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Conquering the Psychology of Props and Futures Bets

Conquering the Psychology of NFL Props and Futures Bets

By Loot, NFL Handicapper,

When making NFL prop bets and futures bets, there are various psychological issues at play. The bookie posts odds with this in mind and it's up to the bettors to work through it. A lot of us have an overly-optimistic view of teams and players alike. When we project how good of a season a team or player will have, we assume a lot of things will go right. But if anything were to go wrong, it would make it really hard to win the bet.

A lot of bettors go "over" a lot on numbers in prop bets and futures. Whether it's if a QB, RB, or WR is going to have a certain amount of yards or if a team is going to win a certain number of games, we tend to have an outlook that is overly-rosy. The bookie, naturally, knows this and sets numbers that look readily beatable, only that we project an over-abundance of hope. Then bad things happen and we find that the bet wasn't as easy as it at first seemed on the surface.

The things that could cause a player or team to have a worse season than forecasted are hard to predict. There are variables that can't be accounted for when handicapping a season for a team or player. With injuries, suspensions, team changes, and any other number of things, different elements can turn a player or team's season upside-down. The bookie knows these things are going to happen at a high-enough rate that not every supposed good player or team is going to fulfill their potential.

In other words, the bookie sets numbers knowing that a certain amount of bad things will take place that will make that number go "under." Meanwhile, we as bettors have a knack of assuming things will unfold without a hitch. We may exercise a little caution, but do we really fully internalize the full scope of bad things that happen to players and teams in the NFL? Those numbers, no matter how appetizing it might seem to go "over," can sometimes fall into the category of "sucker bets."

When it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Every season, you see teams that have been winning 10-12 games for 4-5 years straight with a season wins total of 9.5 wins. The urge is to jump on it and take "over." You see a running back who has put up a handful of 1300-1500 yard seasons and his total is 1185 so you jump on the "over." You see a receiver who is always among the league-leaders and he has some low-looking total so you jump on the "over." All these bets are well-intended, but fail to take into account the true risk involved in making such a bet.

Injuries are first and foremost. When a total is posted for a player to have a certain amount of yardage, it forces that player to have a healthy season. Any serious injury makes an "over" bet a loser. But an injury doesn't need be major for it to send your "over" bet sideways. All it takes is for a player to miss a game or two or to suffer an injury that has him compromised for a handful of weeks.

Suspensions can't really be predicted, but they can really spoil a bet, as well. Even if it's just a suspension for a few games, it can really put a hurting on a prop bet. So exercise caution on players who have suffered this fate before. Regardless of who you bet on, if you take over, a suspension is a death knell to your bet.

The reluctance on the part of some to acknowledge the passage of time is another psychological element the bookie preys on when setting numbers on NFL prop and futures wagers. We all go through this just in our normal lives, when we think we haven't seen a friend in 3 years, only to find out it has been 8 years since you were last in his company. It also applies to sports.


Whether it is because acknowledging the passage of time only puts us more in touch with our own mortality or some other psychological theme at play, most football bettors are behind the meaty part of the curve when it comes to this dynamic. But then we look at the careers of just about any prominent running back or wide receiver and see that all of them had 4-5 great years at best. There are exceptions, but even guys in the Hall of Fame are like this, where they had 5 huge seasons and 9-10 other seasons that were less fruitful. The prime of a RB or WR in this sport is painfully short. A guy loses a step, defenses start keying in on him, younger players start to shine, or a team's philosophy changes, and suddenly, that player isn't really the same guy.

Ask any book about the kinds of bets they receive on NFL props and futures and they'll all tell you how people disproportionately go "over." And these are just bettors looking to turn a buck. Bettors who have favorite teams with players they like have yet another psychological element to buck. Whatever the case, it's good to temper one's optimism when making these bets. There just isn't enough room at the top for all players and teams to shine. A lot of different things can happen and it's key to keep that in mind when betting.

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