go for it on 4th down, and strive for TDs rather than FGs. No one should be kicking 42 times, and even at 90% success rate, 38 FGs made looks unlikely.