Scoring touchdowns is inherently random. From a fantasy football perspective, it’s the least reliable stat we attempt to project. This can make it a frustrating proposition when the focus of your betting interest carries an offense downfield only for the score to be vultured by a goal-line carry.
There is an added randomness to targeting the first and last touchdown scoring markets, but they both offer the chance to turn modest risk into substantial gains given the odds associated with this multi-way bet. As random as these two markets are, there are some ways to extract betting value.
Books offer the same odds for a player to score the first or last touchdown, which is based solely on their expectation of that player scoring in that game. There is some expected game script, which could help us find value opportunities when using our projections to peg the most likely touchdown scorers.
Let’s take a close look at how each of these markets sets up at the macro level before diving into the best bets based on expected outcomes.
FIRST TOUCHDOWN SCORER
The 2008 deferment rule took some time for adjustment but has finally ushered in a majority of coaches waiting until the second half to receive the ball if given the choice.
As one Reddit user has documented, Kansas City head coach Andy Reid has deferred every single time for the Chiefs since the 2014 season. Reid appears to have had a philosophical change in between seasons, as he won a coin toss and received in all nine situations in 2013 but has now deferred on 61 straight coin toss wins since then. There might be no greater lock in the Super Bowl than Reid deferring the opening kickoff if the Chiefs win the toss.
Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians is much more of a wild card, as his gunslinger mentality also extends to his pregame decision-making. Arians deferred just once on 33 coin toss victories between 2013 and 2016. In 2017, he split the difference, deferring and receiving five times each. In his first season for the Buccaneers, he has started to side more with deferring but still has a couple of recent examples of choosing to receive the ball.
The expectation is that Reid will defer all the time if given the opportunity, so if we assume Arians isn’t as close to a lock, we can find some potential value in the Buccaneers players to score the first touchdown.
This is counter to the first team to score a touchdown wager, which lists the Chiefs as slight favorites at -130. It is close enough where it shouldn’t factor too much into our decision-making, but other bets offer further clues.
The first touchdown of the game has a distinct preference for a passing touchdown, as it has an implied probability of 63%. We don’t have to look too far back to see the perfect example. The Buccaneers started out their conference championship victory futility by pounding the ball to Leonard Fournette before getting bailed out by Tom Brady and Mike Evans on third down.
Given this expectation, it is easy to see value in either Evans or Chris Godwin to be the first touchdown scorer at greater than +1000 odds. Antonio Brown’s questionable status lends further credence to both Buccaneers receivers having a slightly better probability than their less than 10% implied chance of doing so.
Popular long shots coming from the tight end position appear to be appropriately priced based on recent usage. Cameron Brate ran a route on 32% of dropbacks last week, so he looks like a clear fade at shorter odds despite others hyping him as a viable play.
Hitting Rob Gronkowski covers most of the target share opportunity for Buccaneers pass-catchers, and all have long enough odds to justify a small play on each. If forced to choose, I would go with Godwin.
L’Jarius Sneed has started to get credit as the best rookie cornerback of 2020, but he doesn’t even have the best coverage grade among Chiefs cornerbacks. Matching up against a rookie on the biggest stage is a spot to target, which is why Godwin looks like the clear value play to score the first Super Bowl touchdown.
Pick: Chris Godwin +1300
LAST TOUCHDOWN SCORER
The last touchdown scorer offers an even more random outcome than the first. Sportsbooks price this prop at the same number as the first touchdown prop, but there are a few added elements that further complicate the outcome. First and foremost is game script, which doesn’t have an impact on the first to score outcome.
There are some ways to get a general game script direction, with the most common and sustainable being an evaluation of the game spread or moneyline markets. This points toward the Chiefs outpacing the Buccaneers in a high-scoring matchup, but it offers little in regard to who will be left with the ball at the end.
If our expectation for the first and second half kickoffs plays out, the Chiefs could be the team with an added possession in the second half. This also fits with the odds for the team to score last, but the Chiefs are slightly less of a favorite for the last touchdown score than the first, with odds at -124. We have no indication of the type of last touchdown, which doesn’t help us narrow down our selection of Chiefs players.
In a spot that appears to be the highest-leverage situation of the season, the choice comes down to the two Chiefs favorites, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. Hill appears to be getting some preference based on his performance against the Buccaneers in Week 12, but Kelce looks like the clear betting value. In a spot where our projections find him to be the overall most likely touchdown scorer, Kelce to also be the last scorer at +600 seems like a long-shot bet worth taking a flier on.
Pick: Travis Kelce +600
ANYTIME TOUCHDOWN SCORER
The two-way anytime scorer markets offer some of the best betting value in the prop market. Being able to make a two-sided proposition on individual players allows us to take advantage of the inherent randomness in scoring touchdowns. It happens too frequently to fantasy football players, who often watch their player get tackled on the one-inch line before the second-string fullback dives into the endzone on the next play.
Anytime touchdown scorers finally offer us some opportunities to take advantage of the no-name touchdown scoring that happens in football games. Outside of taking “yes” on the two players above, our fantasy projections find some value on the “no” side for a couple of running backs in this matchup.
Leonard Fournette No Anytime Scorer -120
Playoff Lenny is a hot topic this postseason, which makes for the most uncomfortable fade of the Super Bowl. Fournette is coming off his best rushing game grade of the 2020 season after forcing five missed tackles against the Packers. He sat at a 50% team rush share, which is where he has lived this postseason.
Ronald Jones has at least reentered the discussion, but he hasn’t taken the majority of rush attempts in either of the Buccaneers' two playoff games. This is noteworthy; in every regular-season game where both Fournette and Jones played, it was Jones who saw over 50% of the carries.
Splitting rushing percentages should have some impact on Fournette’s ability to score, but some proclaim the only thing that matters is goal-line carries. Jones received the most recent goal-to-go carry and has 21 to Fournette’s 14 on the season.
In the biggest spot of the year, my initial reaction is to fade the most recent performances in favor of the full season trend. This is setting up for the perfect spot to fade Fournette, with the -120 to not score offering the best play for this narrative.
Darrel Williams No Anytime Scorer -260
Darrel Williams has emerged in a similar fashion to Fournette this postseason. Outside of both Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Le’Veon Bell being available, the Chiefs simply don’t rush enough for it to be worth targeting a Williams score.
There is a real possibility he is relegated to third running back status, which could cap his touches into the six-to-eight range. At that number, he is unlikely to score a touchdown, with our projections giving him a 17.6% chance of finding the endzone. This is a big price to lay, but it still seems to be factoring in too much of an injury situation that is no longer present.