We have now reached the divisional round of the NFL Playoffs, and the NFL betting lines will only get tighter as the playoffs go on. The same is not true about props though, so these can be exploited.
The NFL Playoffs continue on to the divisional round, so the next few weeks will see the heaviest betting volume on the NFL odds all year, especially in the Super Bowl.
That forces oddsmakers to make the lines extra sharp from now on, which should make selecting NFL picks on the straight markets against the spread and on totals tougher than the rest of the year, not that betting on the NFL is a walk in the park even under the best of circumstances.
However, one area that is always exploitable is the NFL props market, as these lines are generally much softer. Naturally that means lower limits, but that can be compensated for with a larger volume of +EV plays, and there are more props available for each playoff game than for regular season games. Also, some books even raise prop limits in playoff games.
Here are some of our favorite props from Bodog for the NFL Divisional Playoffs.
New Orleans Saints at San Francisco 49ers – Saturday, January 14, 2012 (4:30 ET, FOX)
Total Receiving Yards – Darren Sproles (NO) ‘over’ 45½ (-120): It is no secret that the 49ers have the best rushing defense in the NFL. Luckily for New Orleans, Sproles is an excellent all-purpose back that is a nice receiver out of the backfield. In fact, Sproles had more receiving yards (710() than he did rushing yards (603) this season and his 8.3 yards per reception was one of the best averages in the league for non-receivers. Look for him to be employed in this fashion often, especially with the Saints expected to call quite a few screen passes to help offset San Francisco’s very good pass rush.
Will Jimmy Graham (NO) score a TD in the game? Yes (-130): Graham has become Drew Brees’ favorite target in the red zone and he had 11 touchdowns during the regular season despite starting only 11 games. He then caught another touchdown vs. Detroit in the playoff game last week, giving Graham a touchdown in four consecutive games. Brees loves his tight end as Graham was targeted 11 times vs. the Lions, more than any of the wide receivers with Robert Meachem being next in line with eight targets. Graham is almost never double covered by opposing defenses with the Saints having so many weapons at the wide-outs, so the opportunity is usually there to hit him with a big play.
Total Receptions – Marques Colston (NO) ‘over’ 6 (-105): While we understand that Brees has a lot of options, Colston finished second on the team behind Graham in receptions per game with 5.7, and he has had at least seven receptions in each of the last five games and six catches in the previous game. The Saints actually showed some balance vs. the Lions last week by running the ball well and Colston still had seven catches for 120 yards. Balance probably goes out the window this week vs. the staunch San Francisco rushing defense, so with this game put in Brees’s hands, look for a lot of balls thrown Colston’s way.
Denver Broncos at New England Patriots – Saturday, January 14, 2012 (8:00 ET, CBS)
Total Rushing Yards – Tim Tebow (DEN) ‘under’ 52½ (-105): Tebow had 316 passing yards vs. the Steelers last week and he added an even 50 rushing yard on 10 carries, meaning that he had as many rushing attempts as he had completions! A few of those carries came on scrambles while under heavy pressure though, and we do not feel that will be the case too often in this game as the Patriots have no pass rush, and haven’t since losing defensive end Andre Carter for the season vs. these Broncos in Week 15 with a quadriceps injury. Thus, look for fewer rushing attempts from Tebow unless they are by design, and the odds of those being called go down if the Patriots build a big lead, which is entirely possible.
Total Receiving Yards – Wes Welker (NE) ‘over’ 90½ -125: The Broncos will attempt to shorten this game with their running game early on, so in an attempt to combat that, do not be surprised to see the Patriots go into their no-huddle offense earlier than usual, and Tom Brady has been unstoppable when New England has been in hurry-up mode. Welker would be the biggest beneficiary of a fast pace as Brady’s favorite receiver, and he would be the main target even in a normal offensive set. After all, Welker did lead the team with 1573 receiving yards on a fantastic 122 receptions, averaging 98.3 receiving yards per game.
Player to score the first TD in the game? Rob Gronkowski (NE) TE (15/4): These odds translate to a price of +375, which we feel is good value for this prop. After all, the Patriots figure to score the first touchdown of the game since they are double-digit favorites, they do not figure to run the ball much so odds are the first touchdown will be on a pass, and Gronkowski led the team with 17 touchdowns while becoming Brady’s favorite red zone target. He even has some deceptive speed that could allow him to score on a reception outside of the red zone.
Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens – Sunday, January 15, 2012 (1:00 ET, CBS)
Total Rushing Yards – Ray Rice (BAL) ‘over’ 90½ (-115): This is a rematch of a regular season game where Rice accumulated 161 total yards from scrimmage in a 29-14 Baltimore victory with 101 of those yards coming on the ground. Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco has been inconsistent this season, and Baltimore could be ripe for an upset if it does not run the ball well vs. an excellent Houston defense and puts the game in Flacco’s hands. Thus, look for Rice to get lots of carries, and why not considering he rushed for over 100 yards three times in the last five games including rushing for 204 yards at Cleveland and 191 yards at Cincinnati in the regular season finale.
Total Receiving Yards – Anquan Boldin (BAL) ‘under’ 62½ (-115): Remember what we just said about Flacco being inconsistent and the Ravens needing to stress the running game more in this contest? Well, those factors should have a negative effect on receiving yardage across the board, and truth be told Boldin has not exactly been a mode of consistency himself this season while losing touches to the speedier Torrey Smith. In fact, Boldin had only 887 receiving yards in 14 games and has gone over 62½ yards just once in his six games, and that was by the slimmest margin possible when he had 63 receiving yards vs. the 49ers on Thanksgiving Night.
Who will record more Receiving Yards in the game? Arian Foster (HOU) +4½ (-115) vs. Ray Rice (BAL): While it is common knowledge that Rice is a versatile back that catches a lot of balls out of the backfield, fewer people realize that Foster is of that same ilk, as he had 53 receptions this season for 617 yards, which works out to a fantastic 11.6 yards per catch. The expected game plan for these teams in this game also seems to favor Foster in this prop, especially with the 4½-yard cushion. That is because Baltimore figures to run the ball a lot while the great Baltimore rushing defense should result in the Texans calling a lot of swing passes, wheel routes and screen passes to Foster, as those options seem preferable to exposing rookie quarterback TJ Yates vs. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed & Company by calling long throws downfield.
New York Giants at Green Bay Packers – Sunday, January 15, 2012 (4:30 ET, FOX)
Total Receiving Yards – Greg Jennings (GB) ‘under’ 75½ (-115): Jennings could be a bit gimpy after missing the last three games with a sprained knee and the Packers have so many receiving options that he may not even be Aaron Rodgers’ primary target until he is at 100 percent. Just having Jennings on the field though forces opposing defenses to respect him. While that is great for the other receivers on the team, it is not good for Jennings if he can’t make cuts off of the knee as smoothly as he would like.
Player to score the first New York Giants TD in the game? Hakeem Nicks (NYG) WR (+400): Victor Cruz seems to have become Eli Manning’s favorite target this year, so many people forget that Nicks was the Giants’ best receiver last season and he was considered their number one entering this year. When the Giants and Packers met during the regular season, Cruz did lead New York with 119 receiving yards, but it was Nicks that caught two touchdowns while Cruz was shut out on the scoreboard. Nicks also had two touchdown catches vs. the Falcons in the wild card playoff game last week, including the 72-yarder that broke the game open in a 24-2 triumph. The +400 odds on this prop also certainly seem worthwhile.
Who will record more Rushing Yards in the game? New York Giants -5½ (-125): The Giants may have finished dead last in the NFL in rushing this season, but that was only because either Ahmad Bradshaw or Brandon Jacobs was out every week. They are now both healthy at the same time and the Giants piled up 172 rushing yards vs. the Falcons in the wild card round last week. Meanwhile, rushing is an afterthought for Green Bay, as they will rely on the passing of Rodgers as usual to carry them as usual in this game.