In our second to last week of football with only Super Bowl 51 remaining on the schedule, it's an odd first week without any actual games. But that doesn't mean that the metrics and analysis stop there, as we’re recapping our picks from the championship week, looking back at the entire playoffs from a betting perspective and giving you our first quick look at the Super Bowl before our big blowout next week.
Here we go.
Recapping the championship round
The Packers run ends
The Green Bay Packers weren’t just hot, they were on fire entering the playoffs and simply scorching after two more wins into the postseason. That, of course, wasn’t exactly reflected in our metrics, even when we adjusted things, as we picked against the Packers for all three of their playoff games. The first two didn’t work out so well as Aaron Rodgers played some incredible football and managed to pull rabbits out of his hat time and time again.
But as we have throughout the year, we stuck to our guns and believed in the numbers. Rodgers is amazing but he was also carrying a large amount of the load on his shoulders. After a while, he too was bound to show that he was, in fact, human.
In the Falcons dome in Atlanta Rodgers found his match in an offense that’s much more balanced with much healthier receivers. From the get go the Falcons were on fire driving down the field with ease and finding points at will. While most of the storylines leading up to the week were about Rodgers’ will to win etc. we were reminded last Sunday that Matt Ryan is a competitor as well and he put on a show.
Just as impressive, the Falcons defense played a great game. They harassed Rodgers early with fancy blitzes that confused the Packers star QB and limited his ability to make improvised plays. After that, the Dirty Birds defense mostly rushed four but still created tons of pressure. Green Bay then added two costly turnovers in the first half that really put them in trouble. First, an Aaron Ripkowski fumble, then a Rodgers interception. All that while the Falcons drove down with close to no time remaining on the clock to go up 24-to-zip to end the half.
At some point, Julio Jones joined the party and he scored the touchdown to end the half and then put the dagger in the Cheeseheads hearts when he took off for the 73-yard touchdown to begin the second half extending the lead to 31.The 4.5 point spread for Atlanta was an afterthought and never in doubt. It’s only fitting that the Falcons who were one of the first teams that we really rode early in the year give us one of our last wins of the season.
The 4.5 point spread for Atlanta was an afterthought and never in doubt. It’s only fitting that the Falcons who were one of the first teams that we really rode early in the year give us one of our last wins of the season.
The Patriots cruise to the Super Bowl
The New England Patriots started off as 8 point favorites at home to the Pittsburgh Steelers with that spread settling in at -6 later on in the week. On our side, we took New England to win but we also liked Pittsburgh to cover the spread, particularly when looking at it through the lens of how the Steelers had played in their recent win streak.
In the game itself, the Steelers just lost their bite. The defense left Chris Hogan wide open far too often for a record performance by the Pats wide receiver, while Pittsburgh had costly drops and just didn’t make the big plays that their opponents executed flawlessly.
The play that most stood out in ruining our chance of doubling up and winning both our pick against the spread was the Jesse James touchdown that was reviewed and overturned, giving Pittsburgh a 1st and goal with about a foot to go. The Steelers never found a way to punch the ball in forcing them to settle for a field goal at the end of the half. What could have been 13-17 Pats with Pittsburgh getting the ball at the start of the second half - a 5 point deficit exactly in the money zone - became 9-17. Things never got better from there.
A big problem for the Steelers was Le’Veon Bell having issues almost from the start and missing the majority of the game. Bell had been the engine to the black and gold offense through this run and without him, the entire identity of the team really changed. With Bill Belichick intelligently bracketing and taking Antonio Brown out of the game and the Steelers other receivers having costly drops, this game wasn’t meant to be as the Patriots strolled to yet another Super Bowl (their seventh in the Brady-Belichick era).
Analyzing a ho-hum playoff run
This was an unusual NFL postseason. Few upsets were made and outside of the Packers hot run, there weren’t really any surprise teams. The Falcons had been at the top of the YPP charts for the majority of the season and they go to Houston after an easy journey there. While New England settled into a top five spot in YPP once Tom Brady came back and they too have had a fairly easy and uncontested path to the Super Bowl. New England learned from their 2015 loss late in the regular season which forced them out of the number one seed in the AFC. In 2016 at Foxborough and with the better draw their path was much smoother.
These two teams also continue a streak of teams with positive YPP differentials going to the Super Bowl. In the last 20 years since the metric's been in use, only the 2001 Patriots in Brady's first go around won the game without a positive differential per the metric.
The two Super Bowl teams and their easy paths to the big game is a symbol of the playoffs in general in which home teams won eight of the 10 games played - that includes against the spread - in easy fashion. Take away the two Sunday games in the Divisional Round and we had nothing but blowouts from the home teams.
Incredibly, the closest road dog to cover the spread of the eight losers were the Houston Texans in Foxborough as 15 and eventually 17 point underdogs. That’s what it took for away teams to be threats this year historically huge spreads that would make Alabama’s football team blush.
With the Conference Championships in the books, we went 1-1 ATS and 2-0 with our overall picks. Over the entirety of the playoffs, our metrics have gone 9-1 in picking straight up winners with our one loss coming from the Packers upset in Dallas - compared to the Vegas spread going 8-2 - with a big help from our adjusted figures for teams that had clearly been playing at a different level in the postseason. In fact, our adjusted YPP spreads went 5-1 with the one loss coming from the Steelers this past week.
With this last .500 week, we’re now at 33-33-3 on the season ATS meaning the Super Bowl will determine if we’re winners or losers on the year - unless of course, the game ends in a push.
Another note on the playoffs: While everyone rightfully spoke of the great quarterbacks in the NFL’s final four it should also be mentioned that the defenses were far from great this postseason and particularly the four facing each other in the Championship games. The Patriots and their league leading scoring defense were also the best units per YPP remaining in the final four as the eight ranked defense in the league, the Steelers were 16th, followed by the 20th ranked Falcons and 27th Packers. By comparison, the 2015-16 playoffs final four teams had very good to great defenses per YPP with the Super Bowl teams both in the top three and the Patriots being the lowest team as the ninth-ranked unit per YPP. A stark difference, showing things can change drastically from one year to another.
An Early Super Bowl preview
Before we give you our full preview next week with our adjusted YPP suggested spreads, which have been incredibly helpful through the playoff run and our EW line plus our full break down it’s still never too early to take a look at the Super Bowl 51 line even if it’s more than a week away.
Obviously, this is a game of top offenses, though the defenses have both played extremely well as of late and we’ll see if that’s reflected in the adjusted spreads and particularly in the over/under for this game.
The Falcons as the top-ranked team per YPP all season long are favored in this bout at -2.5 when we look at the suggested spread, a nice 5.5 point difference from the actual line that has the more experienced Patriots as 3 point favorites. With a popular team like the Pats in the big game there might be some market inefficiencies to exploit, we’ll see what we find next week when we’ve had time to dig deep into all our little variations and we have all our suggested spread for you.