Adam Chernoff was all over the Vikings last week and is zoning in on another NFC big gun this week!
A positive result last week with the Minnesota Vikings covering against the New York Giants moving the season record for readers of this column to 3-4 (-1.42x). This week two wagers are singled out on the Week 6 card.
The first handicap goes back to front.
Recency Bias Driving This Number
The lookahead price for this game was Los Angeles -5.5 and the opening price was down at -3. A lot of the adjustment was made based on the results from two primetime games which naturally spark more of an overreaction than Sunday afternoon games. With any price adjustment, it is essential to consider and account for the new information available. It is not just merely a case of looking at what the look ahead was and where the game opened and believing there is value.
Handicapping comes down to equating the value of the new information and comparing it to the current price.
To do that with this handicap, I think it makes sense to go much further back than just last Tuesday. In June, a Las Vegas casino sent out the lookahead point spreads for each game during the NFL season. The LA Rams price was -7.5 for this game against the 49ers.
What most bettors do not realize is that the summer look ahead lines are not based on subjective handicapping nor risk anticipating by the bookmakers.
Point spreads are reflections of the win totals.
Let me explain. The Rams win total was 10.5 (priced to the over), and the 49ers win total was 8.5 (priced to the under). That means the Rams would be expected to win 65.6% of their games and the 49ers would be expected to win 53.1% of their games. The difference of 12.5% (slightly more if looking at break-even equivalents) gets applied to a Moneyline.
A team priced 12.5% higher is a 4.5 to 5 point favourite on the Moneyline to point spread equivalent. Add in a standard three points for home-field advantage, and there is the 7.5 point lookahead price.
If this was week one, we could act on that information directly. Since it is Week 6, it does not do us much good on its own as there are five weeks of new information to reconcile. Following the market anticipated MNF win over Cleveland, the 49ers jumped to 12th in rushing success rate and 2nd in passing success rate defense. My gripe with these is the schedule of opponents they have faced. After four games, the 49ers have played the easiest schedule of opposing rush offenses and the 9th easiest schedule of opposing pass offenses.
The interpretation of these scheduling numbers is critical as it adds another layer when considering that efficiency metrics are the cumulative performance of a team throughout the season.
My big issue with the 49ers performance numbers is the timely manner in which they have faced their opponents. They faced:
- Jameis Winston in a game where his playmakers were sick
- Andy Dalton in the first game under Taylor on short week prep
- Mason Rudolph in his first NFL start
- Baker Mayfield who has the lowest adjusted completion percentage in the NFL.
Are The 49ers Really That Good?
Opportunistic is a better adjective for the San Francisco defense rather than dominant.
On offense, the story is mostly the same. The 49ers rank 17th in rushing success rate and 6th in passing success rate but have faced the 4th easiest schedule of opposing pass defenses and the 22nd easiest schedule of opposing rush defenses. The offensive line has been incredible. The unit ranks 1st in adjusted line yards and 2nd in adjusted sack rate. But in the same two categories, they have faced defensive lines which average 19th in adjusted line yards and 17th in adjusted sack rate. A lot of this performance appears to be influenced by the extremely easy schedule.
The Los Angeles Rams rank right near league average for rushing and passing success rate on both sides of the football. These average results get tapered by the fact that LA has faced the 4th most difficult schedule of opposing pass defenses and an average schedule of opposing run-stopping units. On defense LA has faced the 9th easiest schedule of pass offenses and 11th easiest schedule of rush defenses.
The Rams enter the game in an interesting position. They have lost back to back games after beginning the season with three consecutive victories away at Carolina, home to the New Orleans and away at Cleveland. The two recent losses at home to Tampa Bay and away at Seattle carried a lot of negatives with them from a perception standpoint.
Conceding 55 points to the Bucs at home as a ten-point favourite, then seeing the market flip on them and lose away at Seattle. I question this perception as digging into the box scores tells a different story.
In the game against Tampa Bay, the Rams out first downed the Bucs by 9, gained 65 yards more and won the yards per play battle despite losing by 15. Against the Seahawks on Thursday Night Football, a similar outcome occurred. On an equal amount of plays, the Rams outgained Seattle by +0.7 yards per play, fumbled inside the 15-yard line on a drive in the first half and missed a game-winning field goal with 10 seconds remaining.
It is important to note that all of this happened, and it cannot be ignored and I am not advocating for doing such. What I am getting at is from no matter which time point you choose, this market has swung, quite dramatically in favour of the 49ers.
Our job as bettors is to evaluate the new information that has been made available.
do not think that anyone can make a case that the Rams have performed worse than the 49ers when adjusting for the schedule in the opening five weeks.
Even With Jared At The Wheel, I’m Liking The Rams Here
Not only is the number appealing but I think things line up quite comfortably for Los Angeles on the field.
The one downside that will get pointed for those backing San Francisco is the performance of Jared Goff under pressure. He has struggled immensely with an adjusted completion percentage of 60% on 42% of his dropbacks which have been under pressure. The completion percentage is a career-low, and the pressure rate is a career-high.
I am not convinced that this is going to be a significant factor in this game. With the 49ers playing in division, there is a ton of familiarity between the two coaching staffs and players. Robert Saleh calls one of the highest rates of zone coverages in the NFL. The numbers for Jared Goff fall off from one of the most accurate passers against man coverage to one of the worst decision-makers in the NFL against man coverage.
Sean McVay is well aware of this and in the past three seasons has put together unique game plans against San Francisco. Jared Goff has never had more than 28 dropbacks against Saleh. Last year he had just 50 dropbacks in both games combined in comparison to 78 rushes. Keeping the ball out of their QB’s hands unless optimal timing is when the Rams are the most creative and at their best.
The only game in which Goff has not attempted at least 39 passes this season was against the Saints which was his – and the offense as a whole – best performance.
This game plan not only protects the Rams against mistakes, but it also matches up against the 49ers biggest weakness on defense. As mentioned earlier, despite playing the easiest schedule of opposing rush defenses, the 49ers rank 12th in success rate against the rush. San Francisco concedes a ton of throws underneath, which not only keeps the throws for Goff easy but opens up creativity for McVay with motion and the short mesh routes.
Playcalling for Los Angeles should be among the best we have seen from the team this season.
For the 49ers moving the football could be difficult against the Rams defense. Despite great play by the offensive line, the reliance on fullback Kyle Juczczyk on 32% of running plays becomes glaring in his absence. In the favourable game state against the Browns at the end of the game, the 49ers offense struggled to move the football without him. After five weeks, the 49ers have run the football more than any other team in the NFL at 57%.
The same applies to neutral game play calling as well. In one-score games, San Francisco has run the football 54% of the time, which is also a league-high. If the running game takes a hit, then Jimmy Garoppolo becomes the point of focus. Surprising to most, the numbers under pressure for Garoppolo are 2% worse than Jared Goff.
If the Rams can slow the rush, then we may well see a repeat of the opening week performance for Garoppolo.
At this price point, I see plenty of upsides to back the Rams who match up well against the 49ers to find success moving the football. This adjustment has gone too far, and I do not agree these teams are at an equal price point.
Points Galore Expected In The Desert
This game will feature two of the worst four secondaries in the NFL, but I believe the worse unit of the two is the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons enter week six allowing 55% of passes to grade successfully which ranks 31st in the NFL. Defensive DVOA has them ranked 27th in the NFL and DAVE has them ranked 30th on Football Outsiders. The qualitative numbers from Pro Football Focus confirm both of these numbers and rank the Falcons 29th in coverage grade. The kicker in each of these numbers is that Atlanta has faced an average league schedule of opposing pass offenses (16th most difficult). It is one thing to put up these poor numbers against a challenging schedule, but considering the competition, the Falcons defense is arguably the worst in the NFL.
This matchup gets interesting for Kyler Murray and the Cardinals offense for a couple of reasons. Arizona runs 10 personnel more than any team in the league (51% of snaps). To put that in context, the league average for 10 personnel is 4%. Defending four wide receivers requires a lot of depth in the secondary. The Falcons already have two strong safeties on IR, but will face Arizona without two of their starting cornerbacks, Trufant and Wilson. There is also a chance that starting free safety Ricardo Allen will miss this game as well. Should Allen miss this game, the Falcons will be starting third-string options at both corner positions and second string or lower at both safety spots. Atlanta has yet to defend an opposing snap from 10 personnel and might have to face 30-40 this game with their depth severely limited.
Even healthy this matchup sets up well for Kyler Murray. The Falcons have allowed teams to gain 122% of their average gain per pass attempt, which puts Murray north of 7.0 yards per pass. Schematically they are a straightforward defense to read. Dan Quinn plays a high rate of zone coverage and does little to make any reads difficult for opposing quarterbacks. The heat maps for opposing quarterbacks against the Falcons show an area of high success between the line of scrimmage and ten yards that runs across the width of the field. This area is where Kingsbury prefers to scheme his routes. This game is likely the most confident and comfortable we see Murray in his young career.
I have zero issues with the Falcons being able to make up their share of the total. Looking at quarterback and receiving talent across the board, the most challenging game thus far for the Arizona defense was Seattle. In terms of success rate, the Seahawks rank second in the league. Atlanta ranks 7th in the NFL, but plays a significantly different style of offenses and presents an enormous challenge for the Cardinals secondary. Although the two teams run similar personnel groupings, the Falcons throw on 17% more plays than the Seattle Seahawks. They also have superior receiving talent with Jones, Ridley and Sanu. The Cardinals have the talent to defend elite receivers – but they are both on IR. To make matters worse for the secondary, Tramaine Brock will play this game at less than 100% off a limited week of practice, and Trevor Williams is questionable. Similar to Atlanta, the Cardinals could be defending Jones, Ridley and Sanu with guys 3-4 spots down the depth chart.
The result of this game will come down to volume vs weakness. Both Atlanta and Arizona rank in the top ten for plays run per game, top five for pace of play and are both top ten in early down pass rate. This matchup for both offenses against the opposing secondaries make this a green light on the over.
- Los Angeles Rams -3 (1.90). Risking 1.10x
- Atlanta Falcons Arizona Cardinals Over 51.5 (1.88). Risking 1.15x