Fun football bets with friends

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Top-10 bets to make any football game interesting

We’re entering the beginning of the end of the football season. While there aren’t many games left before the end of the season, the college national championship will be played on Monday night, and the AFC championship, NFC championship and Super Bowl will be among the most-watched sporting events of the entire year.

It can get to be too much, especially if you’re not much of a football fan. It’s even worse if you live with an avid fan who wants to bring other rabid football aficionados into your home to watch the game(s).

The best way to get through the slog is to set up a friendly wager pool. Of course you can always do the ever-popular squares pool. But I prefer bets that make you feel like you have control over whether you win or lose, but in reality are still mostly just crap shoots. Here are 10 great pool bets you can set up at your next football party. Get everyone watching to chip in (it’s probably best to pick a wager easily divisible by 10), and each person that is closest to the correct number wins one-tenth of the prize pool.

Most of these wagers will require a bare minimum of football knowledge. And as a bonus, the people who are really excited about the game will have a lot of fun sweating these bets, too.

10. Number of times they bring out the chains
There was a guy who sat in the press box at one of the places I worked in my former life as a sports information director who would make up a sheet with a number of over/under lines and collect predictions. One of his lines was always the number of times the officiating crew would bring out the chains to measure and see if the offense had gone far enough for a first down.

The chains always seemed so arbitrary to me. They could be wrong by a foot or more, depending on where the guy put it down on the field on the preceding first down. That said, it’s the best system they’ve devised in more than 100 years playing the game.

Take predictions on this and realize that this bet will likely be a tie; it’s rare for the chains to come out more than once in a game. The over/under was always set at 0.5 or 1.5 in press box where I once worked, and just in case the NCAA is reading this, there was never any money on the line. Our over/under sheets were always filled out just for bragging rights.

9. Number of turnovers
There’s also a decent chance this bet will end up being a tie. Most games will have somewhere between zero and four turnovers. While the quality of each team’s defense and quarterback will have a big impact on this bet, turnovers can be pretty fluky, so a great deal of knowledge isn’t going to determine the number in most games.

8. End of game time
There are some factors that will affect how long a game lasts. If you think there’s going to be a lot of scoring, the game will probably be longer. If it’s going to be a blowout, it probably will be a bit shorter. If the teams tend to run the ball a lot more than they pass it, the game will likely be a lot shorter. If you’re just waiting for the moment when everyone leaves your house, winning this bet is even sweeter.

7. Number of penalties/penalty yards
You can pick either of these bets, but the most likely not to end up in a tie is predicting how many yards teams will be penalized in the game. Imagine having the win in this one cinched, only to see a 62-yard pass interference call on a Hail Mary pass on what could have been the final play of the game.

6. Number of coaches’ challenges/overturned plays
The advent of replay has presented a new betting opportunity. You can either select how many plays will be challenged, or how many plays will be overturned in the game. Since all scoring plays and turnovers are now automatically reviewed in the NFL, the number of plays overturned could be higher than you anticipate.

5. Number of punts
Nothing makes a football game more boring than watching two teams continually put together three-play “drives” and then punt the ball to each other. Unless, of course, you’ve predicted a high number of punts.

4. Longest touchdown play
There are a few factors that can impact how long the longest touchdown in a game might be. If the defenses are really bad at tackling, there’s a good chance someone will break free for a long one. Fast wide receivers and quarterbacks with strong arms can also lead to longer touchdowns. But there’s really no way of knowing if a kickoff returner will break free for a 108-yard return.

3. Longest field goal
While the quality of the kickers makes a big difference in this prediction, there’s really no way of knowing where each team’s drives will stall out. Picking the length of the longest field goal is almost all luck, so it’s perfect for an audience of fans that don’t know much about the teams involved.

2. Number of scoring plays
Most football games will have between six and 10 scoring plays, so there’s a decent chance this bet will end up tied. Just don’t get mad when you’ve got this bet right on the number but the team up by six points decides to take an intentional safety with a few seconds left to burn as much time as possible, rather than punting the ball to the trailing team.

1. Length of the national anthem
Long cited as one of my favorite Super Bowl prop bets, the national anthem will be shown before all four of the big games remaining on the schedule. Have everyone pick the time it will take the singer to complete the Star Spangled Banner from the first word to the last, and give one person the job of being the official timer. Settle any disputes by rewinding and watching on your DVR. I can’t think of a better way to start off a football party than by setting up a betting pool on something that precedes the game.

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