Super Bowl LIII
SB Thoughts and analysis
Betting History: Historically, the Super Bowl is basically a 50-50 game, with Favorites going 25-24-2. (NE/Sea line was even). Interestingly, of the 24 dogs that covered, only 6 needed the points as 18 won the game outright. While many say that’s really significant number of upsets, a 35% upset rate is really on par with all NFL games. Still, the basic point is if you can pick the winner, you can toss out the points as only 6 times did the “spread cost you the win!”
Dogs?: Many pointing to recent success of underdogs, as dogs have outright won 8 of last 11 Super Bowls! That is little bit misleading because of the recent trend of near even point spreads, especially compared to early years! The last 9 games have had short lines, (biggest spread in last 11 was -5!), so while dogs have been winning, they were very slight dogs. The early years were so many big lines (25 of first 43 favorites were by at least a TD.)
Biggest “ALERT!” for SB Lines: the dreaded 7 point spread. Not only have only Dogs covered 6 of the 8, but 5 of the 8 teams catching 7 won games outright! Beware the 7!
Totals: Overs are 27-24, (no total on first SB). There is a recent trend OVER after early years of so many unders (7 of last 10 have gone over). NOTE: I played Under 47 on the Colts/Bears in SB41. Even though it was a winner, (by 1 at 29-17) I vowed to NEVER play another SB Under in my life. Just ruins way too big of an otherwise fantastic final day of football season. I’m not advocating overs, but will NEVER play another SB Under.
WHY WE OWE the Hoodie more than most realize! Prior to Brady/Bellicek I in 2002, 25 of the first 35 SB’s were basically NOT competitive games. (Scores may look it today, but they weren’t. Example the Pitt 16-6 win over Min was an ass-whooping as the Vikings managed just 118 yards and 5 Turnovers. It was never in doubt, but on paper it’s a different look when defenses dominated.) Enter the Hoodie! In the last 17 years there’s only 2 or 3 bad games., and all 8 of the Brady/Bellicek SBs have been phenomenal games. Their first 6 were decided by 3 or 4 points! Then the 6 pt OVERTIME win and the 1 TD loss to Philly. 8 great games –when the NFL needed it. For decades the game rarely lived up to the hype. The Hoodie gave us great games, whether as huge dog to the Greatest Show on Turf or as heavy favorites losing to Tom Coughlin the vampire slayer. He’s just given us great games; win or lose.
SB Story: Everyone knows of “Black Sunday” for the Books (Dallas/Pitt) – which, btw, is a lot of over hype/great marketing! But my favorite “Vegas Story” is the Redksins/Bills SB. Line was Skins -7. This was a great Redskin team (top 3 all time team), but a high scoring Bills team that had lost on FG year before and hadn’t yet got waxed twice by Cowboys. Books claimed it was smallest action in years. The line was hard at -1. Nobody wanted to lay a TD vs a Buffalo team in revenge mode after last play loss the SB prior, yet few wanted to take the underdog Bills vs a Redskin team that looked superior. nN fact, the action coming in lagged so much, that one book in LV (I forget who) decided in order to move the stagnant market, they offered Wash -6.5 OR Buff +7.5. Creating their own middle on a KEY -7! Needless to say, it worked and they got a ton of action. While it seemed safe all day (Skins routed), it did get close with a 13 pt lead and an onside kick with 4 min to play! I recall the interview after, the odds maker who made the decision said: “2 minutes into game I was terrified and it was worst 3 hours of my life. Will never do that again!”
MY Own SB 26. In my early years, I’d always take whatever I had pocketed all season and roll it up onto playoffs and SB. A “double or nothing approach”. I’d won big on Skins when they routed Atlanta and Det in playoffs, so rolled it all up on Wash -7. First really big play of my career. Skins dominated that game. Even though they had some fluke plays keep it close early, they still led 17-0 at half as Buff couldn’t cross the 50. They cruised to a 37-10 lead in the 4th when celebrations started and prevent defense came in. Middle of 4th Buff goes on a 16 play drive, eating up the clock before finally scoring TD with 6 min left to make it 37-17. Still safe, right? Buffalo recovered the on-side kick and went on another long drive (10 plays) to score meaningless TD and cut to 37-24. The next OS Kickoff I was sweating my ass off as I could see this becoming a 37-31 final! Skins recover, and what does Gibbs do? After a couple plays deep in Bills territory, he takes 4 KNEES, and gives Buffalo the ball for one last play. I was sure it was going to the house for biggest back door in history. Skins win by 13 in a game they could have won by 35.
Error of Recency – while I live by this rule in the NFL, I should caution that I really don’t like it in playoffs. The pendulum of outcomes that is the NFL, are trumped when it comes to playoffs. Every year, the playoffs are won by teams that put it all together and get on a roll at the right time. Do the performances and stats from October really have much to do with predicting January/Feb? No. If you are on a roll and playing your best, you get to the SB. So the error of recency is not applicable late in postseason because somebody MUST finish with a good winning streak!
I became big Rams fan early this year. By that I mean “fan of how they play”. Great coaching, great game plans, balanced offense, dominating defense. They can win games so many different ways. Two things I’ve liked most about this Ram team: 1) when they throw, it counts. I recall watching an early Prime time game; where something like 20 of 23 completions went to the 3 WRs! (And the rest were to Gurley). Throw DOWN THE FIELD! None of today’s popular “take what defense gives you”, where teams actually go 3 and out despite 2 COMPLETIONS! Their passing game is to the WRs and it’s down the field. That just is so much more effective than most short passing games. They attack you. The 2nd thing I like is that Gurley is one of a handful of “every down backs” in NFL (along with D. Johnson, Elliott, Barkley, not sure if we count L.Bell and Hunt!) It’s not just that that makes him a really valuable player, but I think there’s something special to having same guy in on 1st and 10, 3rd and 10 or 3rd and 1. Specialty backs somewhat tip your hand. When you best pass catcher out of the backfield is also the best short yardage runner, it certainly makes defending you much harder. But, what do we get from Gurley on Sunday? No idea and I don’t trust any of the reports after what happened last week.
This may be the hardest game to predict for the simple reason of Gurley. Going from a true dominant workhorse, to 4 carries in the NFC Championship is just impossible to comprehend. It is quite common for teams to ride the hot hand in playoffs, but CJ Anderson was just awful in the Saints game, and that was one week AFTER Gurley looked like 90% of his old self the vs a good Dallas run defense! How can we handicap this game, when I can see Gurley getting 24 carries for 140, with 5 catches for 50, OR maybe he get 4 or 5 carries like last week? My guess is a week in the film room made McVay realize that the clock has struck midnight on CJ Anderson. Some guys will pick Gurley in props (over 68 yards, over in carries, scoring TDs, etc) and hit them all, or will it be guys saying “something not right” and hit all the unders easily when he doesn’t touch the ball hardly at all! With an injury, info usually leaks out, “how does a guy look in practice”? But this is really unique –and I have no idea how to predict Gurley and he’s potentially got more impact on this game than anyone not named Brady. Possibly Goff, but the “old Gurley” would take a ton of pressure OFF of Goff.
Magnifying that is the Bellicek history of “taking away what you do best”. Normally that would be Gurley. But do you devise a plan around Gurley, when he had 4 carries last game? If you assume no Gurley impact, do you take away Woods downfield….and then Gurley is ready to rock? For a team that always comes up with key innovations on defense at most critical times, I don’t think they can even guess what to expect here! I feel like that has to really make this a tougher than normal week of prep for the Hoodie.
I predicted on the Podcast, prior to playoffs, that the “Patriots weren’t nearly as good as recent Patriot teams -- and that’s why they will likely win this year! They aren’t playing the Patriots of past, they are playing in 2019.” They aren’t as good as most of their SB teams, but they are putting it together at right time, and that means more than anything. They are very balanced. 3 RBs that can hurt you and all 3 can run and catch passes. The WRs, while missing the big play guy (Gordon), seem to make great plays every week. None scare you, but they just beat you. Gronk is the ultimate Wild Card. Lately he’s been an excellent blocker and key to the run game. But, if you forget about him at all, he’s still a huge threat and constant matchup problem. The Chiefs HELD him every play yet somehow got away with it. For some reason, you are allowed to make illegal contact vs Gronk that other receivers don’t have to deal with, I guess because he’s always so much bigger than the defender. It’s like calling a foul on the guy covering Shaq in the post. It has to be really big to call?
CONCLUSION: IF this was a regular season game, it would be Rams -3 and I’d be inclined to take the Rams. But it’s not. The big stage changes everything. While McVay is a great coach, it’s still an inexperienced QB vs. a coach with a history of confusing so many good QBs much less inexperienced ones. With extra time to prepare, I expect the Hoodie to do some things that will fool Goff, and it may only take one mistake to turn this game. Unless Gurley is healthy and ready for 30 carries, I think Belicek will force some mistakes in passing game. They played very good defense in first 3 quarters of each playoff game.
On other side, Aaron Donald can dominate a game like nobody else. Stuff run and pressure right in QB face. Everyone says the way to beat Brady is pressure up the middle. No kidding, that’s the formula for every QB. However, that also plays right in to Brady’s strength: pre & post snap reads and a very quick release. If you are throwing the ball in 2 seconds, nobody can really get to you. Hoodie/Brady have had 2 weeks to design this game plan. Do you think they have a plan that could be easily disrupted because Donald can really rush the passer? Uh, no. Sure he may make some big plays, but I just expect the Pats game plan to ASSUME they can’t block Donald!
Prediction: Patriots have NEVER had an easy SB win, even when they were much better team. This year, they may not be better. So I say they win this one easier than expected, by simply forcing a few FGS, making a key turnover, and quick game to RBs and short passes. A final score familiar to old LA Rams fans.
Patriots 31 - Rams 19