Tutorial: How to bet Super Bowl props

By Jeff Fogle  (VSiN City newsletter) 

All those Tom Brady prop bets may seem tempting.
© USA Today Sports Images

This week’s tutorial is on sharp strategies for betting Super Bowl props. Bonus basketball coverage continues the collapsing Cleveland Cavaliers' narrative, while perhaps starting a new one for Oklahoma’s Trae Young. 

Tutorial: Don’t gorge on Super Bowl props

You’re going to hear a lot of advice between now and next Sunday about how to bet Super Bowl props. The danger in hearing a lot of advice…is that you’ll be tempted to bet a lot of props! That can be dangerous if you’re not an experienced bettor because…

*Prop prices are shaded against public tendencies

*Prop prices typically don’t offer “true odds” on longshots

*Sharp betting by professionals often erases early value on the openers

*You’re just winging it anyway!

Also dangerous, you could inadvertently put a lot more money in play than you’re comfortable with. Let’s say you’re going to bet the Patriots because you’re a Tom Brady fan. If you try to find prop bets that are in line with that preference (Over in Brady’s passing yardage, Over in receiving yardage for his favorite targets, and so on), you may find yourself with six or seven bets on the Patriots rather than just one. You already bet the Patriots! In essence, you’ve marched back to the window several additional times to bet on the Patriots again…just by way of backing various Patriots players, or by fading various Eagles players.

We surveyed our backchannel sources for sharp advice on betting Super Bowl props. Here are two key points that jumped out.

*Sharps focus on the inherent value of each prop. The number posted is either vulnerable or it isn’t. You attack if it’s vulnerable and leave it alone otherwise. Don’t worry about your pick on the team side or total. If Tom Brady’s passing yardage projection is too low based on what a “fair” price would be, you bet Over. If it’s too high, you bet Under. It’s possible that “New England -6” but “Brady Under” his passing yardage could BOTH grade out as value bets. It may feel like you’re betting against yourself. Don’t think like the public, think like a sharp. You’re betting to make money. Do smart research to estimate your own “fair” lines, then bet accordingly. 

*Sharps prepare their numbers in advance. Once props hit the board, they attack soft spots quickly. But, they also monitor line moves to see if public betting “creates” value that isn’t there initially. Maybe the Brady passing prop was on the money out of the gate. If the public pounds the Over and causes it to rise several yards, value has been created on the Under that wasn’t there initially. Do your best to make this a two-week project rather than a last-second whim.

If you’re betting for entertainment, prepare a bankroll in advance and play responsibly. If you’re betting to make money, take it seriously. Don’t “trust your instinct” or your full game handicap and assume the team you like is going to cash all of its props. Each offering is its own entity. 

What if you can’t prepare your own numbers in advance. How does one handicap props once they’re on the board? You may recall our past discussions with bettor “Coast2Coast” (who goes by @C2CHoops on twitter). He provided an example from the AFC Championship game. 

“The Over/Under on rushing yards for Leonard Fournette of Jacksonville was 82. His average for the season was 80 rushing yards-per-game. New England gave up more than 82 yards to an opposing running back in only five of 17 games. I expected the Patriots to win. I thought NE would key on Fournette and make Bortles beat them. And if Jax fell behind I expected them to throw more and run Fournette less. Also, he came into the game at less than 100% with a bad ankle. So, a prop of 82 yards was a fair number based on stats. But I thought those three game factors gave an edge to under.”

Sometimes you can’t “make” a reasonable number because you don’t know if a key player is at 50%, 70%, or 90% health. But, you can recognize when anything less than 100% health, when combined with coaching strategy and team tendencies, puts the percentages in your favor. 

One additional math quirk you should be aware of when making your own numbers. Averages can overstate a team or player’s true expectation. Occasional high numbers often add a few points to an average even if lower numbers are more common. Fournette is actually a good example of that. He had a 181-yard performance this season that was a stark outlier. 

Here are his per-game rush totals on a game-by-game basis…


Even in that stat scramble, the 181 jumps out. Now, I’ll order them from low-to-high so you can see the midpoint. These were his 15 appearances heading into the New England game. The median is in parenthesis… 


Fournette’s average was 80.4 heading into Foxboro, but his median was only 69. Fournette was “8-7 to the Under” at anything in the low 80’s all season. In your efforts this fortnight, try to find the “midpoint” performance in various stats to see if the market has been swayed too much by an average.

To the hardwood!

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers lose again, now 1-14 ATS last 15, 12-33-1 ATS this season 

Free money! It’s felt that way for weeks, as the Cleveland Cavaliers continue to implode before our very eyes against market prices that have been astonishingly slow to acknowledge the collapse. Cleveland was priced as a cheap road favorite Tuesday when it was announced the Spurs would be shorthanded. 

San Antonio (plus 2) 114, Cleveland 102 

Two-point Pct: Cleveland 57%, San Antonio 59%

Three Pointers: Cleveland 6/21, San Antonio 8/28

Free Throws: Cleveland 26/31, San Antonio 12/16

Rebounds: Cleveland 41, San Antonio 45

Turnovers: Cleveland 18, San Antonio 9

The Spurs were missing Kawhi Leonard, Pau Gasol, and Manu Ginobili. A starting lineup of LaMarcus Aldridge, Dejounte Murray, Kyle Anderson, Michelle Beadle, and a stray bat…led SA to 63 first half points and a comfortable victory over an opponent that barely tries to play defense any more. 

How bad was Cleveland’s defense? Aldridge was 12 of 17 on two-pointers. Tony Parker, who’s too old and slow to start any more, was 7 of 11 on two-pointers in the 18 minutes he was on the floor. Nobody but Kevin Love got close enough to commit three fouls or more, on a night the Spurs attempted 94 shots. 

Mainstream media outlets are turning the saga into a telenovela. Bettors need to keep profiting from this opportunity as long as it lasts. Tuesday’s non-cover drops Cleveland to 1-14 ATS its last 15, 2-17 ATS its last 19, and 3-19 ATS its last 22. The full-season mark is 12-33-1, sinking within reach of an unthinkable 75% failure rate. Fading the Cavs is still a printing press. 

One other quick NBA market result of note: Brooklyn (plus 9.5) lost a heartbreaker at Oklahoma City 109-108. Easy dog cover for bettors that brings the Nets to 11-3 ATS their last 14 games, and 30-18 ATS for the season. Oklahoma City has been treading water ATS the past few weeks after a long dry spell. Another failure as a medium or big favorite. The Thunder are now 2-14 ATS laying six points or more in their last 16 tries. 

Big 12 Basketball: #12 Oklahoma beats #5 Kansas because Trae Young only took 9 shots!

Trae Young got the message. He was forcing up way too many bad shots. He was trying to do everything instead of trusting his teammates. In their biggest home game of the season, the Sooners played excellent team ball to knock off conference favorite Kansas.

#12 Oklahoma (-2) 85, #5 Kansas 80 

Two-point Pct: Kansas 56%, Oklahoma 56%

Three Pointers: Kansas 10/32, Oklahoma 9/23

Free Throws: Kansas 6/14, Oklahoma 20/25

Rebounds: Kansas 35, Oklahoma 40

Turnovers: Kansas 11, Oklahoma 16

Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Kansas 8-5-7, Oklahoma 20-20-28

In recent boxscore summaries, we had talked about how Oklahoma had stopped playing defense and stopped working for good shots on offense amidst all the “next Steph Curry” hoopla surrounding tiring Trae Young. Tuesday, Young only took nine shots (7 of 9 from the floor, including 2 of 3 on treys), which means everyone else was getting good looks at the end of more disciplined offensive sequences. It added up to an efficient 85 points at a slower than usual pace, including 56% on two’s and 39% on treys (which equates to 59% on two’s). There’s still work to be done on defense. But, this style will at least give Young a chance to stay fresh the whole season. Possibly a very important night in the narrative of the 2017-18 college basketball campaign. 

Big 12 estimated “market” Power Ratings: West Virginia 87 at home…84 on the road, Kansas 86 at home…85 on the road, Texas Tech 85 at home…84 on the road, Oklahoma 83, TCU 80, Texas 79, Baylor 79, Kansas State 78, Oklahoma State 77, Iowa State 74.

Also Tuesday in the Big 12: #14 Texas Tech (-9.5) beat Oklahoma State 75-70.

ACC Basketball: #2 Virginia bullies #18 Clemson

If you like ugly basketball, it was beautiful. You won’t see shutouts in this sport. This might as well have been one, as the defensive juggernaut of the Virginia Cavaliers would barely even share the ball with the overmatched Clemson Tigers. 

#2 Virginia (-9.5) 61, #18 Clemson 36 

Two-point Pct: Clemson 44%, Virginia 49%

Three Pointers: Clemson 3/20, Virginia 7/19

Free Throws: Clemson 3/4, Virginia 4/8

Rebounds: Clemson 28, Virginia 35

Turnovers: Clemson 19, Virginia 11

Kenpom-Sagarin-BPI: Clemson 13-26-14, Virginia 3-6-3

Greg Peterson talked about Virginia’s great defense yesterday. The Cavaliers forced 19 turnovers in a low-tempo game! Their pack line defense allowed a handful of inside buckets. But, Clemson obviously couldn’t get many good looks outside given that 3 of 20 performance on bombs. Refs could mostly swallow their whistles given the style of play. Virginia is still playing like championship material (common for them in midseason before they confront a March ceiling). Virginia, Villanova, and Purdue all fighting for “National Champions of January” honors. 

ACC estimated “market” Power Ratings: Duke 87, Virginia 86, North Carolina 83, Clemson 81 at home…80 on the road, Florida State 80, Miami 79, Syracuse 78, Virginia Tech 78, Louisville 78, Notre Dame 77, NC State 76, Wake Forest 74, Boston College 74, Georgia Tech 73, Pittsburgh 62.

Also Tuesday in the ACC: #4 Duke (-9.5) beat Wake Forest 84-70 

College Basketball: Tuesday recaps in other major conferences

No major results or marquee matchups worthy of special boxscore coverage. Let’s just run through the scores, and our estimated “market” Power Ratings based on the most recent lined games for each team.

Big East

#1 Villanova (-16) beat Providence 89-69

Creighton (-2) won at St. John’s 68-63

Big East estimated “market” Power Ratings: Villanova 88 at home…87 on the road, Xavier 80, Seton Hall 79, Butler 78, Creighton 77 (injuries), Providence 75, Marquette 75, St. John’s 72, Georgetown 71, DePaul 69.

Big 10

Iowa (-2.5) beat Wisconsin 85-67

Northwestern (plus 2.5) won at Minnesota 77-69

Big 10 estimated “market” Power Ratings: Purdue 86, Michigan State 86, Ohio State 82, Michigan 80, Penn State 76, Maryland 76, Northwestern 75, Nebraska 75, Wisconsin 74, Indiana 73, Iowa 73, Illinois 72, Rutgers 71, Minnesota (had been low 70’s until bad price Tuesday vs. NW).


Arkansas (plus 1.5) won at Georgia 80-77 (in double overtime)

Tennessee (-11.5) only beat Vanderbilt 67-62

Mississippi (-2.5) beat Alabama 78-66

Kentucky (-7.5) beat Mississippi State 78-65

LSU (plus 2) upset Texas A&M 77-65

SEC estimated “market” Power Ratings: Florida 83 at home…82 on the road, Auburn 80, Kentucky 80, Tennessee 80 at home…78 on the road, Texas A&M 80, Missouri 78, Arkansas 78, South Carolina 76, Mississippi State 76, Georgia 76, LSU 75, Alabama 74 (Sexton playing hurt), Vanderbilt 74 at home…72 on the road, Ole Miss 73.

Pull those Chuck Taylors out of the closet, time to head to the gym for two more game previews with Greg Peterson…

College Basketball: “Running the Floor” with Greg Peterson

Louisville at Miami (8:00 p.m. ET on ESPN2)

Opening Line: Miami -3.5

Offensive Efficiency: Louisville #87, Miami #114

Defensive Efficiency: Louisville #23, Miami #9

Rebound Rate: Louisville #108, Miami #128

Percent of Shots are 3s: Louisville #231, Miami #259

Free Throw Shooting Percentage: Louisville #61, Miami #339

Pace: Louisville #101, Miami #228

Louisville and Miami are two teams that lack the explosiveness of other ACC offenses, but play some pretty sound defense.

Miami has been able to overcome some very poor free throw shooting to still be one of the better teams in college basketball. Things should be close to a stalemate on the glass with Louisville having a very slight edge, though Miami is a bit more efficient on defense.

These teams both take fewer 3-pointers than most others in college basketball with Louisville and Miami both going to their forwards in the paint for a good amount of offense. Clearly Louisville's big men shoot better at the free throw line than Miami's. These teams are similar, so whichever can execute its game plan at its preferred pace should earn the victory.

#19 Auburn at Missouri (9:00 p.m. ET on the SEC Network)

Opening Line: Missouri -2

Offensive Efficiency: Auburn #24, Missouri #51

Defensive Efficiency: Auburn #59, Missouri #54

Rebound Rate: Auburn #33, Missouri #25

Percent of Shots are 3s: Auburn #99, Missouri #40

Free Throw Shooting Percentage: Auburn #10, Missouri #18

Pace: Auburn #38, Missouri #300

This game will pit two teams that play at two extremely different paces. Auburn looks to run and gun, playing a lot of shootouts, while Missouri is one of the slower teams in the country, using its overall balance to win games. I’ve noticed that Missouri will play faster if it’s getting easy baskets. If the offense cannot get going, Missouri does a good job of slowing things down to keep an opponent's lead from ballooning.

Despite playing at a slower pace than many teams, Missouri attempts a lot of 3-point shots. It’s the Princeton model, with the majority of its shots being either layups or 3s. Auburn can get away with falling behind quickly, as its fast pace allows it to overcome a deficit quickly. Auburn trailed by double-digits at halftime in three of its most recent four games, coming back to win all three of those contests.

If the game is close and comes down to free throws, whichever team has the lead should be in good shape. Both squads are among the top 20 in the country in free throw shooting percentage and are both fairly efficient offenses to start with.

Auburn is the more efficient offensive team, but Missouri has very slight edges in rebounding rate and defensive efficiency. Whichever team can control the pace should be in a good position to win and cover.

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