Predictably Predictable Predictions– Super Bowl Edition

‘sup? It’s ur boy Benny Gloves checking in. No more pretenders, only contenders. Make sure you got your 6ft subs and your squares that you did just for fun with the office cuz it’s the “Big Game.” LETS GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

BTW, We here at PPP don’t do squares, because squares require no skill and are lame. This year PPP did a prop bet pool. And let’s just say that the coin flip better be Tails (never fails) and that Justin Timberlake better be wearing white shoes.

Sunday 2/4/18 Super Bowl LII

Eagles vs. Patriots 6:30 PM NBC

The Story: After two weeks of talking about fictional movie character statues, Bradley Cooper and the proper etiquette of parental mouth kissing there is nothing left to say but, Two men enter, One man leaves…

Keys to the Game: This is a very difficult game for PPP to analyze. As you know PPP loves the numbers. But in order for the numbers to be useful we need meaningful sample sizes, which we should have by the time we have completed the regular season and made it all the way to the Super Bowl. We should know who these teams are, but in what is the key matchup of this game, the numbers lie and we really have no idea. Conversely, each team may have the exact right pieces to exploit the other team and follow well known blueprints for success.

Way back in their divisional round matchup against the Falcons, we told you to throw out everything you thought you knew about the Eagles on offense. Their well earned season long #1 DVOA rankings in red zone and 3rd down offense were earned thanks to the skills of then MVP front runner Carson Wentz at QB. But as everyone knows, Wentz went down with a season ending knee injury, and Nick Foles has been their starter since week 15. Not only is Foles’s 4 game sample size waaaaaay too small to produce any meaningful data. But even within those 4 games, Foles’s performance has yo-yo’d all over the place. He looked promising throwing 4 TD’s against the Giants, then stunk against the Raiders. In the playoffs he had a safe game manager type performance throwing short passes (and benefiting from an all time lucky bounce on one of his few downfield throws) against a weak ATL DEF, before turning in a performance for the ages against a stacked MIN defense where he looked like the Del Bomber leading an explosive downfield passing attack. PPP has been impressed with PHI coach Doug Pederson’s ability to game plan. So far he has put Foles in position to succeed and while much has been made of his use of RPO’s, they really aren’t anything new. PPP heard Doug Flutie on the radio the other day talking about running them way back when he was playing in the CFL. What is more impressive has been Pederson’s ability to target opponents weak spots and go against trend. ATL had a poor tackling defense, so he and Foles utilized short quick throws that were designed to get the ball to playmakers in space where they could break tackles and run after catch. MIN clearly expected a similar attack and were not ready when PHI opened up their OFF and took advantage of the Vikings over aggressiveness with double moves. That’s all good stuff, but if anyone claims to know anything about what the Eagles are going to do and how Foles will perform, they are lying. Oh and in case you want some numbers, the Eagles red zone performance so far under Foles, would have ranked 21st overall in the NFL and their rushing offense since week 15 would have ranked 31st. On a more positive note their Foles led 3rd down OFF has remained productive and would have maintained a top 3 overall ranking.

The unit that Foles will be up against also has PPP like 🤔🤔🤔. It’s well known that NE came into the playoffs with the 31st ranked DEF by DVOA, that was by far the worst ranking on any individual unit on any of the playoff teams. In fact since 1986 no team has won the Super Bowl with an OFF or DEF unit ranked lower than 25th. But here is where the Pats DEF really befuddles the analytics crowd. The Pats ranked 32nd in yards per drive allowed, but they were sixth in points per drive allowed. Our friends over at Football Outsiders have drive stats going back to 1993, and in that time no other defense has ranked in the top 10 in points per drive while ranking 26th or lower in yards per drive. Quite simply you should not be able to do that. By DVOA NE has an outstanding 4th ranked red zone and respectable 12th ranked 3rd/4th down DEF. It appears that their best skill is “being clutch”, which any self respecting blog writer who uses DVOA stats will tell you is not a thing. Want another “clutch” brain bender from the Pats DEF, they were 27th in pressure rate but 10th in adjusted sack rate. It’s like they are the most interesting DEF in the world, they don’t always pressure the QB but when they do they get sacks. One more thing to note about the supposedly bad Pats DEF is that their season long poor rankings are largely due to a particularly horrible start to the season. But as tends to happen with these Pats teams they have really improved as the season has gone along. Since their Week 9 bye, and including the playoffs, the Patriots have 3.1% DVOA against the pass, which ranks 15th, and have allowed just 5.32 net yards per pass. Beginning in Week 16, and including the playoffs the Patriots have a run defense DVOA of -23.6%, which would have ranked second behind Arizona during the regular season. They have gone from allowing 5.1 yards per carry to allowing 3.3 yards per carry. And while that’s a small sample size, all 4 games came against teams (BUF, NYJ, TEN, JAX) who came into the matchup wanting to run the ball. One area where the Pats have been consistently bad all season is running backs catching passes down field. Their LB’s are slow and haven’t been good in space or in one on one coverage. This type of action hasn’t really been a big part of the PHI OFF this season, but Coach Pederson has proven to be adaptable. Is this NE DEF good or have they just been lucky? Again PPP be like 🤔🤔🤔.

On the other side of this matchup, we have the opposite, not only do we know who the NE OFF and PHI DEF are but we also have a pretty good idea of what they are going to try and do to each other. This is a real strength on strength matchup as we have the #1 OFF vs. the #2 DEF by weighted DVOA (which accounts for more recent performances) going head to head. So what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Well everyone knows that the way you beat Tom Brady (and really any QB) is to get consistent pressure, especially up the middle with only your 4 down linemen which means you can drop 7 men into coverage. It’s often easier said than done. However these Eagles have the pieces and scheme to do it, at least on paper. For the season, PHI sent 4 rushers about 80% of the time. PPP has highlighted him before but Fletcher Cox is a beast on the inside and can definitely supply the needed up the middle pressure all by himself. But he has a lot of help. PHI was the only team in the league to boast five players with 10 or more quarterback knockdowns. And even better for them the Eagles had seven linemen who took more than 40 percent of the defensive snaps this season. This means that they heavily rotate their defensive lineman which should help to keep them fresh, and keep the pass rush strong for all 4 quarters, something that the Seahawks, Falcons, and Jaguars couldn’t do in the most recent string of Brady led playoff comebacks. How will NE combat that? Well that seems obvious too. Spread them out and don’t huddle up. Not only will this help to prevent the D-line from substituting and tire out those rushers but it will allow Brady to get the ball out quickly and into the hands of his playmakers and mismatches. The numbers bear this out too. Thanks to ESPN stats and info, we know that when teams took a minimum of 30 seconds between snaps against the Eagles, Philadelphia’s defense ranked sixth in the league in win probability added. Under 30 seconds, though, and the Eagles ranked 29th in win probability added. If you want visual evidence of this just watch how a legitimately terrible but full time no huddle Giants team went up and down the field in their two loses to the Eagles this season. It’s seems clear what both sides are going to try and do, now who can execute on the biggest stage?

Numbers for Nerds:.353 That’s Nick Foles’s winning percentage (6-11) when he has to lead a 4th quarter comeback. So uhhhhh yeah the Pats definitely get the check mark in “comeback ability” column.

227 That’s the total number of “short fields” (possessions starting on their side of the field) that the NE DEF has faced in the entire Brady/Belichick era. The NFL average is 368 and no other team has faced fewer than 313. So uhhhhhh yeah other NFL teams don’t turn the ball over on your side of the field and you too can have a near 2 decade run of dominance. (H/t to Bill Barnwell for this stat. PPP likes his stuff too)

Breakout Player(s)Stephon Gilmore: The more PPP reads about this game the more we are convinced that Gilmore is going to be the key player for the Pats DEF and if all goes to plan you shouldn’t even hear his name all game. Ideally the Pats can put Gilmore on Alshon Jeffrey 1 on 1 and just forget about that matchup. Not only does this play to Gilmore strengths but it will free up Pats DEF Coordinator Matt Patricia to get creative in providing the help and double coverages the Pats need to stop Zach Ertz, make sure their LB’s don’t get exposed and selectively blitz Foles into big mistakes. Gilmore got a huge offseason deal, time to go earn that paper.

Halapoulivaati Vaitai: This is another breakout Player where his team would be happy to not hear his name called all game. Vaitai has been filling in for injured star left tackle Jason Peters. Since that switch in week 7 PHI’s line has seen their pressure rate go up and he has allowed 8 sacks. He should see plenty of Trey Flowers, who knows a thing or two about breakout Super Bowl performances and has been on absolute fire in these playoffs with 7 QB knockdowns in 2 games. If not him then James Harrison. Vaitai needs to be a reliable blindside protector without much help. He can do it as he had a solid performance against the stout MIN pass rush in the NFC Championship game, but if not it could turn into a long night.

The Pick: The Song Remains the Same, the Beat Goes On, the Dream will Never Die… Pats 28 Eagles 21… Philly has proven itself to be a game underdog and is really a pretty talented team and since it’s a New England Super Bowl it will be a tight tension filled game. But too much Brady, and Gronk and Belichick (and Patricia and McDaniels) to be denied ring #6. See you Feb. 3rd 2019 in Atlanta.

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