Adam Chernoff previews the big one – Super Bowl LIII
It took a while, but the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs managed to get over the total of 55.5 cashing the Championship Weekend wager for readers of this weekly column. Heading into the Super Bowl, my record is 20-12 (+11.22x).
Before I get into the game, I just wanted to say a few things.
A HUGE thank you to everyone who has clicked on, shared, tweeted and read my columns here on Matchbook each week during the NFL season. I appreciate every single one of them. The response has been fantastic, and I hope that everyone has been able to make some money with me this season.
A big handshake and tip of the cap to Sully, Cormac and all the folks at Matchbook HQ who give me space on this platform to share my content with everyone. Every week the guys are grinding out the days bringing everyone online the best content possible and deserve all the recognition for it.
Finally, high fives all around for all of the other NFL contributors that produce fantastic work every single week. Whether it is Brad Allen leading the way here on Insights or Nat, Jesse, Sully and the rest of the crew on the podcast, this group puts together some of the most professional NFL content online and deserve respect around the horn.
Super Bowl Time
I think it makes the most sense to start with the market.
The opening price on the Super Bowl was Los Angeles -1. Many people will point to this being a crazy price, but I think it is a difficult price to dispute. For the entire season at many bookmakers in the industry, there was precedence of NFC as less than a field goal favourite in the Super Bowl look ahead numbers.
There has been nothing since the start of the playoffs that would make me think otherwise. With this being a neutral field game, there is no advantage priced in for home field, and it is fair to compare these teams head to head. The only spot on the field where New England is better is Quarterback. Aside from that, the Los Angeles Rams are arguably better at all positions.
There is so much wagered on the Super Bowl that this is the one week where recreational bettors in the market will have their say.
The move from Los Angeles -1 to New England -2.5 is without a doubt a collective volume move that probably will see buyback later in the week before ultimately settling somewhere around New England -1.5 or New England -2.
The market is clear cut, and I believe the matchup is too – but for reasons, many are not talking about. I think this has the potential to be a defensive stand out game for both teams.
The Los Angeles Rams have two tough, physical corners in Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. They also have a front four on the defensive line that can play by themselves and hold together upfront without any additional other help. The Rams can drop the other five defenders back into the middle of the field and force New England to throw the ball outside. Tom Brady and the New England offense are most uncomfortable when the middle of the field is taken away. This season more than years past, they do not have the single deep threat that can stretch a defense down the field.
Even when Gronkowski is split out wide to create a matchup problem, he tends to cut into the middle. If the Rams can establish this defense, it will force New England into targeting James White out of the backfield. On paper, this looks like it plays into the strength of New England.
What I do not believe bettors are respecting is the speed of the Rams defense. Despite often playing in a three-deep zone the Rams have a very quick defense laterally and can close gaps quick.
Drew Brees utilised Kamara out of the backfield as his primary weapon with 13 targets, but the long of 11 catches was 20 yards, and the average was 8. Los Angeles has made a point since the return of Talib late in the season to not allow any pass deep. The only two passes this season to go for more than 20 yards were to Michael Gallup and Ted Ginn, both receptions came against Joyner, the free safety.
Aside from a single sack, the Rams pass rush has not made the stat sheet this entire postseason. What they have done effectively is eliminate the run game – 50 yards to Dallas and 48 to New Orleans. Both of those teams had high rated offensive lines and great running games. The Rams weakness all season was defending the rush, but with stress taken off by the secondary stepping up, the run defense has improved.
The Rams can sell out upfront against the rush and still get the kind of push they need to upset Brady in the pocket. The veteran QB has not dealt well with pressure this entire season, specifically when it comes straight at him (45% completion rate under pressure). Donald and Suh may not be getting sacks, but they are managing to push their man back and disrupt vision and the ability to step up. If they can take away the middle of the field for Gronkowski and Edelman, the Patriots are going hard pressed at gaining big chunk plays.
Patriot Defense To Come To The Party
Defensively for the New England Patriots, I believe the matchup is equally as strong. Sean McVay gets a ton of credit for his offensive play calling, but I think this is inflated by the narrative to an extent.
In my opinion, in the two playoff games, McVay has been conservative and simple.
This might draw some outrage because the headline plays to dominate the overall take away, but his play calling is becoming extremely routine and repetitive. When I say conservative, I do not refer to being bold and going for it on fourth down, I refer to the ability to try new and different looks. In the two playoff games, McVay has shown the same misdirection, the same dependency on play action and the same reliance on passing to the middle of the field.
The most successful plays have been off tackle runs against the misdirection where a pulling guard and tight end have made terrific blocks to free running back.
A lot of this success is predicated by the threat of a deep pass. When I look at the matchup, I give a considerable edge to the Patriots corners. Much like the matchup against Kansas City, New England is going to be able to get extremely physical at the line of scrimmage and throw off the rhythm of an extremely time-dependent passing game. I think a lot of the physicality is going to get the benefit of some lenient officiating after seeing how the playoffs have been officiated to this point.
The Patriots do not have to make that different of a game plan than what they put forth against Kansas City to slow down Los Angeles. The only variable is the Rams will be more dependent on a running back where the Chiefs were at a tight end. But the effort put in to contain the speed and finesse against Kansas City, can without a doubt be duplicated. I believe that like the Rams, the Patriots will be content with preventing big plays.
If all of the above plays out as described, the difference in the game will come from offensive game planning.
The easiest way for New England to have success on offense is to play up-tempo. The last two weeks we have seen the Patriots play ball control in a slow and methodical pace against a zone centric defense (Chargers), and one came against a man-centric defense (Chiefs). The Chargers conceded the running back pass, and New England took whatever they wanted. The Chiefs did not concede one way or another, but they were outmatched man to man at every position. New England took advantage of the weakness.
The Rams can play man outside, be quick enough to defend the running back pass, and take away the middle of the field because their front four can have success.
The problem is that the Rams are not deep on defense and do not play well in tempo.
The best way for an offense to negate a defensive line is to keep them moving and play quickly. This does not necessarily mean New England will get big chunk plays, but if they play fast enough, they should be able to move the ball effectively. With the increased pace, of course, comes less time taken off the clock.
The easiest way for Los Angeles to have success on offense is to take what New England gives them. New England is small upfront on the defensive line. The Rams certainly have an advantage with their offensive line and have two strong running backs in the backfield.
If the Patriots choose to sell out and get physical on the outside in coverage, I do not believe that the Patriots can go blow for blow stopping the run and shutting down the offensive line – especially with the creative blocking schemes we saw on plays against Dallas with the extra week to prepare.
As soon as New England comes in and either tries to get pressure or collapse down in the box, Los Angeles can look out wide to their receivers which won’t be as tightly covered. Much of the success against Kansas City speed came on double teams. As with Brady, there is a tremendous upside to getting pressure on Goff and his numbers plummet (46% completion percentage) but trying to get to Goff is going to be dangerous because it leaves an opportunity.
If the Rams are patient and catch New England over committing they can move the ball quickly in big chunks.
Best Wager For Sunday Night
In my opinion, the best way to bet the Super Bowl is to look at Under 28.5 in the 1st Half.
The value in this number comes from the fact that both teams are at a disadvantage on offense vs defense and will have to put together a drastically different game plan than they have recently to have immediate success.This installs an element of uncertainty on both sides of the ball.
How quick can a new style be executed on offense and how much risk will either side be willing to take on defense?
As with any Super Bowl, there are intangibles to an extent as well. Wade Philips put together a game plan that beat up Brady in the 2015 Championship game with a similar star duo of pass rushers. The Patriots are one of the best defenses at communicating on the field in the NFL. Knowing the reliance, Goff has on McVay, how many different looks will Belichick and company throw at him late in the play clock after communication in the headset cuts off?
Bill Belichick is notorious for feeling the opponent out in Super Bowls, and since he and Brady got together, they have only scored 3 points – total – in Super Bowl 1st quarters. This is a massive swing from the regular season where the Patriots are routinely in the top 5 of 1st quarter scoring (2nd this season).
On Sunday, the ultimate key for both teams (offense or defense) is to find a way to get pressure on the quarterback. If either team does that to a further extent than the other, they will win the Super Bowl. If either side is going to take any chances with aggressive pass rushing, I expect it to be early when the score is tight, and both offenses will be more conservative with their play calling.
With both sides having the ability to take away the middle of the field and play physical man coverage outside, each team will be forced into a style of offensive play calling which bodes well for short, contained yardage, and there won’t be an adjustment for until half time.
This has all the makings for a first half under, second half over tightly contested Super Bowl.
Let’s end a great NFL season with a slow start.
- First Half Under 28.5 (1.850). Risking 1.50x.
Check out Matchbook Super Bowl Specials here
Your host Nat Coombs is joined by Paolo Bandini, Brad Allen and the Matchbook duo of Aidan “Sully” O’Sullivan & Jesse May to preview the big one.