BSN Against the Spread

Picking Super Bowl LI against the spread

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There’s no more time left in the NFL season, it’s Super Bowl or bust now and with our record exactly at .500 on the year this game is going to make or break us. It’s also a Super Bowl with two phenomenal teams who’ll continue the streak of teams with a positive YPP winning the big game.

They’re are lots of angles to take on this game but all we’re interested in is the -3 spread favoring the New England Patriots in this game.

Without further ado, with the assistance of our numbers here's how Super Bowl LI breaks down in our big final football pick for the year.

YPP - the case for the Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons have been at the top of the YPP ranks for almost the entire season and we’ve been featuring them since way back in Week 4 as a team that really impressed us, especially offensively. That’s only continued as they’ve steamrolled their way through the playoffs and have looked unstoppable offensively.

The Falcons are the far superior team per offensive YPP, not just of the Patriots but of any other team in the NFL racking up 6.7 yards per play - which has jumped to an astronomical 7.2 in the last five games including the playoffs - a full 0.3 yards above the second best team the Washington Redskins and 0.8 yards above the Patriots. To put that into perspective, with how we apply YPP to our suggested spreads that is full 1.5 points more than the Redskins and a full 4 points better than New England - of course, that’s only based off of the offensive output but that’s a significant difference. Matt Ryan and crew are also making it count on the scoreboard as they’re already one of the top 10 highest scoring offenses in NFL history with an average of 33.8 points per, an average that’s only increased to 40 in their two playoff games.

Of course, that means that the defense for Atlanta hasn’t been nearly as good or they’d be the favorites in this game, though as we mentioned in our early preview they are the favorites per YPP by 2.5 points for a full 5.5 point differential which is right in the money for us.

The Falcons young defense has played well especially recently but the improvements statistically haven’t been noticeable as they’ve remained in the 5.6 range for YPP conceded in the last 10 games - exactly what their season average is - and 5.4 in their last five. But the impact is much more noticeable when watching the tape, the secondary is playing gritty and making plays and the front has played remarkably well particularly in creating pressure, a huge part of them beating the Green Bay Packers to get here.

Keeping that pressure up will be crucial for an Atlanta defense that’s inferior to the Patriots ‘D’ in just about every other category - the Pats defense is 0.4 yards better than the Falcons which is equal to 2 points.

Teams Current Spread YPP # Advantage YPP Suggested Spread Difference
NE -3 0.6 3
ATL 1.1 5.5 -2.5 5.5

In the last 10 games, there isn’t much variance between these two teams. Without Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots offense has lost a step and in part thanks to a schedule that didn’t see them face many top offenses their defense picked up the slack. While Atlanta after going 2-2 in their first four in the last 10 picked it up. In the last five games while the Patriots have played at a level comparable to their seasonal output the Falcons have taken their game to another level. Atlanta has dominated their opponents to the tune of a 1.8 YPP differential. If that keeps up, then New England is in trouble.

YPP suggested spread based on the last five games

Teams Current Spread YPP # Advantage YPP Suggested Spread Difference
NE -3 0.6 3
ATL 1.8 9 -6 9

With the Falcons playing phenomenally lately and looking unstoppable offensively they’re 6 point favorites based on these two teams recent play in their last five games. No matter how you look at it YPP is all in on the Falcons and it’s hard to argue with that.

EW - the case for the Pats

First off, the case for the Patriots is pretty easy to make. Four rings with a fifth one on the way is one way to explain it. Another is mentioning that Tom Brady plays quarterback fro the Patriots. Yet another is that Bill Belichick is coaching the team. And yet another is that this Patriots staff has already beat a Dan Quinn-coached defense that had much more established (many would argue more talent) on the biggest stage this season.

From a statistical standpoint just as the Falcons have been YPP’s top team for most of the year the Pats have been atop the EW charts ever since their number straightened out once Brady returned to the field. Because of this, our EW suggested spread has the Patriots as 4 point favorites.

Teams Current Spread Expected Wins Advantage Suggested Spread Difference
NE -3 12.5 4 -4 1
ATL 10.5

New England has won their games by a greater margin of victory by 12.7 compared to Atlanta’s 9.6 and the Patriots also have an obvious edge defensively.

By most meaningful statistics they’re the superior defensive unit, they’re much stouter on third down where they’ve allowed only 36.9-percent conversion rate to the Falcons 41.8. Not to mention they’re the top scoring defense in the league and are the eight best unit per YPP to the Falcons 19th ranking. That’s all pretty impressive as New England is a top-15 run and pass defense despite having let go of some premier talent this past offseason.

Offensively the Pats haven’t produced nearly to the levels of the Falcons dynamic unit - particularly since losing Gronkowski. But make no mistake this group has the pieces, the coaching, and the QB to stick around in a shootout. Brady’s shown time and time again that he can make tight window throws in big games, keeping pace with the Falcons could take lots of those and even at this stage of his career there’s no doubt he can do the job.

Even with all that the Patriots being 4 point favorites is tough to take against the actual spread for only a 1 point differential. But the case to be made for the more pressure tested Patriots team is certainly a valid one to be made.

And the pick is…

Aside from the fact that we like to make our picks based off of solid data and numerical analysis, I don’t buy any extra motivation from the Patriots in a Deflategate vendetta. I don’t deny that could play a factor, but the Falcons are going to be supremely motivated as well as we saw against the Packers where the storyline was all about Aaron Rodgers and his killer attitude. Atlanta has the hopes and dreams of a city riding on their shoulders plus the desire to get over the proverbial mountain top that’s just as strong and powerful motivation as any Goodell and Deflategate stuff.

Also there’s a case to be made that the Patriots defensive stats might not be as impressive as they initially appear; when looking at their offensive opponents the slate is far from impressive as they faced seven teams (playoffs included) with top 15 offenses per YPP - that includes playing the Pittsburgh Steelers with Landry Jones and Miami Dolphins with Matt Moore. In those five games - not including the two games with backup QB's - the Patriots allowed 6 yards per play a full 0.8 more than their season average. By comparison, Atlanta faced seven such teams and conceded 5.7 YPP only 0.1 more than their seasonal average of 5.6.

Atlanta will have to create pressure defensively and continue their incredible offensive play - let’s not forget last time Belichick faced a top 10 scoring offense in NFL history in the Super Bowl the "Greatest Show on Turf" went home without rings. That said there is too much data favoring the Falcons if all plays out as expected.

Obviously, in one game anything can happen, especially when the stakes are this high. Picking against New England is never easy but the numbers are on our side. Give us the Falcons against the spread to win Super Bowl LI.

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