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For The Win: Super Bowl LIII

NFL Picks Against the Las Vegas Lines

Tough week in the Conference Championship Games, with the Saints (controversially) losing to the Rams and the Patriots winning yet again to go to Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta. The results were not in our favor on that short slate, but there is still one big game to go come Sunday to wrap up the NFL for several months. So, try and stay warm and dig in for this final installment of For the Win for the season.

Before we continue, thank you for reading once again this season. It has been a pleasure, and already we are looking forwards to next season.

So, for one last time this season, here we go:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS vs. LOS ANGELES RAMS

LINES: Patriots (-2.5 to -3), Over/Under 56.5 to 57
MONEY LINES: NEW ENGLAND -140 to -145; LOS ANGELES RAMS +120 to +125

(Sunday, 6:25PM Eastern, CBS)

Breaking down the Super Bowl is always a little tricky, as there are several ways the game can flow. Rest assured that both Bill Belichick and Sean McVay will be scheming for two weeks here, as they will want to dictate how the game is played and force the opposition to make adjustments.

That all sounds good on paper – but how exactly will it play out?

Belichick and the Patriots are infamous for a lot of things, but one of them is taking away the biggest playmaker when they are on defense. Look no further than the AFC Championship Game in Kansas City, where double coverage on Tyreek Hill rendered him almost worthless for the Chiefs on offense. Andy Reid has always struggled against Belichick (Belichick was won 7 of 9 matchups against Reid), and a lot of that comes down to the versatility of Belichick to adapt week-to-week. That brings us to Sunday, where New England is going to take away Todd Gurley first and foremost and force Jared Goff and company to take to the air to try and keep up with the Patriots. Gurley is likely injured, and McVay may have been at his best in coach-speak with him doing a very good Andy Reid impersonation by telling the media that it was McVay’s fault in not getting Gurley more involved against the Saints. That’s hard to believe, but it makes for a good story leading up to the big game. New England will force Gurley to prove to everyone that he is not only healthy but that he can be productive. The Rams will have to generate some ground game, even if it takes C.J. Anderson to do it, to keep the Patriots honest. Los Angeles was a dominant team the first half of the regular season, and much of that came due to not only Gurley but the play action passes that were set up because defenses had to respect Gurley and the offense. Jared Goff’s offense has just not been the same since Cooper Kupp went down in Week 10. The Rams had scored 33 or more points in 8 of their first 10 games in 2018, but they only managed to top that score twice after that week (including the memorable 54-51 shootout against the Chiefs). Josh Reynolds has been a solid replacement for Kupp, but now that Gurley appears to be less than his normal self, the entire offense is hurting. The Rams rely on play action to help create space for their wide receivers, so with Kupp out and the running game at less than full strength, there are reasons for concern. C.J. Anderson was added to the roster (after being released by Carolina) in a telling moment that not only did Los Angeles need depth, but Gurley may not be the same after a long year and possibly getting injured in December. Gurley hardly played after that loss to the Eagles in Week 15, as he was “rested” in Weeks 16 and 17, then racked up a strong performance against Dallas in the second round of the postseason. Regardless, both backs will have to perform to keep New England honest on defense and also to keep that play action offense component in play.

As for New England on offense, let’s take a look at what games the Rams lost this year. Los Angeles took their first loss in a shootout with the Saints in Week 9, and then again in back-to-back contests with the Bears and then at home against the Eagles. Anyone can win a shootout, and the cold clearly impacted Jared Goff in Chicago, but that home game against the last Super Bowl champions. Philadelphia jumped out early against the Rams in Week 15 and extended a lead in the third quarter to 30-13 behind a solid passing game that was set up by a balance on offense with three rushing touchdowns from Wendell Smallwood and Josh Adams. Nick Foles had a productive afternoon (24-31-270) but most of the scoring came off of runs that were set up by big plays in the passing game. That could be some foreshadowing for how the Patriots approach Super Bowl LIII. Tom Brady only cares about winning, not stats, so a few big passes to a Chris Hogan or Phillip Dorsett to set up rushing touchdowns for Sony Michel or James White feels like the most likely game script for the Patriots.

At some point, you knew that I would bring up the non-call to end the Ram-Saints game, right? Well, the unintended impact of that play is that the referees are going to be watching the corners and safeties very closely on Sunday, especially the Rams. That plays into this game script of Brady throwing deep a few times to either get a big completion or to draw a flag, and Hogan is their best option now the Josh Gordon is no longer part of the squad. Hogan is the most likely candidate for that deep strike (or two) play, with Dorsett as another candidate. Regardless, New England should be able to move the ball on the Rams, who have an opportunistic defense (+11 in turnover differential) but also are near the bottom of the league in yards per pass (7.7) and the worst in yards per carry (5.1). That screams that New England should be able to dictate on offense in much the same way that they did against both Kansas City and the Los Angeles Chargers, and the best chance for the Rams will be in a higher scoring affair. The Rams must pressure Brady to force mistakes, and if they eventually get one or two they could pull the upset. Unfortunately, that may not be in the cards, as Brady and Belichick will look to take advantage of the inexperience on the other sideline to jump out early and put even more pressure on Los Angeles. One final factor to consider is that Greg Zuerlien may not be as healthy as usual, so 50+ yard field goals may be less likely for the Rams.

Adding up all the above, the likeliest outcome is a higher scoring contest where the Patriots pull away at the end. If Gurley is not healthy (or even not productive) and New England controls the ball and scoreboard early, it could turn into a lackluster contest, but the Rams have come back before and still have a high octane offense even if Gurley struggles. Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks (who will have some Patriot revenge in mind) and Josh Reynolds can all be productive, so look for Goff to have a big day in the passing game and keep this one interesting – but ultimately the Patriots are likely to take yet another title home.

Prediction: New England Patriots 34, Los Angeles Rams 27.

Pick: New England

PROP BETS

Specialty bets on certain propositions (commonly called prop bets) are very popular for the big game. There are literally thousands of them out there, and you can shop around to get the best odds on anything from MVP to the coin toss to the length of the anthem all the way to the color of the Gatorade dumped on the winning coach. Sites such as Oddsshark and Bovada have several of them, but if you Google “Super Bowl prop bets” you will find all you can possibly want.

Here are some of my favorites this year, based on Westgate Las Vegas Superbook:

Note – all props are one star unless otherwise noted.

First Quarter Action

Here are some great props for the opening 15 minutes:

  1. Will the Patriots score a touchdown in the first quarter? (No -110)
  2. First quarter points scored by New England: (Under 6.5, -110)
  3. Will there be a score in the first 6:30 of the game? (No +130)

In eight previous Super Bowls for New England (the Bill Belichick and Tom Brady era), New England has not scored a touchdown in the first quarter. In fact, the grand total of points scored by the Patriots in all eight first quarters is exactly three – that’s right, one lone field goal, which happened last year against Philadelphia.

To continue that low scoring trend, a lot of this postseason (7 of 10 games) have had scores in the first 5:30 of that contest – which is the normal decision line for first score in the NFL. New England has played in two of those games, and neither had a score that early. The Patriots scored on the opening drive against Kansas City in the AFC Championship Game, but they took their sweet time to find the end zone with an 8+ minute opening drive. The Rams were in two games in this year’s playoffs, and both games just made that 5:30 mark. Against Dallas, Los Angeles took the first possession of the game and converted a 25-yard field goal with 9:44 left in the first quarter (clearing the 5:30 bar by 14 seconds). In the NFC Championship, the Saints kicked a field goal to close the opening drive of the game at 10:04 in the first. So, long story short, the Patriots often start slowly and the Rams may accommodate that pace as they get their feet wet in the first Super Bowl for nearly everyone (the Rams players have a combined five Super Bowl appearances). Hope for a low scoring first period as both teams feel each other out.

First kickoff by New England’s Stephen Gostkowski is a touchback (No -220)

Let’s stick with early game plays again with this fun one. While the flip side of this play pays more (Yes is +180), New England was 27th overall in the NFL in touchback percentage (49.5% of kickoffs), and only 8 of 18 of Gostkowski’s first kickoffs went into the end zone. Interesting as well is that in five Super Bowl appearances for Gostkowski (all indoors, similar to Sunday), only one went for a touchback.

First song by Maroon 5 at Halftime: “Moves Like Jagger” (+600)

The author of this article is a big fan of Maroon 5, so going through a recent setlist and taking a closer look (Listen?) to the starts of likely popular songs, “Moves Like Jagger” fits the bill. Good start? Yes. Popular? Absolutely. Upbeat tempo? For sure. Maroon 5 will likely hold off on “Girls Like You” for later, and while “Payphone” is the close second choice, reminding everyone that Maroon 5 has been big for years with “Moves Like Jagger” seems like a good call to me.

Chris Hogan-based Wagers

Chris Hogan - Total Receiving Yards: 42.5 (Over -110)

Chris Hogan - Longest reception: 19.5 (Over -110)

Bonus correlation play: Los Angeles Rams – Total penalty yards: 45.5 (Over -110)

Many of the individual player props are tough calls (and usually they are), but if you believe the analysis of the game flow (Patriots will test the Rams with a few deep passes), then Chris Hogan is your play. Hogan starts and has played nearly all the snaps (148 last two weeks, Tom Brady had 180, over 82% of offensive snaps) in the last two playoff games. Who else will go deep? It will not be Julian Edelman or Rob Gronkowski, so if there is a deep pass (or two, or three) then it will go to Hogan. Hogan may only have 35 catches in the regular season, but 11 of the 35 went for 20+ yards. That does not even include longer targets or pass interference calls. Couple that with Josh Gordon’s play with New England that limited Hogan’s production, and the recipe is there for Hogan to stretch the field for a 20+ yards catch or a pass interference call. Take Hogan for yards and a deep catch, and combine those plays with the Rams for 45+ yards in penalties in case Hogan draws the flag instead. In the perfect scenario, Hogan tops both numbers on one play and the penalties play also hits.

Total Rushing Yards for the Rams: Over 127.5 yards (-110)

Shoutout to Warren Sharp of @SharpFootball, who pointed out that no NFL team runs more out of “11 personnel” (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers) than the Rams. New England has not fared well against this formation, allowing a 61% success rate and 6.8 yards per carry against opponents running from 11-personnel since Week 11, and both of those are the worst in the NFL. Even the Chiefs did well in the AFC Championship Game, and this is the formation that New England struggled with when the Eagles used it in Super Bowl LII. The Rams have topped 127.5 yards in 11 of 18 contests this year, making this a positive expected value (+EV) play.

Total fumbles lost by both teams: (Under 1.5, -200)

Once again the “Over” pays more (+110) but the right side is the under. With some help from @Byeweekpicks, Half of all fumbles go back to the fumbling team. For “Yes” to hit, two fumbles must go to the opposition, so on average that requires four miscues. The Rams were tied for seventh overall in the league with just 1.1 fumbles per game, and both the Patriots and Rams were 4th in the NFL with 0.4 fumbles lost per game. Take the Under here.

Total points in the highest-scoring quarter: (Over 21, No -110)

Going back to @Byeweekpicks, both teams have played 18 games, which works out to be 144 quarters (2 x 18 x 4). Only 13 of those quarters were over 21 points (New England had four, Los Angeles nine). Taking those odds (13 out of 144) is under 10% chance of being incorrect. Those are very good odds.

Will either team score in the final 3:30 of the game: (Yes -170)

Once again we go with the more likely outcome instead of chasing positive odds (No is +145). Danny Donahue of the Action Network mentioned that a team has scored in the last 3:30 of the Super Bowl in 20 out of the last 25 Super Bowls. The last time this one did NOT happen was Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014, which was a blowout (Seattle 43, Denver 8).

Will there be overtime? (Yes = +700)

It happened last year for the first time ever in the Super Bowl, and overtime is always a fun option.

Will there be a safety in the game? Yes (+600)

Final Scoring Play of Super Bowl LIII: Rams Safety (+4000, or 40-1)

Two of the past seven years have had a safety, and Bill Belichick has been known to take one on purpose. There is no better time to do that than at the end of the game, so it could easily be the last score.

Enjoy Super Bowl Sunday, and I’ll see you in the fall!

SUPER BOWL LIII PLAYS

The intent of this column is to give out not only the Plays for the Week in the NFL but also a rating of each one on a 1-3 Unit scale. The more units, the bigger the emphasis on that side of the game. (More units = More $$$).

* ONE STAR *

  • NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (-2.5) vs. LOS ANGELES RAMS
  • 6-POINT TEASER: LOS ANGELES RAMS (+8.5) vs. NEW ENGLAND (Over 50.5)
  • 6-POINT TEASER: NEW ENGLAND (+3.5) vs. LOS ANGELES RAMS (Over 50.5)
PROP BETS:
  • Will the Patriots score a touchdown in the first quarter? (No -110)
  • First quarter points scored by New England: (Under 6.5, -110)
  • Will there be a score in the first 6:30 of the game? (No +130)
  • First kickoff by New England’s Stephen Gostkowski is a touchback (No -220)
  • First song by Maroon 5 at Halftime: “Moves Like Jagger” (+600)
  • Chris Hogan - Total Receiving Yards: 42.5 (Over -110)
  • Chris Hogan - Longest reception: 19.5 (Over -110)
  • Bonus correlation play: Los Angeles Rams – Total penalty yards: 45.5 (Over -110)
  • Total Rushing Yards for the Rams: Over 127.5 yards (-110)
  • Total fumbles lost by both teams: (Under 1.5, -200)
  • Total points in the highest-scoring quarter: (Over 21, No -110)
  • Will either team score in the final 3:30 of the game: (Yes -170)
  • Will there be overtime? (Yes = +700)
  • Will there be a safety in the game? Yes (+600)
  • Final Scoring Play of Super Bowl LIII: Rams Safety (+4000, or 40-1)

** TWO STAR GAMES **

  • NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (-2.5) vs. LOS ANGELES RAMS
PROP BET:
  • Bonus correlation play with Chris Hogan: Los Angeles Rams – Total penalty yards: 45.5 (Over -110)

*** THREE STAR GAMES ***

  • None this week.

RESULTS

Last Week

  • OVERALL: 0-2 (0%)
  • PICK(S) OF WEEK: 0-2 (0%)
  • WEEKLY TOP PLAYS: 2.4-10 (19.4%)

Postseason

  • OVERALL: 3-5-1 (37.5%)
  • PICK(S) OF WEEK: 3-5-1 (37.5%)
  • WEEKLY TOP PLAYS: 16.15-31 (34.3%)

Regular Season

  • OVERALL: 128-119-9 (51.8%)
  • PICK(S) OF WEEK: 61-46-5 (57.0%)
  • WEEKLY TOP PLAYS: 362.1-194-3 (65.1%)

always welcome to pasquino@footballguys.com.

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