Nover's View: How to Beat NFL Props

by Stephen Nover

Many bettors say they beat the NFL. Most don't unable to overcome numbers devoid of line value especially on game day. 

There is a softer NFL market, however, one that can be beat by understanding key factors. These are proposition wagers commonly referred to as props. 

These special games within a game are beatable. 

When making props, the bookmaker/oddsmaker crunches numbers and arrives at a figure. 

Those who intensely study players - hardcore fantasy football owners, for instance - hold an edge because they have more player knowledge and are putting extra time into these specific areas. Their projections could differ greatly from the available number due to many factors. They are not just statistic-driven based. 

Here's a position breakdown on the extensive thought process used to beat NFL props besides just using statistics. 

Quarterbacks: 

Game script. Does this particular matchup lend itself to a heavier, or lighter, passing attack than normal? 

Offensive line: Is it in good shape? How many sacks has it been giving up lately? 

Injuries: What is the status of the wide receivers? The Titans, for example, went into their Week 13 bye having been without A.J. Brown, Julio Jones and Marcus Johnson. That's a killer for Ryan Tanneheill. During his last four games from Weeks 9-12, Tannehill averaged 193 yards passing yards and threw only four TD passes. He was a go-against. Matt Ryan has been another fade lately minus Calvin Ridley and missing Cordarrelle Patterson for a couple of games. Ryan's passing numbers for his last four games going into Week 14 are 189.2 passing yards and only one TD throw during this span. 

Running backs:

Game flow: Does this particular matchup ensure a lot of running opportunities? Finding a pertinent coaches' quote can help. Bengals coach Zac Taylor made a commitment to getting his offense more balanced. That meant more carries for Joe Mixon and less passing for Joe Burrow. Mixon averaged 25.6 carries during Weeks 11-13 scoring five TD's and averaging 114 yards rushing during this time frame. Consequently, Burrow didn't throw for more than one TD in any of these three games while averaging 212.6 yards passing compared to averaging 309.6 passing yards in his previous six games.  

Opposing defenses: Jonathan Taylor has been the best running back in the NFL. But when he went up against the Buccaneers, who had the top run defense at the time back in Week 12, Taylor was held to 83 yards rushing. That was his second-lowest rushing total in an eight-week span. Gamescript also worked against Taylor in that game because the Colts went to a heavy passing attack in order to try to keep up with Tampa Bay's high-octane offense. 

Competition: Ronald Jones was the NFL's 12th-leading rusher last season with 978 yards. That was only one yard fewer than Ezekiel Elliott gained on the ground. However, Jones has totally lost favor in Tampa Bay where Leonard Fournette has become the top dog in the Buccaneers' running attack. Jones has just 19 carries in his last four games entering Week 14. Jones has become a total fade yet some sports books still put up props on him even though he's become a non-factor. Talent-wise, Nick Chubb is a top-five runner. Yet he always has to be downgraded when Kareem Hunt is healthy. Some books were slow to do this when Hunt came off the injured list. Myles Gaskin is the opposite of this. He's a mediocre back averaging a puny 3.4 yards a carry. Yet he has 154 attempts because he doesn't have much competition playing for the Dolphins. Only nine players have carried more times than Gaskin this season entering Week 14. 

Update injury information: Always monitor this looking for key bits of information. Doing this helped me win my largest prop bet of the year. It unfolded this way: David Montgomery, the Bears' bellcow running back, suffered a knee injury in Week 4 against the Lions. The injury was serious enough that Montgomery had to go on the injured list with his return date uncertain. Montgomery ended up missing the next four games. Khalil Herbert did a good job replacing him. It appeared Montgomery was going to miss Week 9, too. One prominent Las Vegas sports book put out a Week 9 prop on Herbert rushing for Over/Under 72 1/2 yards. But word started to come out that Montgomery was targeting that week to return. If true Herbert's rushing load would be drastically reduced. Following that information, I wagered heavily on Under Herbert's rushing total. The sports book lowered Herbert's number and then pulled the prop once the Montgomery return news became mainstream. Too late. My bet had been placed. Herbert finished that Week 9 game against the Steelers carrying the ball four times for 13 yards. Montgomery had 13 carries for 63 yards. 

Receivers:

Target share and routes run: The oddsmaker isn't delving that far when making an Over/Under on receiving yards. But by knowing how many times a receiver was targeted you can be on the right side of an overdue factor. The Steelers are just an average passing team because Ben Roethlisberger is well past his prime. He's not the feared downfield passer he once was. The oddsmaker skews Pittsburgh's receivers because of that. Due to target share, though, Diontae Johnson is bulletproof. He's been targeted 51 times during Weeks 10-13. The result is an average of 7.7 receptions, an average of 96 receiving yards and three TD's during this span. Johnson is a consistent prop casher with these numbers. 

Opposing cornerbacks. If the opposition has a shutdown cornerback such as Jalen Ramsey or Jaire Alexander, it's important to find out who that cornerback primarily will be covering. Will he be on the No. 1 wide receiver, slot receiver, or be moving around? 

Tight ends: Knowing your tight ends is important. Some are heavily featured. Some teams go with a two-tight end system. Deebo Samuel has been the 49ers' No. 1 receiving target this season. Samuel didn't play in Week 13, though. So the 49ers made George Kittle their featured receiver. This was easy to surmise. The oddsmaker failed to adjust for this despite Kittle being an upper tier tight end. They set an Over/Under of 55 1/2 yards for Kittle's receiving yardage against the Seahawks in Week 13. Kittle caught nine passes for 181 yards on 12 targets and scored two TD's. It was a rocking chair winner on a line that was way off, something you never would see on a point spread or total.

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