Superbowl Sunday. The big one. You’re probably going to read a million preview articles this week, so let’s not dilly dally. First off, I think the Eagles are the right side in this one, so let’s start with why.
It is quite hard to make a case for them based off the recent market prices. They were 3 point home dogs to both Atlanta and Minnesota, suggesting around +6 on a neutral. The fact they’re only getting 5 against New England, widely considered the best team in the league, shows there’s been a significant adjustment to their rating after the Nick Foles coming out party last week.
But will we get that Nick Foles again? Not one single analyst saw that performance coming, because Foles did things he hasn’t done in years – throwing effectively on the run, throwing effectively downfield, and making good decisions late in the play.
Bill Barnwell noted that Foles has improved his passer rating in every half of the playoffs so far, and its human nature to see that pattern continuing.
But I dont think its bettable. Take deep passing for instance. Foles went 4-of-7 for 172 yards on deep throws against the Vikings, but that kind of success is inherently volatile due to the binary nature of deep throws – its either a big play or it isn’t – and its a small sample size. So let’s stick to Foles’ career numbers when evaluating this game.
As i’ve written a couple of times in this blog, using yards per attempt, Foles is about 4.5 points worse than Wentz. So the question is, would you be backing Eagles as a 1 point dog with Wentz against the Patriots. And I would. Here’s why:
First off, I think strength of schedule (SOS) is very important in the playoffs and Superbowl. Its proven to be quite a powerful predictor, even against the spread, and it makes sense. Humans naturally play to the level of their competition. And all year long the Patriots have had it easy. This year they faced the 28th ranked strength of schedule in the NFL, per Jeff Sagarin or the fifth easiest.
In their last four games they’ve faced Bortles, Mariota, Bryce Petty and Tyrod Taylor. That’s hardly a murderers row. Meanwhile the Eagles have not faced an elite SOS, but they still come in 10 spots higher at 18th. Its also noteworthy the NFC is 41-23 against the AFC in inter-conference games this year. I think its safe to assume the Eagles have been facing a higher level of competition all year long and that will be a big factor come Sunday.
The other major factor here is the matchups.
I would argue the Eagles are going to dominate both lines of scrimmage. New England has the 14th-ranked pass blocking O-line by DVOA, but will be going up against the best pass rushing line in the league by DVOA.
The Eagles also have the unique advantage of depth. They essentially have two full defensive lines that they rotate in and out. We know that getting pressure with four is the key to beating Brady, but we’ve also seen that it is exhausting for those four players to rush the passer unassisted all game long. The Falcons in last years Superbowl and the Jags last week, both dominated in the first half with the pass rush, but they got worn down and were ultimately reeled in late. The Eagles are the best equipped team in the league to counteract this.
On the other side of the ball, might be more even, with the Eagles 12th-ranked pass blocking O-line going against the patriots 10th ranked D-line, but i still think SOS comes into play here. I’m not going to discuss yards per play here, because the Patriots have been outperforming their numbers all year, while the Eagles numbers aren’t too relevant because of Foles.
But one area worth mentioning is coaching. I think coaching and optimal decision-making is the biggest reason the Patriots are the soul crushing dynasty they are. Week after week, the Patriots make optimal decisions, both in-game and in preparation, and i’d argue that’s why the cover the spread 60% of the time in the Brady/Belichick era. To quantify it, this year they finished top (again) in the Intelligence Index, which essentially measures how efficient a team is in turning yards into points.
However, i don’t think that edge exists in this game. The Eagles finished fourth in that same metric, and are also committed to optimal decision-making.
For instance they converted the most fourth downs in the league this year, thanks to a data-led decision making process. Doug Pederson also pivoted to the RPO concepts that made Foles a one-year wonder under Chip Kelly, showing he is willing to adapt to his players – Belichick style.
So that’s why i like the Eagles. But how do we bet them? The first half +3 line is a great start, and on the moneyline at 3.0 or better also makes a lot of sense to me. If you can find an Eagles 1st quarter +0.5 at around 1.83 then that’s also a bet. The Vikings said last week they were surprised how physical the Eagles were, and the Vikings are already one of the most physical teams in the league. I can see the Eagles hitting the Patriots in the mouth early and getting out to a lead.
It’s also worth noting the Patriots have not scored in the first quarter in any of Brady’s Superbowls, or in their two playoff games so far this year. Past Superbowls have also been cagey early as teams settle in and try not to make mistakes, so i’d make a case for a small first half Under 24 bet (there are a couple of 24.5s out there at time of writing). Best of luck!
P.S: I will be back later this week with a look at all the props, where the real money is made, so check back soon!
Brad’s Superbowl Selections:
- Eagles +3 (1st Half Handicap)
- Eagles on the Moneyline (3.0 or better)
- Eagles +0.5 (1st Quarter Handicap)