Archive for February, 2019

Super Bowl LIII Pick

February 1st, 2019 Comments off

The good news for me is that last year I was doing pretty OK with my postseason picks, only to trip at the finish line. So, you know, maybe the fact that I’ve struggled thus far in this year’s playoffs means I’m headed toward a spot-on Super Bowl pick. Because that’s how things like this work, right?

No? Crap. I thought someone might say that.

I went 1-1 both straight up and against the spread in the conference championship round, which breaks down to 2-0 in the AFC, 0-2 in the NFC. I could blame my failure on the refs, I suppose, but I suspect there’s enough of that going around. And whether it’s the zebras’ fault or my own, I’m now sitting at 4-6 (.400), both with and without the points, as we head into the final game of the season. That means my best possible finish is .455. So no matter what transpires on the field Sunday, I’ll still be a loser. What fun.

Here’s what not to expect in the big game.

New England (-2.5) vs. LA Rams

 Let’s start with the paint by numbers stuff, which I know is fun for everybody.

So there you have it. And there’s nothing left for me to say, right?

Oh, right, the big three predictive stats.

Here’s how they shake out if you look at all 18 games (regular and postseason) for both teams: Scoring differential, Rams +0.7; passer rating differential, Patriots +2.9; takeaway-giveaway differential, Rams +1. That’s about as even a match as you’re likely to see. It might favor the home team if there were a home team. But even then you’d be a fool to place a bet, and a bigger fool still to be willing to give as much as a point no matter what team you put your money on.

And here’s what you get when you isolate games involving the highest level of competition (which is to say games played against teams that qualified for the postseason — in the regular season and the playoffs combined): Scoring differential, Patriots +3.7; passer rating differential, Patriots +13.4; takeaway-giveaway differential, Patriots +1. In Foxborough, those numbers would point to a win for New England. In Los Angeles, they’d still give the Patriots a solid chance. On a neutral field and the big stage? I don’t know. Slight advantage for the AFC champs, I suppose. I still wouldn’t bet the farm on the basis of that data, though.

Here’s what I think matters in those numbers: As an examination of my nifty charts above makes clear, the difference has a lot to do with Jared Goff. The Rams have the same (excellent) running offense no matter who they’re up against. Their D takes a step back, but mostly to the extent that one would expect. The run D doesn’t get any more awful against good teams than it is in aggregate. And while the pass D struggles comparatively against the better teams, it’s not by more than a team with a fully functioning offense couldn’t or shouldn’t overcome.

Goff, on the other hand, is a different QB depending on who’s on the other side of the ball. Against poor, average, even pretty good teams, Goff’s play is typically lights out. When the competition truly heats up, Goff wilts.

But, you point out, Goff is in the Super Bowl. He’s won two straight games against postseason teams, including a huge one on the road against an outstanding Saints squad. (I’m not getting into the bad call here, partly because it’s been done to death, but mostly because that call may have cost the Saints a chance to seal a victory, but it didn’t hand the game to the Rams.)

Here are Goff’s aggregate numbers from those two games: 40 of 68 (58.8%) for 483 yards (7.1 yards per attempt), 1 touchdown and 1 interception, for a passer rating of 79.5. That’s not great. Neither is it wholly awful. (If he’d been awful, we wouldn’t be talking about Goff and the Rams right now.) But for a guy who in the regular season was a 64.9% passer, threw for 8.4 yards per attempt, and boasted a passer rating of 101.7, it’s more than a bit of step back.

The Rams’ aggregate running numbers in those two postseason games: 350 yards and 4 TDs on 74 carries. And, yes, the bulk of that production came against Dallas in the divisional round. But the better part of the Rams’ entire postseason offensive production came in that first game. And the Los Angeles defense played a critical role in the conference championship.

Goff was part of both of those postseason wins. But he wasn’t the driving force behind either of them.

With that in mind, what I expect the Patriots to do defensively is focus on stopping the run and challenge Goff to beat them.

That’s no simple task. The Rams have an outstanding rushing attack, led by Todd Gurley, who led the league with a jaw-dropping 6.3 yards per carry during the season, and who led the way in the victory over the Cowboys three weeks ago. Nonetheless, I believe it’s the task before the Patriots’ D. Whether they can accomplish it depends on whether they’re the unit that had its ups and downs in the regular season, or the one that allowed 60 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries in two postseason games against teams with formidable ground games.

It will also, help, of course, if the Patriots can put up points of their own and force the Rams to try to keep up.

They should be able to pull that off.

The strength of the Rams D is their pass rush. Los Angeles has shown little ability to stop the run this season, particularly when facing teams that can run around the perimeter of the offensive line — teams like the Patriots. The Rams also struggle in coverage, a weakness that’s been particularly pronounced in games against postseason qualifiers.

I expect the Patriots to be able to take advantage of at least one of those flaws from the start, which should set them up to take advantage of both as the game wears on.

If New England’s offense can finish drives, it will help the defense put Goff in a position where he needs to carry the Los Angeles offense. And if Goff has to carry the offense, I think you can count on him to make a fatal mistake.

I won’t be surprised if this game comes down to the final possession. Super Bowls involving the Patriots pretty much always do. But neither will I be shocked if this one is effectively over by the middle of the third quarter. And, in fact, I’m more inclined to think we see the latter than the former.

Whatever the path might be, I expect the destination will be a 10-point Patriots’ victory.

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