TSP Live Education: Must Win Scenarios – Player Incentives

As we approach the end of the NFL season, we begin to hear about the “must win” situations for teams to get into the playoffs along with many player incentives that come into play in the final week.

Let’s first discuss the “must win” situations. The problem for gamblers is that they tend to have this approach to “must win” situations as though the book is unaware that these exist and has not already worked the “must win” angle fully (and perhaps even more) into the current prices (spreads and moneylines) for those “must win” teams. Is the book going to provide value on a “must win” team when they know the public will be falling all over themselves to bet it? No, the book will likely have a price that is negative, or at best neutral value on the “must win” team. If the public is going to blind bet these teams, the book says, “let’s screw the public as much as possible on price”, and they do. So why do gamblers think betting these “must win” teams are akin to a “Lock of the Year”? I don’t know, but it has been happening for decades…each and every year…and the casual gambler never learns. What the definition of insanity again?!?! LOL!

Remember though, if fading “must win” situations won 70, 80, 90, 100% of the time…the book would adjust accordingly. Gamblers tend to be all or nothing people. If you tell the casual gambler that you really don’t want to bet on the “must win” team because they are almost ALWAYS a negative or neutral value, the casual gambler then translates that to “betting the must win team will lose 100% of the time and thereby fading the must win team will win 100% of the time”, or some other outrageously high percentage. When the angle doesn’t hit at that rate they immediately think the fade angle is bullshit, that the must win team was a value, and they give up on the fade…at which point the books smile like the Grinch on Christmas Eve!

Fading must win teams is usually where the value lies, but you aren’t going to hit 80% blind fading the must-win teams. However, over time the “must win” fade will grind a profit. The profit can be amplified by finding the key must win teams to fade. At which point you could achieve a consistent 54-57% win percentage with such a strategy.

Casual gamblers don’t think 54-57% of the time is a good win percentage. Believe it or not, the 54-57% win percentage provides you a +3 to +9% (rounded) edge against the house. That means for every $1 you wager, you can expect to return $0.03 to $0.09 cents of profit. Doesn’t sound like a lot but that change on every dollar adds up…ask any casino! Edge in craps is only 1.36% (Don’t Pass…lowest house edge in craps), which means the casino makes $0.0136 on every dollar you bet, but that means millions over time!

Anyway, enough with the math, the point is, be careful unloading on the “must win” teams because “must win” doesn’t mean “will cover”…or even “will win”.

When I am looking to a fade a “must win” team, I like to let the public run the “must win” team’s price up for me, and then I will look to fade that “must win” team. In filtering these situations I also like to look for a “must win” team that is going up against a motivated opponent. A perfect example this week is Tennessee. I do not consider this some “Lock of the Year” but just a bet I like because I think Tennessee will be motivated to play at home and Jacksonville is in a “must-win” situation. The public pushed this up from 3.5 to 5.5 and I love the 5.5 or even the 5. We’ll see how it goes, but I know for a fact there is no value chasing Jacksonville at -5.5 and likely, since the book already knew the Jags were a must win team when they set the Jags -3.5 opening price…that the Jags at -3.5 isn’t a value either!

Regarding the player props, someone passed along a few links (thank you for that) and assuming the data within in correct there are several players that are within range of achieving stats this week which will provide them some bonuses. It sounds great…I have a motivated player looking to have a big payday so they and the team will do everything to get them that payday. However, once again if some idiot on Instagram or Twitter has this information, you can be sure the books do as well and worked it into the prices. So, the prices for the following players may see those players cash the OVERs and get their incentives…or the teams may avoid those players to save a couple bucks. So…nothing is a lock betting either way. However, most casual gamblers go in expected all these players to get all their incentives and they bet that way. Just because a player wants to get a bonus does not mean the team wants to pay it out…and thereby the team could game plan around or simply cut the player out to avoid it. We see this all the time when teams sit players on the verge of getting a bonus. So, it is tough to say that a player needing an OVER on some stats metric will automatically get it. With that said, here were the most talked about players and what they need for their incentives.

Very few books have prices up for these yet, but just some things to look at and then something I will followup addendum below. For now here are the most talked about player incentives…

DeAndre Hopkins (TEN) needs 49 yards for a $1M bonus and 7 catches for a $250K bonus.

Chris Jones (KC) needs 0.5 sacks for a $1.25M bonus.

Dalton Schultz (HOU) needs 4 catches for a $250K bonus and if he gets 6 catches he gets another $250K (total $500K).

Austin Ekeler (LAC) needs 110 total (Rush & Rec) yards for $100K bonus.

Lavonte David (TB) needs 0.5 sacks for a $150K bonus.

Bet Smart…good luck!

Article Addendum published January 11, 2024

Here’s how the player incentives finished…

Hopkins completed a pass…and got 7 catches for his $250K bonus, but unfortunately the team could not give him the big one for his 49 yard bonus of $1M. Instead Hopkins got 46 yards. Anyone betting the OVER on yards would have lost.

Christ Jones did get a sack.

Dalton Schultz got 5 catches for the first $250K bonus, but did not get the 6 catches for another $250K bonus…missed by just one grab!

Ekeler got only 49 total yards and missed his $100K bonus.

Lavonte David did not get a sack.

So, Twitter/X and Instagram were all abuzz last week about these “lock” player props because the players wanted to get incentives. In the end, out of the 7 possible bonuses…three were achieved…Hopkins got 7 catches, Jones got half a sack, and Schultz got 5 catches. A 3-4 record…not exactly a good angle as was the gist of this article going into the weekend. The vig made that 3-4 even worse.

Throw in the fact that the books were well aware of all incentives and jacked up the player props just enough to make them good negative values…knowing the public would still bet them…and bet them they did. The players didn’t get their incentives, the bettors did not get a bonus either…but the books had a nice payday on these!

Just because a team “must win” does not mean they will…but it usually means fading the “must win” team will get you point spread value as the public hammers the “must win” team because “must win” always equals “will win” (sarcasm). The theory in the previous sentence was my reason for taking the Titans +5 over “must win” Jacksonville. In the end the Titans were an outright winner!

At the same time, people bet the player props as though players needing incentives would clean up and collect all those incentives. In the end, it was the players that got nailed as incentives cashed at a 43% rate. To cash a prop with the average juice of -115 (a littler higher this week), you need to win 53.5% win percentage.

Thanks for giving this article a read!