While looking through NFL game props on BetMGM last week, I noticed something peculiar about the prop, "How many yards will the shortest touchdown in the game be?" The line was -110 on "over 1.5 yards" and -125 on "under 1.5 yards" for every game on the board. It didn't matter what the game's point total was set at, this prop always carried the same juice. Why was this line the same for the Giants-WFT game as it was for the Chiefs-Ravens, which was expected to score 17.5 more points? More touchdowns means more opportunities for one-yard touchdowns, right?
I began wondering if this presented the opportunity for a betting edge, so I researched what percentage of NFL touchdowns were one-yarders (15.5% since 2018). Okay, that's a helpful start but it's not exactly actionable. Over the next few days, I dove into which teams scored and surrendered the most 1-yard touchdowns and were involved in the most games with one-yard touchdowns over the last three regular seasons to see if this prop is a completely random dart throw or if there are teams that are consistently hitting it. If so, what's the correlation?
Before jumping in, here are a few fun facts:
In 2018, the Miami Dolphins scored zero one-yard touchdowns. In fact, they didn't have any two-yard scores either. They did have a couple of touchdowns from three yards out, with Ryan Tannehill throwing for one and catching the other.
Nine of the 2018 Oakland Raiders' 30 touchdowns were one-yarders. That 30% rate was the highest of any team in the last three years.
Over 31% of the touchdowns given up by the 2018 Los Angeles Chargers were one-yarders. That's more than double the NFL average.
Only one of the 40 touchdowns surrendered by the 2019 Chargers was a one-yard touchdown. That 2.5% was the lowest of any team in the last few seasons.
Beating the juice
I really hate to keep teasing you like this before revealing the teams that have been paying out on this prop every season (spoiler alert!), but it's necessary to point out what percentage of the time you have to hit this bet in order to make a profit.
"Over 1.5 yards" has a line of -110, so you need to win this bet at a clip of over 52.4%.
"Under 1.5 yards" is juiced at -125, so in order to be profitable betting this side, you need to hit it at a rate of over 55.6%.
Somewhere over the rainbow
Since 2018, zero teams have had seasons where "over 1.5 yards" hit in the majority of their games every year. There have been a couple of teams, though, where the over hit in exactly 50% of their games for one season (where you would have gotten juiced out) and then surpassed the 50% mark for the other two.
Those two teams were the Chicago Bears and the Houston Texans. "Over 1.5 yards" was a successful bet in 61.4% of their games since 2018. If you had bet $100 on the over on every game for either of these teams, you would have $810 profit.
Here are the percentages for each season:
I come from a land down under
Seven teams have hit "under 1.5 yards" at a rate of at least 56.3% every season since 2018, guaranteeing profit in each season if you bet them every game. Those teams and their overall percentages since 2018 are:
Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants — 58.3%
Buffalo Bills — 60.4%
Baltimore Ravens — 66.7%
Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Rams — 68.8%
Carolina Panthers — 77.1%
If you placed a hundred bucks on a one-yard touchdown being scored in Panthers games between 2018 and 2020, you would have pocketed $2,325.
Three other teams have an overall percentage surpassing 60% since 2018 but had one season of 50% or less:
Philadelphia Eagles — 60.4%
New Orleans Saints — 68.8%
Tennessee Titans — 70.8% (81.3% over their last two seasons)
Breaking it down
If you're betting "under 1.5 yards," you don't necessarily want a prolific offense like Kansas City. The Chiefs have scored the most touchdowns since 2018 but have one of the lowest number of one-yard touchdowns due to how explosive they are.
Ideally, you want a team that grinds it out on the ground on offense, as passing-heavy teams are more likely to score breakaway touchdowns. It also helps if that same team has a defense that gives up a lot of touchdowns but isn't so bad that it's constantly getting burned through the air.
The perfect mix can come as a result of a running team investing the majority of their money into their offense and not hitting on enough draft picks to roll out a stout defense. This is what we've seen with the Panthers, Browns, and Titans.
Unfortunately, this no longer seems to be the case with a Panthers team boasting an aggressive, speedy defense that's only giving up 10.5 points per game through Week 2. It also may no longer be true with the Browns who, even though they've had 54 points posted on them through two contests, at least have the necessary defensive pieces in place.
But this absolutely remains true with the Titans. After giving up the fourth-most touchdowns in 2020, they didn't do much to improve their defense and are currently surrendering the third-most points in the NFL. On the other side of the ball, they're still riding battering ram Derrick Henry, whose 182 rushing yards carried the Titans to victory against the Seahawks on Sunday.
Seventy-five percent of the Titans' games last season and 87.5% of their games in 2019 had one-yard touchdowns. That's 81.3% combined. If you add in their first two games from this season, both of which had one-yard scores, that's 28 of their last 34 regular season games for an astounding 82.4%. And yet, their "under 1.5 yards" prop is still priced the same amount as that prop would be in a Texans vs. Bears matchup. Insane.
Stats provided by stathead.com