Confidence is an NFL gambling preview using advanced statistics, matchup analysis and other metrics to create predictions for readers to use at their discretion.
Guess what topic won’t even be mentioned in this column? Here’s a hint: It’s something everyone and their mother is talking about. It’s controversial and provocative. And if you haven’t had your ears fall off listening about it, well, consider yourself lucky.
No, America, I won’t be commenting on whether I think Katy Perry will have a wardrobe malfunction this Sunday.
First, some words of caution: Bet at your own risk. If this were a regular season game, my advice would be to stay away. Betting on what boils down to a coin flip (or, the coin flip) is about as profitable as lighting money on fire. But this is the Super Bowl, so putting a few dollars on the table to make the game even more enjoyable is understandable.
On Sunday, two of the best teams in the NFL will play a game that has all the makings of an instant classic. As demonstrated below, these two teams are evenly matched and picking a winner is as difficult as deciding between a bone-in Wagyu ribeye cooked medium rare or bluefin otoro sashimi. But the prediction here calls for the Patriots to triumph on Sunday because they have a few advantages over the Seahawks that will enable them to win the battle of attrition.
This is the weighted DVOA for both teams heading into the game, including playoffs:
They are that close. Here are seven reasons the Patriots have the weighted side of the coin in their favor.
This year, the Patriots have played six times against defenses in the top half of the league (not including their week 17 game against Buffalo in which they rested many of their key starters). Their offensive performances ranged from a low of 15.2% (against Denver in Week 9) to a high of 49.4% (against Indianapolis in Week 11) with an average DVOA of 37.9%. Their performances against the best defenses in the NFL rates higher than their offensive weighted average DVOA! Drawing a definite conclusion from a small sample size is a fool’s errand, but so far New England has played the best and repeatedly succeeded ‒ convincingly.
The Patriots through Week 17 had the 5th-highest non-weighted passing DVOA at 35.0%. Yet for prognostication purposes, that figure may not adequately reflect how good New England has been when at full strength and health. It would be even higher if Weeks 1-4 were omitted, as they virtually would be in a weighted DVOA. Those early games were played with an offensive line in disarray and without a healthy Rob Gronkowski, rendering them non-predictive at this stage. Their passing DVOA would be higher still with Week 17 thrown out (played mainly with reserves as noted above) and with playoffs included.
The M*A*S*H Unit
The Seahawks’ defensive passing DVOA through Week 17 ranked third at -9.3%, but half of their vaunted “Legion of Boom” secondary is not at full strength. The two best Seahawk defensive backs are cornerback Richard Sherman (PFF rated +11.1 in pass coverage) and safety Earl Thomas III (PFF rated +9.3 in pass coverage). Sherman is playing with ligament damage in his elbow a, while Thomas injured his labrum after dislocating his shoulder last week. Both injuries impact the ability to tackle and make plays on the balls in the air. It is reasonable to conclude that the Seahawks will not be as effective defensively, and even the smallest advantages can add up.
Lack of Pass Rush
Brady’s kryptonite over the years has been a ravenous pass rush, particularly when it comes through the middle of the offensive line. The Seahawks, however, do not have a strong pass rush, as they compiled only the 14th-best adjusted sack rate (6.8%). Seattle’s defensive tackles are not known for such prowess and they generate little to no pressure, which will provide Brady with a clean interior pocket. The Patriots’ offensive line has the NFL’s 2nd-highest adjusted sack rate at a stunning 4.4%. Brady can take partial credit for that with his quick release time of 2.39 seconds, the 2nd-fastest in the league. Seattle can create pressure from the edges of the line, but left tackle Nate Solder and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer are capable pass blockers. Because Brady will have time to throw and a clean pocket to operate in, he will be able to be patient, wait for openings, and pick Seattle apart.
Matchup Problems and Location, Location, Location
Seattle’s pass defense is mortal against tight ends (ranked 18th overall at -1.1% DVOA) and running backs (ranked 18th overall at 0.9% DVOA). The Patriots have their all-pro tight end Gronkowski and a standout pass-receiving running back in Shane Vereen to exploit those cracks in the Seahawks’ armor. Seattle is also relatively vulnerable to short-middle passes (ranked 11th with a -1.0% DVOA), which is an area Brady excels in when targeting TEs and RBs.
Pound the Ground
Brady is the master of taking what the defense gives him. If the Seahawks are in their nickel and dime packages, expect Brady to feed the ball to power running back LeGarrette Blount, a punishing runner built like a Buick and who hits like George Foreman. If he gets into the secondary he will make Thomas and Sherman pay for trying to tackle him. Should Seattle get stuck in their sub-packages, Blount will make short change of them.
Containing Beast Mode
The Patriots have the personnel to stop the Seahawks passing game with an outstanding and physical secondary. However, the Patriots will have their hands full in the running game. Not only do they need to contain Marshawn Lynch but they will also have to limit Russell Wilson and his scrambling ability. Luckily for the Patriots, linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower and defensive end Rob Ninkovich will be up to the task. Collins is their most athletic linebacker in space, Hightower can punish opponents with big hits, and Nink is the perfect spy. The Patriots will have to stay disciplined and keep responsibilities against the read option but if any squad can, it’s one coached by Bill Belichick. The Seahawks offensive line is one of their few weaknesses and they do not match up well with the Patriots front seven.
The Super Bowl Gambling Preview Play
This game should be a coin flip but the deeper I explore the matchups the more I prefer the Flying Elvises. New England has the potential to win both lines of scrimmage, and both battles in the secondary.
Prediction: Patriots 27, Seahawks 16
DVOA data courtesy of FootballOutsiders.com. PFF data courtesy of ProFootballFocus.com.