NFL betting: Using contract incentives and records to bet player props

Week 18 of the NFL season has a lot going on. Teams are trying to squeak into the playoffs, other teams are fighting for seeding and some teams are worried about their draft position. This weekend will be the last time we see over half of the league until September. Players are trying to put good performances on tape as they head into the offseason.

One angle that has been exploited in the betting market in recent season finales has been the player contract incentive angle. A lot of NFL players make extra money on their contracts if they hit certain statistical thresholds during the regular season. Of course, this will be their last opportunity to get there. We've seen over the years that coaches and players are motivated to get their teammates their money. For example, in the last few seasons, we've seen Tom Brady refuse to come out in a blowout game until Rob Gronkowski hit his marks. We've also seen the opposite side, where Antonio Brown was within reach of earning $1 million in bonuses last season but his lack of involvement played a part in him taking his shirt off and leaving the field mid-game.

Which players are playing for some extra money this weekend? And can we use that information to make ourselves some extra money heading into the playoffs?

Mahomes, Jefferson chasing records

Patrick Mahomes and Justin Jefferson aren't motivated by extra money this weekend, but rather the ability to etch their names into the record books.

Mahomes needs 430 passing yards against the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday to set the single-season passing record, which is currently held by Peyton Manning. Mahomes has eclipsed this number just once this season and has gone over 400 yards just twice. However, you'd have to think he's aware of the record. While he will likely come up short, if you think he will make a serious run at it, consider betting Mahomes to go over 318.5 passing yards at BetMGM. (Update: Mahomes fell short of the mark).

It looked like Jefferson was going to have a very good chance of setting the all-time single-season receiving record, but the Vikings receiver was held to just 15 yards on one catch against the Green Bay Packers in Week 17. Now, it'll take an incredible performance from Jefferson, but one that's certainly not out of the question.

Jefferson needs 194 receiving yards on Sunday against the Chicago Bears to break Calvin Johnson's single-season record. He's gone over this number just once this season but he does have five games with at least 145 receiving yards. Jefferson was visibly frustrated against the Packers, so the Vikings will assuredly want to get him back on track and feeling good ahead of the playoffs. Earlier this season against the Bears, Jefferson caught 12 balls for 154 yards.

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - DECEMBER 17: Justin Jefferson #18 of the Minnesota Vikings scores a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts during the fourth quarter of the game at U.S. Bank Stadium on December 17, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
Justin Jefferson can enter the NFL record books this weekend. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Jaguars have some incentives, but they have more to play for

The Jacksonville Jaguars have three pass catchers well within striking distance of earning some extra cash, and they have an exploitable matchup against a weak Tennessee Titans secondary. However, the focus for Jacksonville's coaching staff and players certainly won't be on earning some extra money. The Jaguars play the Titans on Saturday night, with the winner clinching the AFC South. If Jacksonville loses, its playoff chances drop to just 18%. The Jaguars are 6-point home favorites. (Update: The Jags are in).

Christian Kirk currently has 78 catches for 1009 yards on the season. He earned $500,000 when he eclipsed 1000 yards and has a chance to earn another half a million if he reaches 1100 yards. He also gets an extra $500,000 if he reaches 80 receptions and an extra million dollars if he reaches 90 catches. (Update: Kirk went over 80 catches and 1,100 yards)

Kirk has over 91 receiving yards in five games this season. He's had at least two receptions in all but one game this season, though he has zero games with double-digit receptions. However, he does have four games with double-digit targets. His over/unders for Saturday's game are set at 56.5 receiving yards and 4.5 receptions.

Zay Jones also has a chance to make some extra money. Jones earns an extra $250,000 with two receptions and an extra $500,000 with 98 receiving yards. Jones has gone over 100 yards twice this season and had eight receptions for 77 yards against Tennessee in December. Jones' over/under for receiving yards on Saturday is set at 49.5 yards. (Update: Jones hit the catches, missed on yards)

Jaguars tight end Evan Engram makes an extra $200,000 if he reaches 800 receiving yards. He's currently at 739 yards. Engram has had five games this season with over 61 receiving yards, including three of his last four. He torched the Titans earlier this season, catching 11 balls for 162 yards and two touchdowns. Engram's receiving prop is set at 44.5 yards. (Update: Ingram missed the yards mark)

Maybe the Jaguars find themselves up comfortably in the second half and can worry about these individual goals. Maybe they just torch the Titans secondary naturally. However, a lot of the handicap for incentives is based on motivation from multiple parties to reach the goal. That motivation will be elsewhere for Jacksonville on Saturday, making the Jaguars trio more risky than some other names on the list.

Other incentives worth watching

The Los Angeles Chargers will know by the time their game kicks off on Sunday whether they need to win to keep control of the No. 5 seed in the AFC. If Baltimore loses to Cincinnati in the early window, Los Angeles will have little to play for. The Chargers have two pass catchers who have a chance to line their pockets.

DeAndre Carter is currently at 43 receptions and 495 receiving yards. Carter makes an extra $100,000 if he hits 45 receptions and then another $100,000 if he reaches 550 yards. Carter has taken a backseat in the Chargers' offense since Mike Williams and Keenan Allen returned from their injuries, but if the game means little for Los Angeles, he'll likely get a lot of reps. Carter has 2+ receptions in 12 of 16 games, but just one of his last five. He's had at least 55 receiving yards four times this season, but hasn't reached that mark since late November.

Chargers tight end Gerald Everett makes an extra $250,000 if he reaches 60 receptions. He's currently at 55. Everett has five or more receptions in exactly half of his 14 games. Denver allows the third-most catches to tight ends.

Elsewhere on Sunday, the Detroit Lions will know whether they have anything to play for ahead of their kickoff on Sunday night against the Packers. If Detroit is eliminated by a Seattle win earlier in the day, we might see a healthy dose of Kalif Raymond. Raymond earns an extra $250,000 at 50 receptions and another $250,000 at 600 receiving yards. He currently has 43 catches for 550 yards on the season.

Raymond has four games with over 50 receiving yards this season, including two of his last three games. He's yet to reach seven receptions this season and has only gotten seven targets twice.

Some other incentives out there are probably too easy to attain for bettors to take advantage in the prop market. JuJu Smith-Schuster needs just two receiving yards to reach 900 yards and cash in on an extra $1.5 million. Jamaal Williams needs just six rushing yards to get to 1,000, which would earn him an extra $250,000. Rams tight end Tyler Higbee needs just 13 receiving yards to reach 600 and earn an extra $175,000.

Defensive props worth watching

Usually when we think props, we think of offensive players. However, there are certainly defensive props available to bet. Those usually come out closer to game time and they're not up yet at BetMGM. When they are released, keep these players in mind since they have a chance to earn some extra money:

  • J.J. Watt will play the final game of his legendary career and he can end things on a high note, making an extra $100,000 if he gets at least 0.5 sacks against the San Francisco 49ers.

  • Carl Lawson of the Jets makes an extra $600,000 if he records a sack against the Miami Dolphins. He got a sack last week and in Week 5 against Miami, Lawson had a season-high six pressures.

  • Za'Darius Smith makes an extra $750,000 if he reaches 10.5 sacks. He's currently at 10 sacks but has just 0.5 sacks in his last six games.

  • Preston Smith makes an extra $1 million if he reaches 10 sacks. He'll need a great Week 18 performance as he sits at 8.5 sacks on the season.

  • Justin Houston earns an extra $500,000 if he gets to 10 sacks. Houston currently has nine sacks but has just 0.5 sacks since Nov. 7.

  • Dawuane Smoot will earn $250,000 if he gets to 6 sacks. He's currently at five sacks.