Brad breaks down the side and total for Sunday’s match-up between the Patriots and Rams
Hello folks and welcome back for the last full game breakdown of the year. There will be a props article up later this week (which is where the real money is made of course) but you can’t watch the Super Bowl and not be invested in the side in one way or another.
As many of you know, this line opened up Rams -1.5 at the big offshore books that serve the US market and cater to a lot of the US syndicates.
That number did not last long thanks to an avalanche of Patriots money – both sharp and square – but that opening number was no accident.
Massey Peabody makes the Rams a better team by 2.2 points, ESPN’s FPI makes this Rams -1.4, while Football Outsiders is perhaps the biggest Pats fan of the advanced analytics bunch, making the Pats a 50.2% chance to win the game.
Even at that price, there’s value on the Rams moneyline around 2.2 of course, but if you dig into the match-ups, they fall in favour of the Patriots, almost across the board.
When the Rams have the ball
Let us start with the positives for LA. I think the Rams will be able to run the ball. Their offensive line is the best ever measured by Football Outsider’s adjusted line yards metric, and the Patriots defense is below average in run defense DVOA.
I also think Bill Belichick will be fine letting the Rams run for five yards a clip – both he and Sean McVay know the Rams probably aren’t going to score enough points to win this game without splash pass plays (more on the Patriots offense later)
So can Jared Goff deliver? I thought he was excellent against the Saints in a tough environment, but his season-to-date stats show Sean McVay’s scheme is the star rather than the second-year QB.
Just 13.2% of Goff’s throws this year have been into tight windows, as defined by Next Gen Stats. That’s the fifth lowest rate among active starters. Meanwhile, the pats forced tight window throws on 23.3% of plays following their week 12 bye – the most in the league
When the Pats know you’re passing they get even better thanks to a combination of blitzes and stunts dreamt up by probably the best defensive coach ever in Bill Belichick. On the season the Pats led the league on third down with a 44.9% pressure rate.
They have also been moving toward more and more man coverage. They ran man on 56.8% of their defensive snaps this season and increased that to 72% last week against KC.
Even with his electric receiving weapons, Pat Mahomes was under pressure on 50% of his snaps last week. He managed to put up 31 points anyway but I find it difficult to imagine Goff will do the same. He is much more of a timing and rhythm passer and his passer rating under pressure is a lowly 58.8 (Brady is at 71.7 for comparison).
The onslaught of man coverage will also help mitigate the Rams play-action game (the Rams are the second most efficient team in the league when using play-action behind…..the Patriots).
Play action is designed to pull the linebackers and safeties out of their zone and then pass the ball into those empty zones. In man coverage, the defenders are simply looking at their man and the concept is less effective. Again, a big advantage for the Pats.
Finally, we need to point out that the Rams offense simply hasn’t been the same in the second half of the season. In Jared Goff’s first 11 games this season: he went for 9.3 yards per attempt and his last seven he was down 6.5 yards per attempt
You could also call it the Copper Kupp effect. Per FO’s Scott Kacsmar: Rams’ play-action with Gurley and Kupp went for 14.09 YPA on 66 passes. Rams’ play-action with Gurley and Reynolds went for 7.44 YPA on 68 passes.
To sum up, I don’t see the Rams scheme winning and I don’t see the Rams players being able to out-athlete the Pats either. I’d say a fair points projection would be around 24.
When the Pats have the ball
Much the reason the Pats have been smashed into favouritism for this game is their unstoppable offense in the two playoff games. Well, they were good but there were also a little lucky. Consider this from Ben Baldwin: “On 3rd & 7+ yards to go, the NFL average conversion rate was 26% in 2018. For the Patriots in their regular season road games, it was 31%. Against the Chiefs, NE converted 6 of 7 (86%), including 6/6 on pass attempts.”
They have also been overperforming in the red zone, suggesting they aren’t quite as formidable as this playoff run suggests.
Thas said we can still expect them to have success here. For starters, this two-game run has been built on the rush game.
Against the Chargers, the Pats rushed 34 times for 155 yards and four touchdowns, controlling the ball for 38:20. Against the Chiefs they rushed 48 times for 176 yards and four more touchdowns, controlling the clock for an 43:59.
Well, the Rams have the 28th-ranked rushing defense by DVOA this season. They appear to have tightened up in the playoffs, but I think some of that is opponent-led. The Cowboys are pretty limited in what they do schematically and the rams just stacked the box, while the Saints and Drew Brees basically couldn’t throw the ball downfield, leading again to a stacked box.
Unfortunately, you can’t really do that against Tom Brady, so expect the Pats to have success running the ball. Crucially they will be able to back it up with a successful passing game as well.
The only real way to stop Tom Brady is pressure, and specifically, pressure up the middle.
This season Brady has 118.7 passer rating when facing pressure from the edges (he steps up basically) and a 63.1 rating facing pressure up the middle (he can’t step up).
The Rams seem ideally suited to apply this pressure given the presence of Donald and Suh, and indeed they lead the league in interior pressure rate at 16.6%.
There’s a couple of problems though.
The first is how quickly Brady releases the ball. He ranked fourth among full-time starters in average time to throw this season at 2.61 seconds, and has sped that up this post-season. His average time to release was 2.33 seconds against the Chargers and 2.51 against the Chiefs — a big reason why he hasn’t been sacked during the playoffs.
That simply isn’t enough time to get past a very stout offensive line. The Pats interior line has given up just 42 pressures this season, among the best mark in the league, and last week they got even better. Against the Chiefs, the O-Line recorded a pass block win rate of 90.5 %, per ESPN, the top mark for any team in any game all year.
The combination of elite release time and a superb O-line could make it very tough for Donald to win quick enough to impact the play, and if that’s the case, the Pats should top 30.
How to bet it
To sum up; I have not yet bet this game. If you simply trust the analytics and think we’re getting too far into the weeds with the matchups, the best way to back the Rams is probably backing Jared Goff MVP at best price 3.25. As noted above, the Rams will need Goff to be good to win, and historically the QB wins the MVP 80% of the time. That’s a pretty big edge and probably worth betting even if you think the Pats should be -3 or bigger here.
For the Pats, I also hate going against the numbers for the full game. I think the best plan of attack is Pats to score first or to win the first quarter. In the two playoff games, they chose to take the ball first and promptly got out to 7-0 leads on the opening drive. That’s allowed them to run the ball more often and set the pass rush loose. I see no reason why they’d change that formula now. Meanwhile, the Rams have deferred every time they’ve won the toss this season.
As for the total, the matchups laid out above seem to favour the under, while two models I checked both made it exactly 57. I’d say the best bet of the bunch is the first half under 27.5, thanks to the traditional slow start to Super Bowls as teams come out cautious.
- Patriots to win the First Quarter – 1pt win
- Under 27.5 First Half Points – 1pt win
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.