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Friday, February 1, 2019

Week 21 #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) SUPER BOWL LIII EDITION

  Week 21 #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) SUPER BOWL LIII EDITION

2018 NFL Playoffs: 
 5-5 .500 (WINS); 6-3-1 .667 (ATS); 6-4 .600 (O/U)

2018 season totals: 
167-87-2 .652 (WINS); 119-129-8 .480 (ATS); 140-113-3 .553 (O/U)

Note/Key (when applicable): Statistical analysis based on the following metrics (abbreviations): Points scored (PF); points against (PA); Point differential (PD) Yards gained (YG); Yards allowed (YA); Red Zone TD efficiency (RZ); 3rd-down efficiency (3rd); Turnover ratio (TO); Time of possession (TOP); Yards per play (YPP); Sacks (S); Interceptions (INT); Penalty yards (PEN); Against the spread (ATS). Statistical sources include: Pro Football Reference; Pro Football Focus;;; Point spreads and over/under figures are taken from the opening lines via Vegas Insider

SUPER BOWL LIII NOTE: The point spread and over/under are taken from the opening line. Despite the point spread shifting four points in the course of 48 hours, Pro Football Media has always used the opening point spreads for any game before the betting public affects the point spread. 

Tom Brady became a household name in 2001 by beating the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, and here he is, 18 years later playing the Rams once again in Super Bowl LIII.

2 New England Patriots 13-5 (+1.5) @ 2 Los Angeles Rams 15-3 (+57.5): Patriots 31-28

Sunday, 6:30 PM, Mercedes-Benz Dome Stadium, Atlanta, GA (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The New England Patriots are playing in their third consecutive Super Bowl and fourth in five years. This territory has been traversed by few teams, and no other team can claim to have three separate dynasty runs along this seemingly endless 18-year dynasty the Patriots have produced, something we'll likely never see again, in any sport. The 1972-1974 (Note: Super Bowl years, not seasons) Miami Dolphins went 3-0 in three straight Super Bowls and the infamous 1991-1994 Buffalo Bills went 0-4 in four straight Super Bowls; New England becomes the third team in NFL history to make three straight Super Bowls. The Pittsburgh Steelers won four (4-0) Super Bowls in six years from 1975-1980, but the 1982-1990 San Francisco 49ers are widely considered the greatest NFL dynasty of the modern NFL era, from their sustainability to Bill Walsh’s offensive ingenuity, winning four Super Bowls (4-0) in nine years. The New England Patriots have had three such separate runs in the 18-year Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era: 2001-2008 (3-1); 2004-2012 (2-2); 2012-2019 (2-1, pending SBLIII). Bill Belichick has now coached in over 22% of all Super Bowls (12 of 53). That’s astonishing. If you’re still arguing against the New England Patriots being the greatest dynasty in NFL history and/or Bill Belichick being the greatest overall coach, you’ve chosen a populated, but ignorant hill to die on. 

 The 18-year tandem of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have accomplished a feat that may never be repeated in any sport.

The storylines for Super Bowl 53 (SBLIII) are seemingly endless. The Revenge of the Rams. The New England dynasty having started against these Rams, then of St. Louis. The same New England franchise is now back, 18 years later, having played in eight Super Bowls in the meantime, with the same quarterback, who is now 41 years old. SpyGate still looms for those who can’t move on. The Rams shouldn’t really even be playing in SBLIII, but before I dive into conspiracies involving the NFL needing one of their Los Angeles franchises to succeed, suffice it to say you can find my rant in my Divisional Round review of this website. Los Angeles is full of New England transplants, so the local scene should be a riot. The Boston Red Sox just defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. Don’t forget about the greatest rivalry in NBA history between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. The ultimate storyline is one that probably slipped by most, but was pointed out by my good friend DJ Critters: The game is in Atlanta, home of the Atlanta Falcons, victims of the 28-3 New England Patriots comeback in Super Bowl LI. What the hell is that sneak Arthur Blank up to? I guess I can count Home Depot out as a potential sponsor if this gets back to him. (wink)

The success of the Los Angeles Rams largely depends on Todd Gurley, whose play and status has been the talk of the week leading up to the Super Bowl.

     This game is about match ups, but it’s more about experience. The New England Patriots have Super Bowl experience in spades, but more importantly is the experience the two teams have with each other. Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has coordinated the defenses of the San Diego Chargers (2004-2006), the Houston Texans (2011-2013), and the Denver Broncos (2015-2016) before landing in Los Angeles. Belichick beat Phillips in their first two playoff meetings between the two in 2006 (SDC) and 2009 (HOU), but Son of Bum had the last word, beating Belichick in the 2015 AFC Championship game. Speaking of that championship game, Aqib Talib's play was instrumental in beating them as a member of the Denver Broncos; Talib just so happens to have played for the Patriots. Speaking of Rams players that once played for New England, Brandin Cooks is also now a Ram. Ndamukong Suh never played for the Patriots, but certainly played against them as a member of the Miami Dolphins, as did Robert Woods as a member of the Buffalo Bills. There’s a lot to be said for players with intimate experience having played for or against an opponent, but New England could be the one franchise that really doesn’t make a difference with considering the adjustments Belichick is famous for making. 

The success of the New England Patriots depends largely on James White's ability to catch passes out of the backfield.

These teams are similar, right down to the fact the last time both teams lost was Week 15, in one-possession games against teams from Pennsylvania (NE: PIT; LAR: PHI). Both teams have dynamic offenses (NE: 4th points scored; 5th total offense/LAR: 2nd points scored; 2nd total offense) and league-leading point differentials (NE: 5th, 6.9 ppg; LAR: 3rd, 8.9 ppg). Neither team turns the ball over (NE: 5th; LAR: 4th), but both teams take the ball away (NE: 5th; LAR: 3rd), and both teams dominate takeaways in some form (NE: 3rd INTs; LAR: 5th sacks). Both teams are disciplined, although from different sides of the ball (NE: 2nd O-PEN; LAR: 7th D-PEN), and both teams have solid kicking games, although Greg Zuerlein is questionable, but reportedly fine. If Zuerlein weren’t able to go for some reason the Rams are 5/7 on 2-point conversions. Both kickers missed only one PAT each in 86 combined attempts, and both kickers had similar field goal success rates (Stephen Gostkowski, NE: 27/32; Greg Zuerlein, LAR: 27/31). The two teams are even ranked side-by-side in Special Teams efficiency (NE: 16th; LAR: 17th). The Patriots have also mastered the kickoff, opting to pin teams well within the 20-yard line rather than allowing for a touchback on the 25-yard line, which statistically leads to better field position. It’s the little things with Bill Belichick, but the same goes for Sean McVay, only McVay prefers trickery. Just for reference, New England had a 9.5 ppg differential in the playoffs; Los Angeles has a 5.5 ppg differential.

 Jared Goff was seven years old when Tom Brady won his first Super Bowl.

     The Rams will try and pressure Brady, specifically with Suh and MVP dark horse and obvious Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, but it might not work. The Patriots offensive line is one of the best in the NFL, specifically the past several weeks. Tom Brady has dropped back 90 times in the playoffs and hasn’t been sacked once; in fact, he’s only been hit three times (The Patriots rank 1st in pass protection for the season). Despite ranking 5th in sacks, the Rams only rank 21st in pass rush efficiency, and even if Suh and Donald break through, will there be enough time to get to Brady? No quarterback in the NFL gets the ball out of their hands quicker than Brady, and the fact that many sports books have the total sack prop bet at 2.5 sacks speaks volumes about the effect the experts think the pass rush will have on the game. One issue New England might have could be getting open in the slot, as Los Angeles has shut down the middle of the field since the return of Talib from injury. The New England backfield might not be so open for those quick passes, either, considering the Rams are the top-ranked team against passes to running backs out of the backfield, and have played the 7th-toughest schedule against team that employ the same tactics. New England does have Brady, and Julian Edelman and James White are not typical slot receivers or running backs coming out of the backfield. The Patriots also play more fullback sets than any team in the NFL, so James Develin could play a big role; coming in 2nd in fullback usage rate are the San Francisco 49ers, who just happen to be in the same division as the Rams and play them twice a year. Bill Belichick is aware. The Patriots need to establish the run game to control the clock, keep the Rams off the field, win the backfield pass match up by getting White going out of the backfield with short quick passes, and contain Todd Gurley. Sound simple enough, right? New England has quietly built a decent defense all year, and before you point to a weak schedule, New England surrendered a respectable 25.8 ppg in five games against teams that ranked in the top-10 in offensive efficiency, which is nearly a TD lower than those offenses are used to scoring. Those type teams certainly describe the Rams. It should also be noted the game is in a dome, where Brady excels even more than usual, with a quarterback rating nearly 10% higher v. outdoor fields.

 Aaron Donald is the most dominant defensive player of his era, but it's going to take the game of his life to beat the New England Patriots.

     The Rams don’t have to worry too much about New England’s pass rush, because despite tying the Philadelphia Eagles for 2nd in sacks since Week 14, New England’s sacks are largely situational and came from the shot-gun formation, a formation the Rams don’t utilize often. As for the Rams weapons, Los Angeles receivers Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks both gained 1,300+ receiving yards, the second wide receiver combination in NFL history to accomplish such a feat. The other? Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt of the 2001 Rams. The Patriots will certainly jam the smaller Woods and minuscule Cooks at the line, as Cooks has proven he doesn’t like contact, nor can he really run routes, so Todd Gurley’s role becomes even more important, as the Rams play action style of offense is the key to their explosiveness. The scouts say Gurley is healthy, so the issues have to be mental, which may have started when the Rams signed CJ Anderson. The timing is interesting to say the least. The Rams haven’t been the same offense since they lost Cooper Kupp, but Woods has filled in as well as anyone could, and I imagine the Rams will utilize him over the middle against a Patriots team that lacks speed everywhere, but especially at LB. The middle won’t be open if Gurley can’t get it going, because other than three-plus wide receiver sets, the best chance Los Angeles has to beat New England is by controlling the tempo, blasting the edges against New England’s slow LBs, using play action to open up the slot, and possibly even deep opportunities, and converting Red Zone opportunities into TDs, especially with Zuerlein supposedly questionable.

 Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay's is coaching the Super Bowl in his second season, but no one aware of his pedigree is surprised.

     SBLIII should be a game for the ages. The game opened with the Rams favored by 1.5 points only to see the public bet them down to 2.5-point underdogs in 48 hours. The public sure is confident in the Patriots, but the experts weren’t. Will Tom Brady win his 6th Super Bowl and match the Pittsburgh Steelers by himself? Will Aaron Donald become the 3rd defensive player in a decade to win the Super Bowl MVP award? Will Rob Gronkowski have to go full Robocop after sacrificing his body one last time for the New England Patriots before riding off into the sunset? Will Todd Gurley get out of his Hollywood funk? Will Greg Zuerlein even make it to the game? That was sarcasm. Will Jared Goff be able to hear anything above SBLIII attendees booing the Patriots? Will Marcus Peters make a colossal mistake, or get kicked out of the game for committing two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, or will he just leave to go chill with Marshawn Lynch in the middle of the game? Will the Patriots lack of weapons be their demise or will their depth at running back chew two-thirds of the clock away? Will the Rams inexperience and anxiety deviate their focus or will the team's youth, speed and energy be too much for Brady and the Patriots slow front seven? Which genius will make the better adjustments, the 33-year old McVay or the 66-year old Belichick, who has been coaching in Super Bowls as long as McVay has been alive?

 Beware of the Hoodie. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick uses the force to adjust and make your best players disappear. 

     I do know one thing for sure: Those adjustments become much easier with experience, and there’s no more experience on a football field anywhere on Earth than there will be on the Patriots sideline during SBLIII. Experience can breed greatness, and it has in this case with the New England Patriots, and whether you love them, or most likely hate them, you’ll be witnessing it again Sunday. If we don’t witness greatness from New England on Sunday, we’ll likely see the torch being passed from old dynasty to new, in almost the exact setting – sans the location – that produced the Patriots dynasty 18 years ago. How poetic. Except the Rams couldn’t do what the Patriots have accomplished in the past 18 years if they had another million. What, you thought I’d end my SBLIII preview on a cheesy emotional high note? It doesn’t matter if the Rams are toiling away in St. Louis or towards the bottom of a list of activities to do on a fall Sunday in Los Angeles, the Rams are about to get their hearts ripped out again, and unlike Tom Brady, Jared Goff isn’t taking 40 cents on the dollar for the next two decades to make sure the Rams have enough cap space to produce a team that’ll compete for a Super Bowl for the next two decades. You’re going to miss them when they’re gone, I promise. New England win, covers and the game hits the over.

Stay tuned for Week 21: #NFL Game Reviews SUPER BOWL LIII EDITION coming Tuesday!

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