Making A Pick Against The Spread For Super Bowl LIII
The time has come, loyal readers, to make an official pick on the Super Bowl. Various books are listing the New England Patriots as either 2.5 or three point favorites. I am making my pick on the line at three points as that is the line that I bet and I think come Super Bowl Sunday, the line is likely to be three at most books. If you are unable to get the line at three points, I would suggest looking towards the moneyline.
I will be betting (and in fact have already wagered) on the Los Angeles Rams +3 points against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII. Most statistical models actually give the Patriots a slight edge at the current spread, whether it be 2.5 or three points, but I am breaking away from the modeling. A lot of what models are considering is historical player performance for Brady and his pass catchers, as well as the fact that both team’s defenses aren’t great.
However, a major sticking point for me is that I believe the Rams will be able to get pressure on Tom Brady in an unconventional way. Most teams, when they chose to blitz or bring more than four at the quarterback, do so on the exterior. When a defense rushes five or more players, they generally crash the pocket and force the quarterback to step up and make throws. Brady is one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game at stepping up in a collapsing pocket and making accurate throws. The Los Angeles Rams do not bring pressure that way. Their primary outside linebackers are not pass rushers, but are decent in coverage (particularly Mark Barron) and there to tackle opposing players. The Rams bring their primary pass rush through the middle, which works poorly against younger, mobile quarterbacks who can escape the pocket and make accurate throws on the move.
41 year-old Tom Brady is not one of those quarterbacks. While he is good in Pro Football Focus’ Under Pressure metrics, it intuitively makes sense to me that as he has lost mobility, so dealing with interior pressure is much more difficult. Aaron Donald was perhaps the best defensive player in the NFL in 2018 and he recorded 41 QB hits despite playing defensive tackle. Ndamukong Suh also record 19 QB Hits and will be making Brady’s life difficult during the Super Bowl. This tactical advantage the Rams have will force Brady into some positions that he is not comfortable with, especially on third down.
While the interior pass rush is one deciding point for selecting the Rams, I also have a tremendous amount of confidence in their offense. The Patriots defense was just okay in 2018, allowing 5.7 Yards Per Play, and ranked 30th in Football Outsiders Adjusted Sack Rate. They have solid defensive players in Stephon Gilmore (one of the best cover corners in the NFL) and Kyle Van Noy, but no one that would make us think that the Rams won’t be able to move the ball.
The Rams finished with the second-best Yards Per Play of any team in the NFL in 2018, behind only the Kansas City Chiefs. Todd Gurley had an off game in the NFC Conference Championship but was one of the better pass-catching running backs during the regular season. For the Rams to win this game, Gurley will have to be an efficient safety valve for Jared Goff when the Patriots do blitz, because turnovers and sacks would be a death knell for the Rams in this game.
Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods are the real swing point for me in this game. Both Cooks and Woods are better than what any New England Patriots pass catcher put on film in the 2018 regular season. Rob Gronkowski could turn the clock back three years and make me look stupid but for most of this season, he was a shell of himself. Both Cooks and Woods have an Average Depth of Target of over 11 yards and a RACR greater than .75 (which makes them well above league average. Woods is one of the most dependable receivers in football, just as reliable as the ballyhooed Julian Edelman, and Cooks is probably one of the five most explosive wide receivers in the NFL in terms of big-play ability.
I am expecting a fairly close game with several eight-minute long Patriots drives, but in the end, the Los Angeles Rams have a more talented roster and will cover the three points.