To those who are not familiar with American football, it can appear quite a confusing sport. It is similar in many ways to rugby, with one of the most obvious differences being that the ball can be passed forward.
In addition, American football players wear helmets, shoulder pads and other protective equipment. One aspect of the sport that is relatively easy to understand, however, is when a team scores a touchdown, essentially the gridiron equivalent of rugby’s try.
In this article, we’ll first explain the basic tenets of touchdowns in American football for anyone who is not familiar with how they work. We’ll then outline the main options punters have for betting on touchdowns in American football and, specifically, matches from the NFL, and we’ll give some basic strategy tips for making the most from your touchdown bets.
We’ll finish things off with a few stats and records relating to NFL touchdowns, just for the hell of it.
What Is A Touchdown?
Touchdowns (TDs) are one of the mechanisms by which American football teams can score points in a game. It is the scoring method that earns the most points – six – and also gives the scoring side the chance to earn further points if they successfully score a conversion, also known as point(s)-after-touchdown (PAT).
Touchdowns in American football are similar to tries in rugby (league and union) in that the ball must be taken into the opposing team’s end zone (the equivalent of the “in-goal area” in rugby). The big difference here is that in rugby the player in possession of the ball must touch it to the ground in rugby for a try to be scored; in American football, however, the ball does not need to be grounded, a touchdown will be scored as long as the player has possession of the ball in the opposing team’s end zone.
It is also worth noting that for a touchdown to be scored, the ball does not need to fully cross the goal line, it merely needs to “break the plane” of the goal line (whilst in a player’s possession). So as long as some part of the ball occupies any space directly above (or beyond) any part of the goal line, the touchdown will be valid (subject to no infringements having taken place or the player having gone out of bounds).
There are essentially four ways to score a touchdown in American football:
- Passing – A receiver catches a pass from the quarterback either while already in the opposing team’s end zone or catches it outside of the end zone before carrying the ball into it.
- Running – Also known as a rushing touchdown, this involves a player in possession of the ball carrying it into the opposing team’s end zone. For the purpose of this we include if this action takes place following a kick-off or punt from the opposition.
- Recovery – If a player recovers or catches a fumble or makes an interception and runs the ball into the end zone, a touchdown is awarded. As is the case if they recover or catch a fumble actually in the opposing team’s end zone.
- Referee – Although this happens very rarely, the referee has the power to award a touchdown to a team who – in the referee’s opinion – would have scored a touchdown had it not been for a “palpably unfair act” on the part of the opposing team.
Further information about the specific rules and regulations relating to touchdowns can be found in the official NFL Rulebook 2021
Betting On Touchdowns
Betting on touchdowns in American football is similar to betting on goals in football (soccer) or tries in rugby.
First Touchdown Scorer
Just like when betting on the first goalscorer in soccer, these bets allow you to select the player you think will score the first touchdown of the game. This market usually refers to regular time only (unless stated otherwise) and if no touchdown has been scored by the end of the fourth quarter, your bet will lose. You can often also choose to bet on the first touchdown scorer for one side only, rather than of the whole game.
Last Touchdown Scorer
Basically the same as the first touchdown bet, but – as you might suspect – this refers to the player scoring the last touchdown of the game. Again, this generally refers to regular time and not overtime but it is worth checking this with whichever bookie you make the bet. And again, you can opt to pick the last scorer for one of the sides only if you prefer.
Anytime Touchdown Scorer
This bet allows you to select a player you think will score a touchdown at some point during the game (again, normally in regular time), and it doesn’t matter whether they score first, last or somewhere in between. The odds for anytime scorer will be shorter than for first or last scorer bets for any given player.
Number Of Touchdowns (Team Or Total)
There are often various ways to bet on the number of touchdowns during an NFL match. These bets can refer to the number of touchdowns scored by one team or the other, or by the combined total. You could bet on over or under a certain number of touchdowns, for example over/under 4.5 touchdowns. With this bet, the number above/below which you bet will tend to involve half a touchdown to ensure there are simply two options.
You could also choose the option of betting on the total number of touchdowns (between both teams or by one or other team) in a three-way market that lets you bet over or under a certain (whole) number of touchdowns, or you can choose to back exactly that number (e.g. five touchdowns).
These markets allow you to bet on the longest or shortest touchdowns scored and they are usually presented as an over/under option of a certain number of yards. For example, for the shortest touchdown, you might be offered over or under 1.5 yards, whereas for the longest touchdown, you might be offered something more like over or under 39.5 yards. You will often be given the same (or similar) odds for each option and usually around the 10/11 or 20/23 mark. The distance refers to how far away from the end zone the play begins.
Time Of First Touchdown
A fairly self-explanatory betting market, this involves betting on the time shown on the game clock when the first touchdown is scored in a given match. This will often be in the form of a binary choice, for example you could choose to bet on “touchdown after 8:00” or “touchdown on or before 8:00”.
Other Touchdown Bets
Various bookies will come up with variations of the above or special markets relating to touchdowns in a given match. There could be markets offered for the number or time of touchdowns in a specific quarter or half. There are sometimes handicap bets that give you the chance to bet on the side to score the most touchdowns in a match with a handicap (which could be plus or minus), for instance you could back the Chicago Bears -1.5 touchdowns or the San Francisco 49ers +1.5 touchdowns, usually offered at the same or similar prices not too far short of evens.
Strategies For Touchdown Betting
When trying to find a strategy for betting on touchdowns in American football, you should take the same approach that punters should when betting on anything: seek out the value bets. Value bets are those that have odds that imply a probability of that event happening that is lower than the actual probability. That is to say, if you find a bet on over 3.5 touchdowns in a given match at odds of evens, the probability implied by those odds is that that outcome (over 3.5 touchdowns) has a 50% chance of occurring. If you are able to ascertain (through an in-depth study of the statistics or some other method) that the probability of over 3.5 touchdowns being scored in that particular game is, say, 55% then you have found yourself a value bet.
The difficulty is, of course, that working out the actual probability of any given event in sport is extremely difficult in the first place. And given that the bookies have access to all the same stats as punters (and perhaps more besides), attempting to find a bet where the bookies have effectively got the odds wrong is extremely difficult. Unless you happen to be friends with an NFL player who has inside information about an injury to a star quarterback or something equally useful (and unlikely).
Of course, just because finding value bets is very difficult when betting on touchdowns (or the NFL in general), it’s not impossible. And there are some bets and markets that tend to offer better value than others, with over/under type touchdown bets often being relatively good on that front (partly because they are very popular and so bookies tend to offer better odds in an attempt to attract customers to their site).
NFL Touchdown Stats And Records
Given that touchdowns are the scoring method in American football that returns the most points (six), it should come as no surprise that a heavy emphasis is placed on stats relating to TDs.
Here we list a few notable stats and records from the NFL that might just lodge in your memory banks and pop up in an obscure pub quiz at some point in the future thus landing you the big win, a whole load of kudos and hopefully a free crate of beer.
Or you might just forget them all in about eight minutes.
Player Touchdown Stats And Records
- Most touchdowns in a career – 208 (Jerry Rice, 1985-2004)
- Most touchdowns in a single season – 31 (LaDainain Tomlinson, 2006)
- Most touchdowns in a single game – 6 (Ernie Never, 28 Nov 1929; Dub Jones, 25 Nov 1951; Gale Sayers, 12 Dec 1965; Alvin Kamara, 25 Dec 2020)
- Most passing touchdowns in a career – 621… and counting! (Tom Brady, 2000-21)
- Most passing touchdowns in a season – 55 (Peyton Manning, 2013)
Team Touchdown Stats And Records
- Most touchdowns in a season – 76 (Denver Broncos, 2013)
- Most touchdowns by a team in a single game (regular season) – 10 (Washington Redskins, 27 Nov 1966)
- Most touchdowns by a team in a single game (postseason) – 11 (Chicago Bears, 8 Dec 1940)
- Most consecutive games scoring at least one touchdown – 166 (Cleveland Browns, 1957-69)