How to bet opening kickoff

One of the best prop bets ahead of Super Bowl 2023 between the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs is also one of the most profitable in the history of the big game. And oddsmakers are practically begging you to bet it.

What sounds too good to be true is easily my favorite plus-money bet of Super Bowl season year in and year out: whether the opening kickoff will be a touchback.

As of Tuesday, “no” was dealing at plus-money at virtually every book in the country, including FanDuel (+124), Caesars (+125) and BetMGM (+130), while some books have priced “no” as high as +150.

So what’s so special about this prop? “No” has cashed at a near-90% rate over the last three decades – and there’s a great chance it’ll hit again this year, too.

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History of the Super Bowl opening kickoff

We’re in the age of touchbacks in the NFL. Nearly 60% of all kickoffs in the 2022 regular season were touchbacks, a number that’s been ticking up for years because of rules to increase player safety and reduce the number of kickoff returns overall.

Based solely on that rate, the betting odds of a touchback on Sunday should be right around -160, which is exactly as it’s priced at FanDuel as of Tuesday. When it comes to the opening kickoff of the Super Bowl, though? It’s an entirely different story.

Here’s a look at every Super Bowl since 1994 and whether the opening kickoff resulted in a touchback:

Year Super Bowl matchup Touchback?
2022 Rams vs. Bengals Y
2021 Buccaneers vs. Chiefs N
2020 Chiefs vs. 49ers N
2019 Patriots vs. Rams N
2018 Eagles vs. Patriots N
2017 Patriots vs. Falcons Y
2016 Broncos vs. Panthers N
2015 Patriots vs. Seahawks N
2014 Seahawks vs. Broncos N
2013 Ravens vs. 49ers Y
2012 Giants vs. Patriots N
2011 Packers vs. Steelers N
2010 Saints vs. Colts N
2009 Steelers vs. Cardinals N
2008 Giants vs. Patriots N
2007 Colts vs. Bears N
2006 Steelers vs. Seahawks N
2005 Patriots vs. Eagles N
2004 Patriots vs. Panthers N
2003 Buccaneers vs. Raiders N
2002 Patriots vs. Rams N
2001 Ravens vs. Giants N
2000 Rams vs. Titans N
1999 Broncos vs. Falcons N
1998 Broncos vs. Packers N
1997 Packers vs. Patriots N
1996 Cowboys vs. Steelers N
1995 49ers vs. Chargers N
1994 Cowboys vs. Bills N
Only three Super Bowls in the last 29 years have seen a touchback on the opening kickoff.

Since 1994, a stunning 26 of 29 opening kickoffs have not resulted in a touchback. That’s a preposterous hit rate of 89.7%, which spells a screaming value for “no” at plus-money no matter how you slice it.

So what’s the secret? The ball itself.

Normally, the NFL allows kickers to break in the specialized “K-Ball” – a harder and slicker ball introduced in 1999 – before each kickoff to make it easier to boot some 70 yards down the field. That isn’t the case in the Super Bowl, according to former Colts punter Pat McAfee, who handled the opening kickoff in Super Bowl 41.

That ball, McAfee says, isn’t made available until right before the opening kickoff to preserve its condition before it eventually makes its way to the Hall of Fame. Because kickers don’t get a chance to “break in” the rock-hard football, it’s uniquely difficult to send it flying for the game’s opening kickoff.

Harrison Butker
Harrison Butker
Getty Images

And, as a result, nearly every opening kickoff in Super Bowl history has been returned.

Will we see a touchback to open Super Bowl 57?

McAfee’s kick was one of 49 opening kickoffs that were returned in the 56-year history of the Super Bowl (87.5%). Of those lone seven outliers, three have come since the NFL moved kickoffs to the 35-yard line in 2011 – and two of those came in a dome from two of the strongest legs in NFL history in Justin Tucker (2013) and Matt Bosher (2017).

Then came last year’s Super Bowl, when Bengals rookie kicker Evan McPherson crushed our dreams with a modest boot that fell harmlessly – or harmfully, if you were among the savvy bettors who caught onto this ridiculous trend – into the end zone for a touchback.

Yet even that’s a bit of a misnomer: Rams returner Brandon Powell let the ball go over his head on an easily returnable kickoff, which flies in the face of what we’ve seen time and time again in the big game. And there’s little reason to expect that to happen this time around.

Ready to start your Super Bowl 2023 betting?

Both of this year’s kickers have big legs, but it likely won’t matter. We’ve already seen Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker barely reach the end zone with his opening boot in Super Bowl 55 – one of eight kickers to cede an opening return since the rule changes in 2011 (72.7%). Eagles kicker Jake Elliott was spared from opening kickoff duties in Super Bowl 52, but his kicking profile is remarkably similar to Butker’s.

Whoever gets the nod on Sunday will have their work cut out trying to prevent a game-opening return in the open air in Arizona – which makes this a must-bet prop at a plus-money price.

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