NFL Week 18: 3 must-bet props for Patriots vs. Bills

01/08/2023
DB+

It’s the last week of the regular season. Every NFL season goes by too fast, but this one has especially freight-trained its way through time. Until this last week. Damar Hamlin’s life-threatening injury appeared to stop time, and most all of Bills Mafia – and many worldwide – waited anxiously for good news about the young safety. Friday’s reports that he was removed from breathing assistance and could laugh with his teammates via Facetime were so remarkably encouraging for his long-term health. Everybody at Cover 1 is excited to see him continue his recovery.

Last week’s bets got washed out with the game versus Cincy being canceled, but considering the situation, that is the least of our concerns. We will, however, return to concerning ourselves with free money this week though, and this is our last regular season edition of Three Props and a Cloud of Dust. This is my first year writing for Cover 1, and this series has been a blast to write – at least in all the weeks we’ve been winning. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and I seriously hope you’ve won some money and maybe learned a few tips or tricks for doing your own handicapping. Three Props will continue through the playoffs whether the Bills only get one game or if they win the Super Bowl, but the end of the regular season is a line of demarcation, and so we demarcated (I don’t know if that’s a word either). Let’s get that analysis money.

First Things First

Here are a few rules to keep your betting a fun, enjoyable hobby.

  1. Never bet more than you can afford to lose.
  2. Don’t chase a bet.
  3. Don’t bet on what you don’t understand
  4. Check the other sportsbooks’ lines
  5. See Rule #1.

If you think you might have a gambling problem, please contact any of these agencies for help.

National Council on Problem Gambling: 1-800-522-4700.
Gambling Anonymous National Hotline: (888) GA-HELPS (888-424-3577)
Gambling Assistance Hotline: (800) 522-4700

Lastly, these are recommendations, not guarantees. Act accordingly.

Game Script

The first time New England and Buffalo played in Week 13, the Bills’ D shut down pretty much everything the Pats tried to do on offense. The only real blemish was a sort of trick play with a Pats’ DB receiving a screen pass and benefitting from some missed tackles and rough angles. That was New England’s second possession. Their next possessions went, punt, punt, punt, missed FG, punt, punt, FG (when they were down 17 points with less than 2:00 remaining). The Patriots’ offense is simply not very good.

NE ranks 21st in EPA/Pass Att at -0.91, right in between the vaunted passing attacks of the 2022 Steelers and Titans (SIS). “But the Pats wanted to have a strong run game,” you say. Ok. Tell that to their performance. These ground-and-pound Patriots rank 27th in EPA/Rush Att at -0.11. The Dolphins have a more successful running game (-0.07 EPA/RuAtt, 25th).

New England will struggle to score. In the DVOA Matchup diagram below, you can see this game will have the best Red Zone Defense by DVOA squared up with the worst Red Zone Offense. Total FGs for NE’s kicker was a consideration when first examining the DVOA diagram, but you would have to depend on the Pats regularly moving the ball for that opportunity.

The New England Patriots are a top-five defense against 11 personnel, which remains the Bills’ primary personnel group (72% on the season, 71% since Wk 9):

  • 3rd on Comp % (57.7%)
  • 4th in Yds/Att (6.1)
  • 5th in Yds/Cov Snap (5.4)
  • 5th in EPA/Play (-0.21)

Watch for the Bills to run more 21 and 12 groupings as they did in Wk 13, where they used 21 for 24% of snaps and 12 for 18%. The Bills’ 51% of 11 personnel in Wk 13 was their third lowest on the season (TEN, CLE). If you’re so inclined, this is not a bad game for that Reggie Gilliam Anytime TD bet.

New England has played the most frequent zone coverage in the league since Week 9, which is a big flip from the first half of the season. Also, notice the flip regarding the middle of the field. The Pats’ MIddle of the Field Closed (MOFC) has significantly dropped, corresponding to the rise in their use of Middle of the Field Open (MOFO). The Bills lead the NFL in Total EPA against Cover 2 and Cover 4, two types of MOFO coverage.

Wks 1-8 Wks 9-17
Man 36% (5th) 22% (25th)
Zone 54% (21st) 70% (1st)
MOFC 65% (1st) 49% (12th)
MOFO 25% (32nd) 42% (12th)

For a thorough breakdown, check out Uber Hansen’s Game Matchups Preview.

DVOA Matchup

From Football Outsiders

Injury Reports

As always, remember to check the inactives before game time.

Weather

From the National Weather Service: Partly sunny, with a high near 34. Calm wind.

Sunday, January 8 at 1 pm
Temperature: 32 °F     Dewpoint: 23 °F     Wind Chill: 32 °F     Surface Wind: SW 2mph
Sky Cover (%): 59%     Precipitation Potential (%): 3%     Relative Humidity (%): 68%
Rain: <10%     Thunder: <10%     Snow: <10%     Freezing Rain: <10%     Sleet: <10%

Last updated: 1/8/22, 7:00 am

First Quarter Total

o u
CSR 7.5 +100 -120
DK 7.5 +105 -125
FD 8.5 +100 -122
MGM 7.5 +100 -130

This play has a large proportion of its reasoning in the emotional release/high/fervor many of us expect from the Bills and the home crowd, but there is quantitative justification as well. The Bills have gone over 7.5 Q1 points in 11 of 16 games this season, including that first game against NE.

The Patriots’ defense is solid, but Q1 is their weakest in DVOA:

  • Q1: -5.2% (12th)
  • Q2: -12.4% (3rd)
  • Q3: -17.9% (4th)
  • Q4: -19.2% (3rd)

Add to it that the Bills’ D is at its least effective in Q1, and you’ve got a recipe for an over.

Recommendation: o7.5 at DK, 1u

Stefon Diggs Receiving Yards

o u
CSR 78.5 -133 -103
DK 78.5 -120 -110
FD 79.5 -110 -110
MGM 78.5 -115 -115

This is one of Diggs’ lowest receiving lines on the season, and it appears to be brought on by his last three games instead of what to expect in this week’s contest. Diggs caught seven passes for 92 yards and one TD in Wk 13. Admittedly, Diggs has not hit this total in a month, but leading into the Bengals’ game, many were expecting a big game from Diggs because he was starting to show some frustration on the sideline over the course of the last three games, where he has only gotten a total of 16 targets, and because Josh Allen takes care of his boys.

In Weeks 1-13, Diggs was seventh among WRs with 35+ targets in EPA/Tgt at 0.43. In Weeks 14-18, his EPA/Tgt of 0.14 ranks 42nd among WRs with 15+ targets. But it’s a week-to-week league, and the last month is not indicative of Diggs as a WR or his usage in this offense. Plus, check this note from Uber Hansen:

New England will undoubtedly throw some new wrinkles at Buffalo this week, but their success will hinge on whether or not a banged-up secondary can contain Allen and his receivers. With Jack Jones (CB) on IR, Marcus Jones (CB) working through concussion protocol, and Jalen Mills (CB) struggling to return from a groin injury the Patriots’ top three corners may struggle to see the field Sunday. That means backups Myles Bryant (CB), Shaun Wade (CB), and/or Tae Hayes (CB) may all see significant time and be tasked with stopping Allen from getting the ball to the likes of Stefon Diggs (WR), Gabe Davis (WR), and Dawson Knox (TE) among others.

Allen to Diggs should be unstoppable on Sunday.

Recommendation: o78.5 at MGM, 0.5u. This line jumped up 8 yards yesterday. Still like it, but obviously that was a much better line, so the unit size was dropped from a full to a half.

Rhamondre Stevenson Receiving Yards

o u
CSR 21.5 -111 -123
DK 21.5 -120 -110
FD 19.5 -110 -110
MGM 21.5 -120 -110

The Pats have run the most screens since Wk 8, 57, and it constitutes a full 20% of their passing game. The Bills are not that great against screens, in part because of their aggressive nature.

The Bills only allow an 81.4% completion percentage on screens, which is third best, but their Yds/Allowed per screen is 10th worst at 6.4, and their QB rating against – 111.4 – is the worst in the league.

When the Pats throw a screen pass, they throw to Rhamondre Stevenson. He leads them with 32 targets on screens, and the next closest player is Jonnu Smith with 12. Stevenson had six catches on eight targets in Wk 13.

Recommendation: o19.5 at FD, 0.5u. When this rec was written, it was going to be for receptions, not yards, but it isn’t posted. The reasoning still applies to yards, and the FD line stands out.

Conclusion

The Bills are likely to come out supercharged with the increasingly good news about Hamlin and will be pumped up by a raucous crowd just unloading the emotional roller coaster we’ve all been on this week. There may very well be a nadir to all that emotion, but this team should more than have you convinced of their resiliency by now, and does Mac Jones strike you as the type of man with the intestinal fortitude to withstand that type of onslaught? Me neither.

NE 13 – Bills 31

Record: 28-17, 62%, +4.5u

 

 

You can find Chris on Twitter (@lowbuffa), getting dirty in #MafiaGardens, or watching football. Go Bills!

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