As usual, the lines on the two NFL conference championship games seem very sharp, making it hard to find an edge. However, we feel we have found quite a few props with soft numbers.
Well, we are now down to the Final Four in the NFL Playoffs, as both the AFC Championship Game and the NFC Championship Game are slated for this Sunday. Obviously there will be huge amounts of money bet on these two games, so the NFL odds this week have to be super sharp.
That does indeed appear to be the case, as both lines seem to be right where they should be in our opinion, making NFL picks on the straight markets against the spreads and on totals this week extremely difficult.
However, as has become our wont during the playoffs, there are quite a few NFL props that we feel are +EV in the long run, and it is usually better to concentrate on beating this softer market than fruitlessly trying to find minute edges in the ultra sharp straight lines. The fact that there are more props offered in playoff games than in regular season games is an advantage for the diligent bettor also, as more props means more opportunity for soft numbers.
Here are some of our favorite props from Bodog for the two championship games. We will start with two props that encompass both games before moving on to individual game props.
ALL Conference Finals
Who will Record the Most Passing Yards? Eli Manning (NYG) (+125): Tom Brady is the -110 favorite here after throwing for 363 yards and six touchdowns vs. the Broncos last week, but he will have a much more difficult time vs. the stout Ravens’ defense. Baltimore has the defense to put pressure on Brady without blitzing, which is exactly what happened in the Patriots’ last two losses to the Steelers and Giants, so Brady may not have his usually huge numbers. Meanwhile, Manning will probably have the NFC Championship Game put in his hands, as nobody runs on the 49ers while Drew Brees passed for over 400 yards against their secondary last week. The Giants also have two wide receivers that would be go-to guys on other teams in Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, which makes doubling up either one difficult. Thus, we look for Manning to out-pass Brady this week in terms of yardage, and getting +125 seals the decision.
Who will Record the Most Receiving Yards? Rob Gronkowski (NE) TE (+450): Gronkowski had one of the best receiving seasons for a tight end ever this year and he had 145 receiving yards on 10 catches vs. the Broncos last week. As mentioned, we doubt that Tom Brady will match his passing performance from last week but we do not doubt that Gronkowski will still be his favorite target. While the New England wide receivers may have down numbers vs. the Baltimore secondary this week, look for this tight end to continue to pile up huge yardage totals, and +450 make this seem like a worthwhile shot..
Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots – Sunday, January 22, 2012 (3:00 ET, CBS)
Total Completions - Joe Flacco (BAL) ‘over’ 19½ (-115): Truth be told, Flacco did not play well vs. the Texans last week even while connecting for a pair of touchdowns, but then again, that was vs. a stiff Texans defense. He will now be throwing against a New England defense that ranked 31st out of 32 NFL teams during the regular season in both total defense and passing defense. We also expect the Ravens to utilize Ray Rice in the passing game this week, and those short dump passes should also increase Flacco’s completion total.
Total Rushing Yards – Joe Flacco (BAL) ‘under’ 4½ (-115): Flacco will never be confused with a gazelle, so outside of quarterback sneaks near the goal line, Baltimore never calls running plays for him. Thus, the only time he gains rushing yards outside of sneaks is when he is scrambling to elude pass rushers. Well, we do not expect much of that this week as New England has been unable to put pressure on quarterbacks since losing Andre Carter for the season.
Total Receiving Yards – Ray Rice (BAL) ‘over’ 42½ (-125): As we mentioned, we expect Rice to be used more as a receiver out of the backfield this week, and why not since he led the NFL in yards from scrimmage this year. No, we are not looking for over 100 receiving yards like Darren Sproles had from the running back position for the Saints vs. the 49ers last week, but half of those yards total seems doable vs. the weak New England pass defense.
Total Receptions – Ray Rice (BAL) ‘over’ 4½ (-115): If we cash our previous prop, then we should also cash this one just because of the direct correlation alone. However, we like this prop more just for the simple fact that we expect the ball to be thrown in Rice’s direction a lot, so even if the Patriots smother him and he does not pick up as many receiving yards as we expect, we still feel that he should end up with at least five catches nonetheless.
Total Receiving Yards – Torrey Smith (BAL) ‘over’ 52½ (-125): Anquan Boldin was Baltimore’s leading receiver last week as Smith was held to just one catch for nine yards. That was because the Texans put an emphasis on not letting the mercurial Smith beat them deep and they are good enough defensively that they executed that plan well. The Patriots’ pass defense…well…not so much, so it is entirely possible that Smith can cash this prop on one play.
Total Rushing Yards – Tom Brady (NE) ‘under’ 3½ (-105): Brady is even more immobile than Flacco is at this stage of his career, and when he is under pressure from the ferocious Ravens’ defensive line, he is more likely to get sacked than he is to pick up yardage. You also know that he will not call his own number on designed runs vs. that defense.
Total Receiving Yards – Rob Gronkowski (NE) ‘over’ 85½ (-125): As mentioned, Gronk ran wild vs. the Broncos after he caught the ball and he is now the favorite target of one of the most prolific passers ever. In fact Gronkowski has had more than 85½ receiving yards in seven of the last 11 games with five 100-yard performances, and utilizing the tight end may be the best way of having any success against the Baltimore secondary. This is not to mention the fact that Gronkowski is a physical specimen that can handle the big hits that that the Ravens give better than most players.
New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers – Sunday, January 22, 2012 (6:30 ET, FOX)
Total Rushing Yards – Ahmad Bradshaw (NYG) ‘under’ 47½ (-105): The Giants would certainly like to run effectively this week, but wanting to and being able to are two different things. Yes, Bradshaw ran for 63 yards last week, but that was vs. a porous Green Bay rushing defense and he is now going up against the best rushing defense in the NFL, as the 49ers are allowing a scant 74.9 rushing yards per game on 3.5 yards per carry, Sharing time with Brandon Jacobs does not help Bradshaw’s cause either, although it does help the cause of this prop.
Will Victor Cruz (NYG) score a TD in the game? Yes (+125): We cashed a nice prop bet last week when we said that Hakeem Nicks would score the first New York touchdown of the game at +400, and Nicks ended up scoring twice while Cruz was kept out of the end zone. Both receivers would be go-to guys on other teams though, so Cruz is just as likely to score a touchdown this week as Nicks is, so we like getting +125 on what could be a toss-up. Besides, it is highly likely that all Giants’ touchdowns will be passing touchdowns, as San Francisco did not allow a rushing touchdown until Week 16 this year.
Total Passing Yards – Alex Smith (SF) ‘under’ 220½ (-115): Smith had to throw last week to match points with the Saints, and he ended up one yard shy of 300 passing yards. That is not normally the 49ers’ game though and the New York defense has been very stingy in recent weeks, unlike New Orleans. Plus Smith only surpassed 220½ passing yards once in the last six regular season games and the Niners will look to establish the run here in an effort to keep the great Giants’ defensive line off of Smith’s back.
Total Interceptions – Alex Smith (SF) ‘over’ ½ (-115): Speaking of that great Giants defense (at least lately), while Smith threw only five interceptions all year, we like the chances of him getting pressured into a few bad passes in this game, and that gives the New York secondary a chance to catch at least one of those errant throws.
Total Rushing Yards – Alex Smith (SF) ‘over’ 15½ (-120): On the other hand, Smith can use his legs to escape that pass rush, just as Aaron Rodgers did while leading the Packers in rushing yards vs. the Giants last Sunday with 66. And Smith is also a better pure runner that is not afraid to call his own number, just like on his 28-yard touchdown scamper vs. the Saints.
Which player will score the first San Francisco TD in the game? – Vernon Davis (SF) TE (+350): We like the value on this prop, as Davis found the end zone twice vs. New Orleans including the dramatic game-winning catch with nine seconds left. Davis finished with a whopping 180 receiving yards on that game and he is also a good red zone target.