Director of Southpoint Race & Sports and former owner of Against The Number, Chris Andrews takes an interesting look at Sunday’s NFL Championship Game from both a bookmaker’s view and a handicapping perspective.
“You can’t bet against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, they have an unequaled record”…zzzzzzzzzzzzz
All right, you’ve heard that deep analysis from everyone, from the talking heads on national TV to your grandmother. The fact is Belichick and Brady have lost games, lost Super Bowls, in fact, and have failed to cover even at times when they have won the game. In this season’s grand finale they face the best offense in the league.
Brady has had a terrific year, unparalleled for a quarterback of his age (39) in the Super Bowl era. He is much more than a ‘solid veteran quarterback’ and don’t underestimate just how well he has performed this year. As great as Brady has been, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan has topped him in the most important categories. Ryan is also a prohibitive favorite to beat Brady for the league’s MVP.
Yards per attempt and passer rating are the first two categories I look at when evaluating a quarterback. Ryan leads the league in both those categories. Second place? You guessed it. Tom Brady. I also look, sometimes with a very skeptical eye, at ESPN’s proprietary QBR. Ryan leads that measure, and again Brady is the runner up. Even though I’m skeptical, that measure does mean something.
At the all important quarterback position, Ryan holds an ever so slight edge over Brady. However, to abandon a team and bet against them because of Tom Brady and the way he has played this year would be totally illogical.
Offenses are more than just the quarterback, and the Falcons seem to have a slight edge in talent over the Pats. They have a two-headed running attack with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. They also have one of the most explosive wide receivers in the game in Julio Jones. Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu is also a key contributor.
Pats wide receiver Chris Hogan had a nice season, then burst on the scene when the Steelers decided not to cover him in the playoff game where Hogan notched two touchdowns along with 180 yards. Julian Edelman has been one of Brady’s top receivers for years now, and shows no more signs of slowing down than does his Hall Of Fame quarterback. LaGarrette Blount has been rescued off the scrap heap twice by the Pats and turned in another excellent season. Tight end Martellus Bennett and back up running back Dion Lewis are also key contributors.
Defensively, the same passing statistics I use to evaluate quarterbacks are my first criteria in handicapping a given game. There is only a fractional difference in the yards per attempt between the two teams, with the Pats holding a very slight advantage. Even in the defensive passer rating, the difference is relatively small, but is it enough to make a difference in thinking?
For those of you who have followed my handicapping in the past know I like to use ratios in my game analysis. While there are differences, the ratios indicate the contest should be extremely close. Over the years I have noticed a slight nod to the defensive side of the equation in the bigger games. It doesn’t get any bigger than the Super Bowl, so the slight nod had to the Patriots in this one.
If you are looking for a value play consider the Patriots money line. Right now the prevalent price is -155 but money has shown consistently on the Falcons. I have seen the money line drift as low as -140 at times, though it goes back up after Patriot value seekers take advantage of the bargain price. Nonetheless, if past betting patterns hold true Falcon money line players will show up throughout the week. The money line should go down. When you find a juicy price, make your move.
There are a few props I like, too. “Will either team have 3 unanswered scores?” The public always bets ‘no’ but yes is very much the play here. The South Point opened the ‘yes’ -230 and has been bet down to -190. The correct price should be much closer to -250. I only opened it lower because I knew which way the action would come.
The price is high on ‘will there be a score in the final 2 minutes of the first half?’ The South Point has the ‘yes’ -340, but the price could drop by game time with the public taking the plus money. ‘Yes’ is the play here. Look for the best price, naturally, but lay it with confidence.
In a game like this there figures to be a few lead changes. Take advantage of that by betting by betting the ‘no’ on ‘Will the team who scores first win the game?’ Right now the price is +155. The only trouble is you don’t know which team you will be rooting for until there is a score in the game. Make a small play that will either be a nice hedge position or a press on your original bet at a better price.
One last prop I think might offer some value is on the First Touchdown Scored In The Game. The passing touchdown is -190 while the ‘any other’ is +170. Atlanta has a pretty good two-headed running attack and LaGarrette Blount has been one of the best touchdown producers of the past few years. Of course you always have a defensive touchdown and a kick return working for you as well. Take the +170 for a chance at a nice plus price and hope Brady or Ryan need a drive or two to get in the groove.
No matter who you play, good luck to everyone, and bet with your head, not over it.