NFL Super Bowl Picks

By Zach Zaffos (Twitter: @zachzaffos)

Season To Date Against the Spread (ATS):

Best Bets: 13-7 (65%)

Units: 38.5-26.5-1 (59%)

All Bets: 26-21-1 (55%)

Conference Championship Round Recap:

1 unit (Best Bet): KANSAS CITY (-3) OVER New England

The Patriots came into this one with a negative 19-point differential against a relatively soft road schedule in 2018.

But – it didn’t matter, as Brady and Belichick delivered a vintage performance, and the back-and-forth game did not go our way.

We had pegged the Patriots as overvalued coming off a home win over the Chargers in the best of spots, but New England absolutely surpassed our expectations. On the flip side, Pat Mahomes and the Chiefs came out sluggishly, which certainly game back to haunt them in the end.

However, despite the close call, it’s clear we were on the wrong side here. The Patriots lost the turnover battle by 2, and still won a coin-flip game. If Brady didn’t uncharacteristically throw an INT on the 1-yard line, it’s likely than none of unbelievable fourth quarter plays even matter.

So we’ll take our L, and move on to the next one.

And what better time to do so than in the Super Bowl, with two top-notch teams and props galore. Let’s get to it!

OTHER BETS I’LL DABBLE WITH

Los Angeles Rams (+2.5) OVER New England Patriots – 1 unit

We don’t like this one quite enough to call it a ‘Best Bet’, but we definitely enough to comfortably take some action.

Let’s get into some reasons why we’re on the Rams here:

1. Public Overreaction to the Prior Week

Prior to the conference championship games, the look-ahead line here was Rams -1. I get that the line moved through 0, but a 3.5-point adjustment based on one game is nothing to sneeze at.

And to be quite frank, are we sure the Patriots road win was any more impressive than the Rams’? Winning in New Orleans is no joke.

Fading the public overreaction is easily one of our favorite betting bylaws, and it looks like we have a fantastic opportunity here.

2. Overvaluing the Experience Factor

I’m not going to sit here and discount that experience doesn’t matter. The Patriots have been there and done that. They are less likely to come in with extreme nerves, which is certainly a plus.

BUT – Just because we the bettors have seen Brady and Belichick win Super Bowls before doesn’t mean we have to be scared to bet against them this time.

Consider this: The Patriots are 1-5 against-the-spread in Super Bowls when coming in as the favorite, and that includes the miracle overtime cover as 3.5-point favorites against Atlanta.

We don’t point this out to say it is particularly predictive for this year’s game, but rather to show that even in spite of all of the success New England has had, it has still failed to live up to expectations in 5 of 6 Super Bowls.

In fact, the Patriots have faced many inexperienced teams in that span. Since the 2000 Super Bowl against the Rams in which the Pats were the inexperienced team, only the Giants-Pats round 2 featured an NFC opposition with a quarterback OR coach who had a previous Super Bowl appearance.

So we shouldn’t be scared to fade them here.

3. An Underrated Rams Defense

Many of us remember the Chiefs hanging 51 on the Rams on Monday Night Football and the Saints putting up 45 on Los Angeles in New Orleans.

But there was a man missing in both of those games, as well as many other games in the middle of the season when the Rams defense faltered.

His name is Aqib Talib.

Normally, one defensive player doesn’t make this sizable of a difference, but Talib is as disciplined a corner as they come. Perhaps more importantly, his presence ensures that uber-aggressive Marcus Peters doesn’t have to face the opposition’s best receiver. This in turn ensures that the Rams won’t have to sell out to stop the run, as they have a lead-cornerback in which they can trust. The Rams defense philosophically changes when he is in the lineup.

Don’t believe me? Let me give you some stats:

  • The Rams have played 11 games with Talib in 2018 and 7 without him.
  • In the 7 games without Talib, the Rams have ceded 30.75 points per game to oppositions.
  • In the 11 games with Talib, Los Angeles allows an average of 18.3 points per game.
  • The four highest opposing passing yardage outputs of the season ALL came in the 7 games without Talib.

With Talib back in the lineup, the Rams have held arguably the two best rushing teams in the league (Cowboys & Saints) to 50 or less rushing yards in back-to-back playoff games. We don’t expect the Pats to be able to use the run to set up the pass so easily in this one.

It’s simple: The spread overvalues the Patriots experience and undervalues the Rams defensive improvements of late. I’ll happily take a team in the underdog role that probably shouldn’t be.

PROP BETS

*Note: We will not count these within our against-the-spread statistics. Picks are bolded.

Bet #1 – What will happen on the first coaches’ challenge? (Play Overturned -135; Play Stands +105)

At first glance, this seems like just another wacky prop bet for which we could have no possible insight. However, let’s play the odds game here: Coaches’ challenges have been reversed approximately 38% of the time since 1999, and while that number is up to 48% in the 2018 season, we are still getting plus money on a bet that should theoretically hit over half the time.

You may ask yourself: “It can’t be that simple, can it? Why would the play holding be favored then?”

We can’t know for sure, but my inkling is that the betting public is reading a bit too much into the following trend: Since 1999, 25 plays have been challenged in the Super Bowl, with 14 of those being overturned. There is a line of thinking that a coach will be more scared to throw the challenge flag in the Super Bowl than a regular game.

But – We believe these people are reading way too much into a small sample size.

Want a larger one? How about that Bill Belichick is 48 of 117 (41%) all time in challenges. He is also 9 of 22 in the past 5 years and 12 of 30 in his last 7 seasons. (For transparency’s sake, McVay is 6 of 14).

Additionally, there is a specific type of challenge that I believe only a few coaches are smart enough to make – that type of challenge when the opposing team rips off a 35-yard pass play on 3rd and 13, but the coach believes there to be a 20% chance the receiver dropped the ball. These types of plays swing games, and the analytics say it is well worth the risk of losing one timeout to overturn such a play. However, very few coaches actually pull the trigger.

These coaches aren’t just going to throw the red flag at a sure thing. In fact, let’s look at this nugget:

In the past 2 seasons, Belichick and McVay, along with Doug Marrone, John Harbaugh and Doug Pedersen rank in the top five in challenges thrown.

So if you actually believe McVay or Belichick is going to freeze before throwing the flag – think again. These guys are absolutely smart enough to take the calculated risk when it presents itself.

So with an inflated number, give me the plus money on the more likely outcome.

Bet #2 – First Quarter Under 10.5 points (-145)

This trend has gotten a lot of publicity, but it doesn’t make it any less true: The Patriots have scored THREE total points in the first quarter in eight Super Bowl appearances. In four of those eight, the score was 0-0 after the first quarter.

No one has a stronger imprint on each game more than Bill Belichick, and his historical mindset in Super Bowls has been that ‘You can’t win the game in the first quarter, but you can certainly lose it’.

While the genius is unpredictable at times, I would consider it more-likely-than-not that he sticks to his guns. Belichick knows that players come into the Super Bowl with more nerves than a normal game, and he is also aware that if his team is within striking distance it at the end, it has as good a chance as any.

With all of the butterflies out early for both teams, the under 10.5 is as sharp a prop bet as they come.

Bet #3 – Robert Woods Over 7.5 Rushing Yards (-110)

This one is a bit off the beaten path, but anyone who watches the Rams recognizes it: Los Angeles runs a fake reverse to the receiver (usually Woods) on nearly every rushing attempt, and the opposing team has to respect it, as Woods carries the ball a couple of times each game.

In fact, Woods averaged 9.2 rushing yards per game in 2018, and has surpassed the 7.5-yard barrier in 8 of 18 games this year.

I get that 8 of 18 is below 50%, but if there’s one thing we know about Super Bowls, it’s that coaches like to pull out all of their stops. Just last year both quarterbacks were targeted as receivers! Some wacky stuff is bound to happen.

With Sean McVay and two weeks to prepare, I’d expect Woods to get a couple of creative running lanes this Sunday. For a guy who averages about 7 yards per carry, that’ll be all he needs.

Give me Woods over the 7.5 yards.

And with that, our picks are in for the biggest game of the year. It’s been an absolute pleasure writing for you all this season, and we can’t wait to end on a strong note. Be on the lookout sometime this summer on Twitter (@zachzaffos) for some big announcements for next season. Until then, good luck all!

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Zach Zaffos
Zach is a South Florida native who doubles as a CPA and semi-professional poker player. He is also an avid sports bettor, with a specialty in the NFL. Known to be a bit of a contrarian, Zach provides insight into trends on the field not typically noticed by the casual fan.