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Super Bowl analytics: Edge to Atlanta

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February 5, 2017 12:07 PM
Andy Levitre of the Falcons.

By Scott Kellen

Special to VSiN

Opinions on the Super Bowl are not in short supply, and there are a variety of ways to handicap NFL games. I take a long look inside the numbers.

The New England Patriots are 3-point favorites over the Atlanta Falcons. The total has dropped from 59 to 58 due to a wave of sharp money.

Both teams enjoyed a bye during the wild-card round and, with home-field advantage, rolled over their opponents. In the case of New England, it was 34-16 over the Texans and 36-17 over the Steelers. Atlanta posted wins of 36-20 over the Seahawks and 44-21 over the Packers.

In the conference championship games, both teams were extremely efficient in the passing game, with Atlanta averaging 10.3 yards per pass and New England averaging 8.5.

Examining the teams, I removed the season’s first four games for New England without quarterback Tom Brady and also removed the regular-season game against Pittsburgh, which played without Ben Roethlisberger. For Atlanta, I included all of its games, as the Falcons primarily played the whole season with a fairly healthy team. All of the Falcons' games had relevance in the standings and playoff implications.

New England scored 31 points per game against teams allowing 23 points per game. Atlanta averaged 34 points per game against teams allowing 24 points per game. We see New England allowed only 16 points per game but that was against teams averaging just 20 points per game, so the Patriots played a very weak offensive collection of opponents. Atlanta, meanwhile, allowed 25 points per game, but did so against a collection of teams that offensively averaged 24 points per game. New England would be expected to score about nine points more than an average team, and Atlanta would be expected to score about six more points than an average team. Advantage: NEW ENGLAND

The Patriots struggled to run the ball, averaging just 3.6 yards per rush against teams allowing 4.2 yards per rush. But, they will face an Atlanta team which allows 4.6 yards per rush against teams that average only 4.1 yards per rush. Based on those numbers, New England should be pretty average running the ball (-0.1 ypr). Atlanta averages 4.4 yards per rush against teams allowing 4.1 yards per rush. The Falcons face a Patriots rush defense allowing just 3.6 yards per rush against teams averaging 4.2 yards per rush. Atlanta will probably be just below average running the ball (-0.3 ypr). Advantage: NEW ENGLAND

New England averages 7.7 yards per pass against teams allowing 6.3 yards per pass. In other words, about 1.4 yards per pass better than its opponents. Atlanta is better than average defending the pass, allowing 6.1 yards per pass against teams averaging 6.3 yards per pass. Based on these numbers, I would expect New England to average about 1.2 yards per pass better than average. Atlanta averages a whopping 8.3 yards per pass against teams allowing 6.6 yards per pass, or about 1.7 yards per pass better than average. New England is also above average defending the pass, allowing 5.9 yards per pass against teams averaging 6.0 yards per pass. Based on these numbers, I expect Atlanta to average about 1.6 yards per pass better than average. Advantage: ATLANTA

From a yards-per-play basis, New England averages 5.9 yards per play against teams allowing 5.4. Atlanta, meanwhile, allows 5.6 yards per play against teams averaging 5.4. Based on this, we can expect New England to average about 0.7 yards per play better than average. Atlanta averages 6.7 yards per play against teams allowing 5.6 yards per play while New England allows 5.1 yards per play against teams averaging 5.3 yards per play. Atlanta could be expected to average about 0.9 yards per play better than average. Advantage: ATLANTA

Atlanta qualifies in a negative situation, as playoff teams coming off a game in which they scored 39 or more points are just 4-26-1 against the spread. Carolina qualified in this same negative situation last year.

This game also qualifies in an "over" situation, which is 26-11 over the total. That situation is 2-0 this year in the playoffs. However, that situation is 4-4 when the total is higher than 55, including 0-1 to the under in the Super Bowl.

I have run many parameters for this game, including all games for both teams. The situation listed above, which excludes games Brady didn’t play and the regular-season game against Pittsburgh, and games for both teams against playoff teams only.

With each of those, I have three power ratings I run for a total of nine power ratings for three scenarios. Six of those power ratings favor New England from one point to three points, with the majority of them favoring the Patriots by about 1.5 points. One makes this a pick-em and the others favor Atlanta by 2.5 points and 1.5 points.

From a total perspective, the predictions range from 54 to 58 points. Putting it all together, I get New England by one point and project about 55.5 points. So, despite the situation favoring New England and the over, the value appears to be with Atlanta and the under.

Comparing drive charts for both teams, I get a final of New England 33.4 to Atlanta 30.2. In other words, favoring New England by three points and projecting about 63.5 points.

But, a much closer look at both teams against similar competition shows a much different projected score.

Atlanta played five games this season against above-average defensive teams.

Those teams were Seattle (twice), Denver, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Four of these five games were played on the road, providing an even better test of what we can expect in this game against a better-than-average New England defense. Atlanta scored touchdowns on 35.2 percent of its drives this year. The league average is about 22 percent.

When faced against those above-average defensive teams, Atlanta scored touchdowns on just 25 percent of its drives. Those four teams give up touchdowns at an average rate of 19.2 percent of all of their defensive drives, so Atlanta was still above average on offense, but not at the same rate of its overall seasonal numbers. When doing similar matchups for both offense and defense for both teams when facing similar competition, I get a final score of New England 28.6 to Atlanta 25.5, or New England by three points and a projected score of about 54 points.

For the Patriots, this is their seventh Super Bowl under the current regime and they have won four times.

The perception is New England is a great team (and that’s true) and rolls in these Super Bowls. In reality, the Patriots are just 2-4 ATS in their six Super Bowls, which includes being 2-0 ATS as underdogs and 0-4 ATS as favorites.

There is also a common belief that New England has an edge in experience and that will lead to a victory. But, in reality, in the games they failed to cover in the Super Bowl, the Patriots took on Carolina, Philadelphia and the Giants (2007), who all had players going to the Super Bowl for the first time. Ironically, their covers have come against experienced teams in the Super Bowl, where they won and covered against the Rams and Seahawks, who had each recently played in the Super Bowl.

New England has won three of its four Super Bowls by three points and the other game by four points. The Patriots also have lost by three and four points, so their Super Bowls are typically very close games, and this game figures to be close as well.

New England coach Bill Belichick figures to put together a great game plan, as he usually does.

In 2001, he beat the high-octane St. Louis Rams 20-17, and although the Patriots were badly beat from the line of scrimmage in that game, they forced three turnovers, including one interception returned for a touchdown that kept them in the game.

In 1990, Belichick was defensive coordinator for the Giants and they defeated the high-flying Buffalo Bills 20-19. Again, Belichick was outgained badly from the line of scrimmage but found a way to win that game by letting Buffalo run the ball but taking away its potent passing attack.

The Giants also controlled the clock by holding the ball for over 40 minutes in that game. Here we go again, and although New England has a better offense than Belichick had in either of the two previously mentioned games, it figures Belichick will come up with a game plan to keep Atlanta somewhat contained. And, that gives us an excellent chance for this game to come in under the high posted total.

There still is some doubt as to how good the New England defense is. The Patriots are certainly above average, but this will be the toughest test they have faced this season.

In every scenario I run, the best I get is New England by three points or fewer. If its defense isn’t quite as good as the numbers because of facing a weak offensive schedule, then Atlanta has an excellent chance to win this game and certainly stay within the three point line. I would look for this game to stay under the high total.

My forecast: ATLANTA 28, NEW ENGLAND 27

Scott Kellen @SixthSenseNFL is a Las Vegas professional bettor.

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