2018 Season NFL Football Past Picks

February 03, 2019

03

New England vs. Los Angeles

Sunday 02/03 06:30 PM Eastern

1 unit on New England -132 (moneyline) (risk 1 to return 1.76)  RESULT: WIN

Another year, and another cringe-worthy moment for Patriots-haters. New England returns to the Super Bowl for the second straight year, for the third time in four years and the eighth time in the last 17 years.

While I know most of you aren't happy to see them back, I don't mind it.

Why? I have done extremely well betting Patriots Super Bowls lately. In 2008, I famously went against the undefeated Patriots and called for the outright upset by the New York Giants. New York came through. Four years later, I again predicted the right side of a repeat matchup, again going with New York to beat the favored Patriots. In 2015, I again went against New England, calling for Seattle to win. While we had a chance in that one, Seattle's goal-line interception handed me the loss. Two seasons ago, I finally backed New England and thanks to their epic comeback vs. Atlanta, got the win. Finally, last season I again faded the favored Pats, calling for Philly to pull the upset, which of course they did. So, bring on the Pats!

Here they are again, facing the upstart Los Angeles Rams. The Rams opened this game as the favorite, but were quickly bet into the underdog role within minutes. As it stands, about 70% of the public bets are coming in on New England. The public is split on the total. Who am I going with? Read on to find out.

How they got here

At the start of the season, both of these teams were favorites to play in this game. These teams, along with Philadelphia were the three teams Vegas most thought would end up playing this weekend.

The Patriots stumbled out of the block, going 1-2 to start the year with losses to Jacksonville and Detroit. Pats-haters rejoiced while those in New England had seen this before. New England won their next six games and eight of nine, to make it clear they were contenders. The offense found its way. While averaging just 19 points through their first three games, it averaged over 30 per game through the next nine. The New England defense has been pretty inconsistent all season, shutting some teams down while allowing others to score seemingly at will. In the playoffs, the Pats crushed a very good Chargers team and then snuck by the Chiefs last week as a dog.

The Rams came out guns-a-blazin', winning their first eight games and going 11-1 to start the season. The offense averaged 32.4 points per game over that span, putting up 35+ six times. The only time this offense struggled all season was against the #1 rated Chicago Bears in early December. The defense was also sporadic, shutting out one team, but allowing seven teams to put up 30 or more. In the playoffs, the Rams took care of Dallas and snuck by New Orleans last week.

Despite arguments being made that neither team should have won their conference championship matchups, both of these teams deserve to be here, and on the surface, they look pretty evenly matched.


How many points will the Patriots score?

The Pats are fourth in the league in scoring, averaging 28.6 per game. In the second half of the season, that improved a little to 29.3 per game. And in the playoffs, they put up 41 and 37. When facing bad defenses (those ranked in the lower-half of the league), the Patriots scored 33 per game. But even when facing the better defenses (those ranked in the top-half), New England averaged an impressive 28 points per game.

They are facing a Rams defense that was ranked #19 in points allowed at 23.8 per game. LA's defense has improved a little late in the season, giving up 21 per game over their last six. In the playoffs, the Rams held Dallas to 22 and New Orleans to 23. But, the Rams defensive stats are a tale of two teams. They really padded their stats vs. bad teams this season. When facing offenses ranked in the bottom half of the league, LA allowed just 18 points per game. But, when facing good offenses ranked in the top-half of the league, they allowed 31 per game - a massive 13 point per game difference. When they faced elite offenses, the Rams allowed 35.5 per game.

So, against bottom-half defenses like LA's, the Patriots averaged 33 points per game. Against good offenses, the Rams allowed over 30 per game. It seems reasonable to see the Pats getting into the low 30s in this game.

How many points will the Rams score?


The Rams had the league's second-best offense this season (trailing only Kansas City), averaging 32.4 points per game. They scored fewer than 30 just five times in 18 games. Whoa. This team feasted on bad defenses, averaging 38.3 per game vs. teams ranked in the bottom half of the league. Against better defenses ranked in the top-half of the league, LA averaged 26 points per game. Again, a big difference of over 12 points per game. And, the offense has waned slightly as they averaged 35.4 per game through the first 11 and have since dipped to 27.7 per game since.

They face a top-10 defense here in New England. The Pats were tied for eighth in the league in average points allowed per game, at 21.3. Much like the Rams, the Patriots padded their defensive stats to some extent vs. lowly teams too. Versus top-half ranked offenses, New England gave up 27 points per game and vs. the best offenses they faced (KC, Pit and LAC), they gave up 29 per game. But, consider that 29 per game is below those teams' offensive averages. In other words, New England held the best offenses slightly below their season average.

The Pats have several excellent defenders on the outside including Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty and Stephon Gilmore and in the middle, Trey Flowers is elite while Adrian Clayborn, Kyle Van Noy and Patrick Chung are more than solid.

The Patriots defense has been improving. They gave up 23.6 per game through their first 10 games, but have cut that to 18.5 per game over their last eight. They shut down the best offense in the league last week for three quarters, but did end up allowing 31. It seems like the Rams should be projected to score in the high-20s or maybe low 30s here.

Let's dig in a little more here on what to expect, given this particular matchup.

The Rams are a tale of two teams. Verus bad defenses, they scored 38 points per game and vs. bad offenses, allowed 18 per game. So against a hypothetical bottom-dweller, they won by 20 points per game on average (38-18). The Rams faced a bunch of these teams this season in the Raiders, Cardinals (twice), Niners (twice) and Lions.

But against great teams, the projected story for the Rams is quite different. Against top-half defenses, they scored 26 per game and against great offenses, they allowed 35.5 per game. In other words, against a hypothetical great opponent, they actually lost by a score of 35-26 on average. Of course, we would expect this to some extent. 

Let's analyze New England in the same way. Against bad defenses, the Pats averaged 33 points per game. When facing bad offenses, New England allowed 18 points per game. So, against our hypothetical bad team, New England won by an average score of 33-18.

Versus good defenses, they still did well, averaging 28.3 per game. And vs. good offenses, the Pats allowed 29 per game. So against a hypothetical great opponent, the Pats are expected to lose, but not by much (28-29).

The Patriots are more consistent, and based on the numbers, expected to perform better vs. a quality opponent.

But here's the ringer. While New England is very good on both sides of the ball (fourth offensively and eighth defensively), the Rams are more one-sided. Of course this offense is great (second), but the defense is below-average, ranked #19. Against lower-half defenses this season, the Pats teed off. This is not a good sign for the Rams.

Defense matters a lot in the Super Bowl. So I dug in deeper on that side of the ball.

Let's face it, the Pats have the better defense. They are ranked eighth with the Rams are ranked 19th. New England's defense has been improving. They allowed 18.5 per game over their last eight games vs. 23.6 per game prior. The Rams defense is getting worse. They allowed 24.8 per game over their last eight compared to 23.1 before that. Over the last three games, we see the same story.

It's my strong opinion that to expecet to beat the Patriots, you have to get Brady on his ass. This is how the Giants beat two nearly "unbeatable" Patriots teams in 2008 and 2012. Sacks matter. And against Tom Brady, they REALLY matter.

In 2008, the undefeated Patriots came into the Super Bowl against the lowly Giants averaging 34.5 points per game. But, the Giants could get pressure. They led the league in sacks that year and got to Brady five times. In the end, the unstoppable Patriots offense and Tom Brady ran into a buzzsaw and managed just 14 points, losing as 12.5 point underdogs. That's the best path to beating Brady.

Well, great you say - the Rams have the league's sack leader in Aaron Donald! Not so fast, my friend. Donald is great. But, as a team, the Rams are simply average in getting to the quarterback. They got 41 sacks this year, ranked 15th. And, Donald has become less effective late in the season. In the playoffs, he's being double-teamed and there is no one to pick up the slack. Michael Brockers on the other side is average at best and the Rams linebackers are average.

The Patriots have a great offensive line with consistency. The five OL starters have started 75 of the combined 80 regular season games this year.

In the postseason, the Patriots are getting to the QB more than the Rams (six sacks vs. three). And, to worsen the prospects for LA, Brady just doesn't get sacked. He has hit the ground just 21 times all season. Only Andrew Luck and Drew Brees were better. In the postseason, Brady hasn't been sacked at all. That's amazing considering who they played last game - the league's best sack team, Kansas City. In fact, Brady hasn't been sacked in his last 90 postseason dropbacks.

In the postseason the Pats have converted 20-of-33 third-down tries and that includes a 14-for-19 performance against the league's top sack defense, Kansas City.


The Intangibles

On the surface we have two similar teams statistically with equal chance to win. The bookmakers in fact gave LA a better chance of winning with their opening line. I disagree, partly due to the deeper analysis above, and partly due to intangibles.

Jared Goff is good but, but he is no Tom Brady. Brady is arguably the greatest of all time at his position. 

Sean McVay is showing a ton of promise. What he has done with the Rams in such a short timeframe, and given his age, is truly amazing. But, he is the youngest coach in Super Bowl history and is frankly no Bill Belichick - owner of five Super Bowl rings and arguably the greatest of all time at his job.

Both teams here are of course motivated. But, the Rams are young and can't help but think that they will have future chances. New England is always hungry, with a chip on their shoulder. I believe that they own extra motivation here thanks to what happend in this game last year. 

Dating back to the 2016 season, the Patriots are 17-4 ATS vs. bad defensive teams like the Rams (teams allowing 350+ yards per game) and 18-5 ATS vs. teams like LA that allow over 5.6 yards per attempt. 

Under Bill Belichick, this team is 53-38 ATS in expected close games (line of -3 to +3), 149-112 ATS as a favorite, 35-23 ATS vs. elite teams (over .750) and 43-18 ATS vs. great offensive opponents like LA (teams averaging 6+ yards per play).

And get this: The Belichick-led Patriots are nearly unbeatable when facing a bad defense. Since "The Hoodie" took over, New England is 45-5 straight-up vs. teams like the Rams that allow over 5.66 yards per play.

Guys, in the end, you have one team here with the better defense, better quarterback, better coach and plenty of motivation. While I don't feel that this game is a slam dunk, and has the potential to go either way, the right side is the Patriots.

You could take them at -2.5 and that's a fine choice. The spread in the Super Bowl simply hasn't mattered when the line is under 7, as it is here. But, I am going to play it safe as I would hate to be "right" on this call with New England winning by a point or two, and lose my bet. Take New England to win this one straight-up at a small additional juice cost.



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