The NFL season is here, which means it’s a great time to dive into some of the selections available across the sportsbook industry. You can obviously bet on sides and totals, but player prop bets have been gaining in popularity over the past few years. That includes first touchdown scorer bets.
Below, I’ll run through my favorite first touchdown scorer props. Then, we’ll outline some strategy tips for this special type of bet.
So let’s start with the all-important question: who will be the first touchdown scorer tonight?
First Touchdown Scorer: Championship Sunday
49ers RB Christian McCaffrey (+700)
McCaffrey is the chalk to score first for the 49ers, and deservedly so. He’s been a touchdown machine since arriving in San Francisco, and he’s found the paint in each of the past eight games. He’s done it through the air and on the ground, scoring seven rushing touchdowns and five receiving touchdowns in 13 games with the 49ers.’
McCaffrey has not been utilized as a true bell-cow back with the 49ers. He led the team in snaps last week, but Elijah Mitchell actually led the team in carries.
However, McCaffrey continues to dominate where it matters most. He had 80% of the team’s short-yardage snaps last week, and he handled all of the carries from inside the five-yard line.
That role could pay dividends against the Eagles, who have been vulnerable on the ground this season. They rank just 21st in Football Outsiders rush defense DVOA, and they rank tied for 18th in terms of rushing touchdowns allowed per game.
Where to Bet: Christian McCaffrey First Touchdown Scorer | +700 on DraftKings Sportsbook
Eagles WR DeVonta Smith (+1100)
The Eagles have employed a committee situation at receiver for most of the year. Smith, A.J. Brown, and Dallas Goedert have all taken turns posting big games, with Smith and Brown doing most of the damage. Including the playoffs, Brown has posted a 28.5% target share this season, while Smith is just slightly behind at 27.6%.
Smith took over as the team’s top option in their first playoff contest, racking up a 100% route participation, 43% target share, and 52% air yards share vs. the Giants. Those aren’t sustainable numbers, but there’s no reason that Smith should be priced much more favorably than Brown at this point.
Additionally, this matchup seems better on paper for Smith. The 49ers have been No. 4 in DVOA against No. 1 receiver this season, but they dip to just 18th against No. 2s. Smith also has plenty of big-play ability, and the 49ers are just 24th in DVOA on deep passes. Both of the Eagles’ top receivers have the potential to get behind defenses, but all things considered, I’ll take my chances with Smith at +1100.
Where to Bet: DeVonta Smith First Touchdown Scorer | +1100 on FanDuel Sportsbook
Bengals TE Hayden Hurst (+1800)
The Bengals’ offense has had a bit of a different look in recent weeks. Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins have previously served as a 1A/1B for quarterback Joe Burrow, but Chase has cemented himself as the top option of late. Higgins has basically been a non-factor in the team’s past three games, racking up less than 20% of their targets in each.
Higgins’ reduced role has allowed Hurst to emerge as a larger part of the team’s passing attack. His target share is virtually identical to Higgins’ over that time frame, and he’s secured at least six targets in back-to-back games. That includes last week’s matchup vs. the Bengals, and Hurst also found the paint in that contest.
Hurst has not been a prolific touchdown this season, recording just two scores on 68 targets during the regular season. However, he has clearly been unlucky in that department. Pro Football Focus credited him with 3.1 expected receiving touchdowns, so he’s a candidate for some positive regression.
The Chiefs’ defense has been mediocre against opposing tight ends this season, ranking just 19th in DVOA vs. the position. They also allowed nine scores to opposing tight ends during the regular season, which was tied for the fifth-most in the league.
Where to Bet: Hayden Hurst First Touchdown Scorer | +1800 on FanDuel Sportsbook
Chiefs TE Travis Kelce (+750)
Kelce is currently questionable for the AFC Championship game with a back injury, probably due to all the heavy lifting he was forced to do last week. With Patrick Mahomes hobbled, Kelce put the team on his back, racking up a ridiculous 17 targets en route to a victory over the Jaguars. He finished with 14 catches for 98 yards and two scores, including the first touchdown of the game.
Dominating in the postseason is nothing new for Kelce. He now has at least 95 receiving yards in seven straight games, and he’s scored eight times in those contests. The Chiefs may like to spread the ball around during the regular season, but when the games are their most important, they get the ball to Kelce.
The Bengals did a good job against Kelce in their regular season matchup this season, limiting him to just four grabs for 56 yards. They were fifth in DVOA vs. the position for the year, so this is going to be a tough matchup for the All-Pro tight end. Still, I’ll take my chances with Kelce against anyone, especially at a far better price tag than usual.
Where to Bet: Travis Kelce First Touchdown Scorer | +750 on BetMGM
More NFL Props For Championship Sunday
Where To Place First Touchdown Scorer Bets
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First Touchdown Scorer Bet Explained
Player prop bets are linked to player production instead of team production. That can make them a bit easier for beginning bettors to digest, especially those with a background in fantasy football.
Typically, most player prop bets involve wagering on whether you believe a player will go over or under a specific number in a particular category. They can include things like passing yardage, receptions and carries.
However, you can also bet on whether or not you think a player is going to score a touchdown. These bets offer different odds for different players, with the most likely players to score getting the shortest odds
You can read all my analysis about anytime touchdown scorers here.
If those props don’t offer enough upside for you, first touchdown scorer props take things to another level. Instead of winning your bet if your player scores a touchdown at any time, they have to be the first ballcarrier to cross the goal line in a given game. There can only be one first-touchdown scorer in every contest, so it makes these props significantly harder to win.
However, that added risk comes with added upside. You’ll get a far greater payout if you roll the dice on the first touchdown scorer instead of an anytime touchdown scorer.
Do Passing Touchdowns Count For First Touchdown Scorer Props?
Just like with anytime touchdown scorer props, passing touchdowns are not included in first touchdown scorer props. If the first touchdown of a game is a passing touchdown, then whoever caught the ball would be considered the first TD scorer.
However, that doesn’t mean that quarterbacks are irrelevant in first touchdown scorer props. Quarterbacks will run for more touchdowns than you think, especially as more athletic passers enter the league seemingly every year. 23 quarterbacks ran for multiple scores last year, with Jalen Hurts leading the pack at 10. There are some familiar suspects on the list – Hurts, Josh Allen, and Kyler Murray each had at least five rushing touchdowns – but you don’t need to be a great rusher to score touchdowns. Ryan Tannehill was second among quarterbacks with seven touchdowns, while noted statue Tom Brady even had two scores.
Ultimately, quarterbacks were some of the most profitable players last year in anytime touchdown scorer props. If quarterbacks are scoring more rushing touchdowns than expected, it stands to reason they’d be underpriced in first touchdown odds as well.
What Odds Should You Expect With First Touchdown Scorer Props?
This obviously depends on what players you’re looking at, but you’re going to get significantly better odds on first touchdown props than anytime touchdown props. For example, the Rams are opening the season by hosting the Bills on Thursday Night Football. Cooper Kupp has the shortest anytime touchdown odds at -160 on FanDuel Sportsbook, but that figure increases to +600 to score the first touchdown. In general, you can expect most of the top touchdown scorers in the league to be priced between +500 and +700 to score the first touchdown of the game.
Most of the other players who are expected to be on the field will likely be around +1000. Running backs will get plenty of love in this department – especially ones who tend to carry the ball near the goal line – followed by the rest of the receivers, tight ends, and quarterbacks.
Then comes the real long shots. The depth receivers, second straight tight ends, and non-rushing quarterbacks will all be priced at +2000 or greater. The less that a player is expected to be on the field, the greater the potential payout if they’re the first td scorer.
How To Deal With The Swings
Betting on first touchdown scorer props is a lot like playing large tournaments in daily fantasy sports. Your win rate is going to be low, so you’re going to have to handle going through stretches with no wins. That can be demoralizing for bettors.
The key is to maximize your upside when you win. That allows you to survive the downswings and preserve your bankroll. If you’re upping your bets every time you hit a first touchdown prop, you’re not going to be able to survive the inevitable cold streaks. Like most things in life, discipline is key.
First TD Scorer Strategy
Just like with anytime touchdown scorer props, there is no surefire way to guarantee a win on first touchdown scorer props. That said, there are some things you can do to greatly increase your win rate.
Pay Attention To Injuries
Simply being on top of the injury report is one of the easiest ways to get value as a bettor. By knowing which players are questionable, you can often pounce on lines before the sportsbook has a chance to react.
For example, if the starting running back is questionable, I like to have some bets queued up on the backup running back. If he’s ultimately ruled out, you can potentially beat the sportsbook for tons of closing line value.
It’s not a fool-proof method, and the sportsbooks aren’t dumb. However, there are at least a few times a year when unexpected news leaves them open. Make sure you’re plugged into the news – Twitter alerts for the top news reporters are the best source – and take advantage when you can.
Defense (& Coaching) Matters
One of the most annoying things about betting on first td scorer props is that you are occasionally powerless. Only one team gets the first possession of each game, which means there’s a roughly 50/50 chance that your chosen player will start the game on the sidelines. If the opposing team goes down the field and scores, your player will have zero chance of scoring the first TD.
That’s why backing a player with a solid defense makes sense. If they can keep the opposing offense out of the end zone, it creates more chances for your player to score the first touchdown.
Additionally, knowing which coaches like to receive the ball after winning the coin toss is another way to create some value. The vast majority of coaches choose to defer at this point, but new coaches enter the league every year. Finding one who prefers to receive the ball almost guarantees they’re going to start the game on offense, which is a huge boost for first touchdown props.
Know The Goal Line Stats
Not all red zone touches are created equal. For running backs, in particular, getting the ball inside the five-yard line is a great way to rack up plenty of touchdowns.
There are some ways to exploit this. Last year, Boston Scott was the most profitable anytime TD scorer in the entire league. He had just 20 red zone touches, which put him well behind most of the top runners in the league. However, 16 of those attempts came from inside the 10-yard line, and 12 came from inside the five. Ultimately, only 10 running backs had more carries from inside the five-yard line than Scott last season.
I’m not sure who this year’s version of Scott will be, but staying on top of the numbers can help you turn a profit.
For more on how to bet on the NFL, check out some of the resources from the Props.com Betting 101 library: