The NFL is the most popular sport to bet on in the United States. And betting on football games isn't just popular in Nevada sportsbooks. There are a number of online sportsbooks that accept bets from all over the world, and as the availability of televised games has expanded outside the United States, European-facing sportsbooks have expanded their offerings beyond the standard point spread, money line and over/under bets.
bet365 Sportsbook & Racebook offers one of the widest selections of non-standard bets on every game in the NFL slate. Here are 10 great bets you can make on any NFL game this season at bet365, and my picks for tonight's Monday Night Football game between the Denver Broncos and the San Diego Chargers.
10. First scoring play
If you think you know who's going to be hot from the opening kickoff, you can put your money where your mouth is and pick what you think the first score of the game will be. Through 89 games this season, the most frequent first scoring plays have been a field goal by the visiting team and a touchdown by the home team, both occurring 24 times, or 27 percent of the time. The road team has scored a touchdown for the first score 22 times, and the home team opened with a safety just once.
You can pick "other" at a pretty tempting price at 100/1 for either side for tonight's game between the Broncos and the Chargers, but safeties are so infrequent that really you'd need a price of 200/1 for it to be worth it, especially with quarterbacks as experienced as Peyton Manning and Phillip Rivers in the game. The best pick for this bet tonight is Chargers to score a touchdown at 11/5. San Diego has started the game by scoring a touchdown in three of its five games so far, and the Broncos have allowed a touchdown to start things off in two of five games this year.
9. Shortest touchdown
The line for this over/under bet is always set at 1.5 yards, so you're predicting whether or not one of the teams will score a 1-yard touchdown (or less – a fumble recovered in the end zone for a touchdown would also count for the under). So far this season, 49 of 80 games (55.1 percent) have hit the under, and the odds usually reflect that reality.
Tonight's game has the odds set a 10/11 for the over and 10/13 for the under. I usually hate taking a bad price on either/or proposition, but given that both Denver and San Diego have had scoring plays of 1 yard or less in three of their five games, and that both teams have quarterbacks who are likely to be passing into the end zone (and thus may be the beneficiaries of pass interference calls that would put the ball on the 1-yard line), I'll take the under on this bet tonight.
8. Will either team score three unanswered times?
This happens a lot more frequently than you might realize. Sixty-seven games have had runs of at least three unanswered scores this year, a rate of more than 75 percent. Even close games often see teams go on a scoring binge early or late, and halftime can often give a team the opportunity to score twice (once before and once after) without the other team even getting the ball.
I think the Chargers and the Broncos are going to be doing quite a bit of scoring tonight, so even though the bet doesn't pay that well (20/33), I'll say yes on this prop bet.
7. Will there be a score in the final two minutes of the first half?
This is also a very frequent occurrence, with more than 66 percent of games so far this year seeing at least one score after the two-minute warning in the first half. All five Denver games have seen a score in the final two minutes of the first half, while three of five San Diego games have. With quarterbacks as adept at running an offense as Manning and Rivers, I'm going to hold my nose on the 10/27 odds and say that yes, there will be a score in the final two minutes of the first half tonight.
6. Total points – odd or even?
So far this year more games have ended with even point totals than odd ones (47 even totals, 42 odd). This is a bit of an outlier, because over time, more NFL games finish with odd totals than even ones, as any game that's tied will have an even score, and when a tie is broken, it's almost always with a three-point field goal or a touchdown and an extra point, worth seven points. You get better odds picking even (tonight's game pays 23/20 for even but just 20/27 for odd), and if you'd done that in every game this year, you'd be quite profitable right now.
While I do think this game has the potential to come down to the final possession, I'm going to go for the bigger payoff and pick the even total tonight. After all, four of Denver's five games have finished with even totals so far this year, and three of San Diego's have as well.
5. Highest scoring quarter
The second and the fourth quarters are generally the highest scoring quarters in NFL games, because teams attempt to score before the clock gets to zero, either to try to get one last score in before halftime, or because they're trailing and trying to get back in the game. They also stop the clock more frequently and get more plays off, resulting in more opportunities to score. The fourth quarter has been the highest scoring quarter in nearly 43 percent of NFL games this season, while the second quarter has been the highest scoring quarter in 26 percent. The first quarter has yielded the most points in just over 10 percent of games, so it's by far the longest shot.
Given how well Manning and Rivers can march their teams down the field, and because I think this game is likely to be close at the end, I'll take the fourth quarter tonight, especially since it's at slightly better odds than the second quarter, which is listed at 6/4. If you want to go for a long shot, take the third quarter and not the first. Both are listed at 5/1 for tonight's game, but the third quarter has been the highest scoring quarter twice as often so far this year.
4. Will the game go to overtime?
If you take yes on the overtime bet in any game, you'll likely get a payoff of around 10/1. The only problem is that overtime occurs in the NFL just over 5 percent of the time (at least that's the case this season, with just five overtimes in 89 games), so you'd need odds of 20/1 to justify the bet. Betting that the game won't go into overtime can be a risk without much reward, with payoffs of 1/20 or worse.
The spread in tonight's game is just one point, so oddsmakers are expecting it to be close. If you think the game will go to overtime, you'll get 9/1 on your money. If you don't, you'll get 1/25, netting a return of just $4 if you bet $100. It's not a great bet, but given that I think the game will be close, I'm going to say that the game will go into overtime at 9/1.
3. How many successful field goals will there be?
bet365 sets the line at 3.5, and you get to pick the over or the under. This has been a close bet so far this season, with 46 games hitting the over and 43 games hitting the under.
The oddsmakers think tonight's game will hit the under, and with good reason. After their first game, which saw seven field goals, the Chargers haven't hit the over since, combining with opponents for an average of just two field goals a game, while the Broncos and their opponents have averaged just three field goals a game.
I really don't like the under at 20/29, so I'll take the over at 21/20. Given the fact that these offenses could produce two field goals in the final two minutes of the first half, I like that price.
2. Will there be a special teams or defensive touchdown?
More than 40 percent of games this year have featured a special teams or defensive touchdown. Of course some teams are better than others at scoring defensive or special teams touchdowns. The Broncos and the Chargers have been particularly inept at this so far this year, with Denver's defense scoring just one touchdown in Week 1, and the Chargers getting a pick-six in Week 4. Neither team, however, has surrendered a special teams or defensive touchdown either, and with quarterbacks like Rivers and Manning, that's no big surprise. The 27/20 odds you get for yes look a lot more attractive, but I'll take the "no" side of this proposition at 4/7.
1. Longest field goal
Once again, bet365 sets an over/under line at 44.5 yards (at least for this game). This bet has been an even split so far this year, with 45 games hitting the over and 44 games hitting the under. A lot depends on whether you think the teams are going to score touchdowns or field goals and how good a leg the kickers have. Realistically, if the kickers aren't going to attempt anything over 52-53 yards, there's only about 7-8 yards on the field where a drive can stall to have a kicker even attempt a field goal. And of course there are always the end-of-half or end-of-game scenarios.
Both Denver and San Diego have hit the over with their own kickers in two of five games this year. But Denver has had two games in which it didn't even attempt a field goal. The odds here are pretty close to the same, so I'm going to take the under at 20/23.
Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd has covered the gambling industry since 2006. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi. Follow him on Twitter @CasinoCity_AT.