2021 Season NFL Football Past Picks

February 13, 2022

13

Los Angeles vs. Cincinnati

Sunday 02/13 06:30 PM Eastern

1 unit on Cincinnati +4.5 (-109) (risk 1 to return 1.92)  RESULT: win

1 unit on Game Total UNDER 49 -110 (risk 1 to return 1.91)  RESULT: win

After 18 regular-season weeks, the Wild Card games, Division Championships and Conference Championships, we are finally at the biggest game of the year: Super Bowl LVI!

This matchup sure is a long shot. While the Rams, who went all-in on getting to this game, are not a huge suprise, the Bengals are. It's their first Super Bowl in 34 years. Many don't think they deserve to be here, having played in what turned out to be a weak division and getting relatively easy opponents in the playoffs before the Chiefs, who melted down with many chances to win. Are the Bengals for real or lucky?

This year's matchup features a pair of number four seeds, the first time there has never been a 1, 2 or 3 seed in the game. Other oddities about this game? How about the fact that to get here, the Bengals needed to come back on the road, down 21-3. In 116 prior games this season in which a team trailed by 18 or more points, only one of them was able to come back to win - prior to the Bengals pulling it offa. Or, how about the fact that both of these quarterbacks had never won a playoff game before this year. Burrow's Bengals were 2-14 two years ago and 4-11-1 last season. Matthew Stafford was 3-12-1 two years ago. Speaking of Burrow, he was the 55th QB in NFL history to get sacked 50+ times during the regular season and none of the other 54 reached the Super Bowl. Joe Cool was sacked twice in the Wild Card round and a ridiculous nine times vs. the Titans. KC was only able to get to him once, which contributed to their upset loss.

Bengals vs. Rams

Now, on to the analysis for this game. This is my favorite time of the year and the pressure is on for me for this game, having called the outcome correctly in 13 of the last 14 Super Bowls. My computer matchup for this game falls right in line with the Vegas sporead and total, predicting a 4-point Rams win.

These teams are statisically very similar. Both ranking about the same when it comes to offense and defense. The Bengals won their games this year on average by a score of 26.6 to 21.8. The Rams won theirs by an average score of 27.2 to 21.4. That's a one-point edge for the Rams. Factor in home-field advantage (more on this below) for the Rams here and you get a 4-point spread - fancy that!

On the surface, this game looks like a toss-up against the spread. But is it? This is why we have to dig below the surface, which is what I have done. What will happen this Sunday?

When Cincinnati has the ball

With Tom Brady heading off into the sunset (and the golf course, and into Gisele... but I digress...), who's the NFL's next pretty-boy-cool-as-a-cucumber up and comer? Joe Burrow of course. If he can pull this out on Sunday, he will be the first ever quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy, National Championship and Super Bowl. Joe Cool has an absolute stud to throw it to in former LSU teammate La'Marr Chase. Chase is scary in the way Tyreek Hill is. I can't wait to watch the Chase-Jalen Ramsey matchup. Joe Mixon can take the pressure off the passing game. Burrow started the season off throwing way too many interceptions, averaging 1.6 per game through 13 games. But since then, Burrow has thrown just two picks in seven games. Normal variance or maturation and coaching? The Bengals offense averaged 26.6 points per game this season (8th best) and has been slightly below that late in the regular season and during the playoffs. They are facing a Rams defense ranked 10th in the league in scoring defense at 21.4 points per game allowed. On paper, this Rams defense should be elite, with the likes of Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Jalen Ramsey. While they haven't been elite by any means, this defense has been improving. They allowed nearly 24 per game to start the season but have dropped that to 18.4 per game over the last nine games. When facing teams with defenses similar to LA's, the Bengals averaged 24 point per game this season. When facing offenses similar to Cincinnati's this season, the Rams allowed an average of 22.4 per game. It would be logical to surmise that the Bengals are likely to score around 22 to 24 points in this game.

When Los Angeles has the ball

Cincnnati's improbable comeback win in the Conference Championship came thanks to their defense. They held the "unstoppable" Patrick Mahommes to just 55 passing yards in the second half of that game. This bodes well for them coming into the Super Bowl. But can they repeat that feat against Matthew Stafford and these Rams wide receivers? Tyler Higbee, a huge part of this offense, is questionable for this game. But, that leaves Cooper Kupp who just so happened to break the record for most yards from scrimmage in a season by a wideout. Of course an extra game helped, but the point is, this guy has been relatively unstoppable. The Rams put up 27.2 points pre game this season, ranked 6th. They've been remarkably consistent throughout the year. The Bengals defense is ranked 13th, allowing 21.8 points per game. When the Rams faced defenses similar to Cincy's, LA averaged 26.9 points per game. The Bengals only faced one offense this season (the Chargers) that was very similar to the Rams, and the Bolts put up 41 in that game. Take that with a grain of salt however (or two) because it's a sample size of one, and the Bengals turned the ball over four times in that week 13 game. The yardage was about even. After one quarter, thanks to back-to-back Cincinnati turnovers, the Bengals were in a 16-0 hole. One interesting fact about the Bengals this season is that their defense was significantly better on the road vs. at home (more on this below). Based on the numbers, it seems reasonable to expect the Rams to score in the mid-to-high 20s in this game.So what is going to happen?

Either team could win this game. I think it's close to a toss-up. The Rams appear to be the stronger team on paper, but the way the Bengals are playing right now, they don't care who they face. Their quarterback reminds me a bit of Tom Brady with his poise and ability to find wins. He is simply a winner - having done it at all levels. He has turned around a terrible franchise and since his arrival, the Bengals are 22-13-1 ATS. And this team in some ways reminds me of the 2007-08 New York Giants who started the season 0-2, finished at a pedestrian 10-6 and then ran the table culminated in a massive upset victory over the Patriots.

I think the Rams are a bit over-rated. Again, on paper they have all the flashy players, but it just hasn't translated in terms of stats. They have won 15 games but that has come with some luck. Their stats peg them much more like a 13-win team at this point (based on pythagorean analysis), similar to the Bengals whose stats show a 12-13 win team at this point. I think the way these teams are playing now, the Rams have a small edge, but it's not a 4+ point edge. 

Of course, this is a home game for LA. But how much of an edge does that confer? Typical NFL home field edge is 3 points. But, the Rams were actually better this year on the road than at home. They won more on the road, scored more points and gained more yards away from home. They were just 5-5 ATS in this building. This may be due in part to low fan intensity in LA. Meanwhile, Cincinnati was 7-3 on the road and 8-2 ATS. While allowing 26 points per game at home, the Bengals allowed just 17.6 per game on the road! And, the number of tickets for this game designated to each team is even. And, get this: the offical "home team" here designated by the NFL is the Bengals, not the Rams. This means they get the home-team locker room and the Rams must use the visitor's locker room (lol). In the end, I don't think the home field "advantage" means a whole lot here.

The Bengals are 9-2 straight-up this season vs. winning teams and 7-2 straight-up vs. playoff teams. They can absolutely win this game. The Rams faced 10 playoff teams this season, but managed a mediocre .500 record in those games, going 5-5 straight-up and 4-6 ATS. 

In the Joe Burrow era, Cincinnati is 12-3 ATS as an underdog of 3.5 to 9.5 points and 8-1 ATS as a road underdog of 3.5 to 7 points. Under Sean McVay, the Rams are an atrocious 11-25 ATS follwoing back-to-back wins, including 4-13 ATS after three straight victories, as his teams seem to get over-rated.

LA has the better record, but as mentioned above, I believe it's inflated. And, teams with the lower win percentage entering this game are 11-4 straight-up in the last 15 Super Bowls.

And, you gotta ask yourself this: How likely are the Rams to put up 30+ points in this game? Super Bowl favorites that fall short of the 30-point mark are just 4-19 ATS. And, how likely is it that Cincinnati can get to at least 20 points? Super Bowl underdogs of less than a touchdown that score 20 or more points are 19-3 ATS. Is LA's offense good enough to put up 30? Yeah, but it's no sure thing, especially against a team playing their best defense of the season - a team that held the Chiefs under 30. Is their defense good enough to hold Burrow and the Bengals to 19 or fewer points? I don't think that's likely.

Guys, for me this game is close to a toss-up with some trends favoring the Bengals. Either team could win, but when you have a coin-flip and you are getting over a field goal, that's value. Take the Bengals plus the points. A very strong case could be made here to back Cincinnati on the moneyline to pull the upset. In the Super Bowl, if the spread has been 7 or less, it has never mattered, meaning if you bet the dog, yo haven't needed the points. So arguably the best value on a side here is Cincinnati +180. I'm gonna stay conservative on the official pick here because that stat won't hold forever and if the Bengals lose but cover, I'd feel really bad. So use the points.

Also take the UNDER here. These two offenses are quite good if not great, ranked 6th and 8th in the league in scoring. But, offenses often struggle in the Super Bowl. In fact, great offenses in the Super Bowl have fallen drastically short of expectations, by an average of 10 points per game below their season averages. Nerves are high and will be for both of these quarterbacks who are making their first Super Bowl appearances. 

While the total on this game has fallen from the opener, I believe it is going to go back up, maybe significantly, by game time. The public, who floods the sportsbooks with money on Saturday and Sunday, loves to bet on offense. They love the OVER and can't stand rooting for the UNDER. The rush of public money on the OVER is likely to push this up near the 50 range, which I think is too high.

My statistical projections predict a close game around 24-24. But those stats rarely play out perfectly in this game. Under Sean McVay, the Rams are 41-26 (61%) to the UNDER including 23-13 UNDER as a home favorite. Dating back to last season, the Rams are 12-2 to the UNDER at home vs. pass defenses like Cincy's that allow over 60% completions and 6-0 to the UNDER vs. teams that allow 235+ passing yards per game. The Rams are also 10-2 UNDER at home over that span vs. pass offenses that complete over 60% of their passes. And over that same time period, they are 13-4 UNDER as a home favorite. In the McVay era, this team is 21-9 UNDER vs. teams that allow 350+ yards per game. In the Zac Taylor era, the Bengals are 15-6 UNDER as a road underdog. This season Cincinnati went 8-2 UNDER on the road. 

As mentioned earlier, the Benglas kept the Raiders, Titans and Chiefs to an average of 19.7 points per game in the playoffs and they play stiff defense on the road, allowing just 17.6 per game - good enough to rank #1 in the league! The Rams defense has gotten better towards the end of the season, allowing 18.2 per game over their last nine games. These two defenses are peaking now.

Full game bets: Who Dey think they gonna beat dem Bengals?!? Light up that cigar, Joe. Back the Bengals with the points and take the UNDER. Wait until closer to kickoff to place the UNDER bet as I expect the total to rise with the flood of public money. You should be able to find 49.5 or maybe even 50 this weekend.

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