NFL Playoffs 2018: Predictions

I’m somewhat of a casual NFL fan (no I don’t watch every game), but each year I like to make predictions week-by-week throughout the playoffs as to who I think will win.  I make these predictions for the sake of general fun; sometimes I don’t even watch the games.  I do not make predictions under the deluded assumption that I’ve somehow been gifted with special insight and/or genius that enables me to consistently pick winners and win large sums of money by placing bets in Vegas.

Before I get into my NFL playoff picks for 2018, you should know that I will not be betting any money on the games.  Why? Because, of all major professional sports in the United States, football (NFL) outcomes are among the most difficult to predict; only hockey (NHL) outcomes are more unpredictable.  (If you’d like to read more about this, look up the “skill-luck continuum” for sports created by Michael Mauboussin, a Legg Mason Investment strategist).

For this reason, anyone who is ultra-confident in their NFL money-line or ATS (against-the-spread) picks probably shouldn’t be.  Moreover, even if someone ends up winning big on an NFL playoff bet does not mean that they’re some sort of prophet – they may end up losing even bigger on a future bet.  Finally, although I’m not against sports betting, I want to emphasize that this article is not intended to encourage gambling.

NFL (2017/2018) Pre-Season Super Bowl Pick: New England Patriots

Prior to the start of the 2017-2018 NFL season, the New England Patriots were my pick to repeat as Super Bowl champions.  In my opinion (shared by most fans and analysts), the Patriots have the best coach (Bill Belichick) and arguably the best quarterback on any given Sunday (Tom Brady).  Additionally, the Patriots generally secure a first-round “bye” with home-field advantage for one or more games throughout the playoffs – this year is no different.

The Patriots also play in the AFC, which in my opinion, is usually a bit weaker than the NFC; this is my opinion – it may be unfounded.  Anyways, as of writing this article, it looks like the Patriots are looking like a serious threat to take down most teams in the AFC.  Assuming current Las Vegas odds are accurate, the New England Patriots are favorites to win Super Bowl 52.

Odds to Win Super Bowl 52 a.k.a. LII (2018)

Included below are the odds for all 12 teams to win the Super Bowl this post-season.  As expected, the Titans and Bills are near the bottom of the barrel – nobody is really giving them much of a shot.  The Vikings are behind the Patriots in terms of favorites to win because they had an awesome season (especially defensively), and the Super Bowl will be played in Minnesota (so they could get home field advantage).

  1. New England Patriots +210
  2. Minnesota Vikings +375
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers +525
  4. New Orleans Saints +750
  5. Los Angeles Rams +900
  6. Philadelphia Eagles +1200
  7. Kansas City Chiefs +1800
  8. Jacksonville Jaguars +2200
  9. Carolina Panthers +2500
  10. Atlanta Falcons +2500
  11. Tennessee Titans +7500
  12. Buffalo Bills +7500

I’m not particularly partial to any team on this list, however, I do like the Steelers, Saints, Chiefs, and Jaguars.  Of all teams on the list, the Steelers are probably my favorite to watch (most firepower on offense) and the Patriots are a close second.  I don’t really dislike any team on this list either… I’m glad to see some totally unexpected teams in the playoffs (e.g. Rams, Jags, Titans, Bills).

NFL Playoff Predictions (2018)

Included below are my predictions for the 2018 NFL Playoffs.  I’m mostly just going with my “gut” on these games.  And by “gut” I mean my brain’s ambiguous thoughts about which team is better than the other – based on a combination of this season’s performance, as well as last season’s performance.  Understand that my picks will be listed “round by round” – I’m not attempting to pick the entire playoffs in advance (although that might be something fun to try next year).

NFL Wild Card Games (2018)

The first round of the playoffs includes 4 games played between 8 teams (4 AFC; 4 NFC).  I’ve taken the time to list the following for each game of the 2018 NFL Wild Card: date/time, moneyline, spread, and over/under.

Tennessee Titans vs. Kansas City Chiefs (AFC)

  • Date: Jan 6, 2017
  • Time: 4:30 PM (ET)
  • Moneyline: Chiefs (-420)
  • Spread: Chiefs (-8.5)
  • O/U: 44

Chiefs are a heavy favorite against Tennessee and rightfully so.  Titans limped into the playoffs with a win on their final game of the year.  Had the Titans lost their final game of the regular season to Jacksonville, a much tougher team (the Chargers) would’ve been in… If I’m the Chiefs, I’m thankful for drawing the Titans – it’s pretty much a layup to start things off.

That said, every once in awhile, layups are missed.  The Titans certainly could win – this is NFL playoff football.  However, the Chiefs have an elite hall-of-fame coach, seasoned quarterback, and some incredible firepower on offense… oh, and they’re playing at home!

The Chiefs record at home this season is 6-2 whereas the Titans record on the road is 3-5.  The Chiefs also have the #6 ranked offense (points scored per game) and #15 ranked defense (points allowed per game).  By comparison, the Titans have the #19 ranked offense (points scored per game) and #17 ranked defense (points allowed per game).

Considering the respective home/away records for each team, as well as the offense/defense rankings – the Chiefs should be considerable favorites.  Moreover, the Titans will be without DeMarco Murray (MCL injury)… and I’m not picking them to pull off the upset.  My highest confidence prediction of all Wild Card games is this one – I’m rocking with the Chiefs.

  • Drew’s pick: Chiefs

Buffalo Bills vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (AFC)

  • Date: Jan. 7, 2017
  • Time: 1 PM (ET)
  • Moneyline: Jaguars (-420)
  • Spread: Jaguars (-9)
  • O/U: 40

To be completely transparent, I haven’t closely watched either of these teams all season.  I saw part of the game in which the Bills got shellacked by the Patriots (23 to 3), but I wouldn’t call that much of a game; very predictable, very boring.  In my fantasy league, I used the Jaguars D/ST and they tore it up (although not quite enough for me to survive the semi-finals).

I know that the Jaguars are pretty lethal on defense compared to most teams.  In fact, they’re ranked #2 in the league in points allowed per game (~16.8).  Although when Bortles was drafted I was hopeful that he’d turn out to be elite, he’s been pretty average this year – maybe even a little below average.  That said, the receiving corps and running back (Fournette) have been nothing short of impressive.

Surprisingly, the Jaguars are ranked #5 overall on offense, averaging 26.1 points per game.  They also have a home record of 6-2.  For the sake of comparison, the Bills are ranked #18 on defense (allowing ~22.4 points per game) and #22 on offense (scoring ~18.9 points per game) with an away record of 3-5.

I don’t have anything against the Bills – and enjoyed seeing how excited they were after hitting their longshot and, by a minor miracle, making the 2018 playoffs.  Though the Jags are an inexperienced playoff squad – so are the Bills.  Could the Jags choke this game away? Sure, but I wouldn’t bet on it… I’m rocking with the team that makes sense here (and one of my all-time personal favs).

  • Drew’s pick: Jaguars

Atlanta Falcons vs. Los Angeles Rams (NFC)

  • Date: Jan. 6, 2017
  • Time: 8:15 PM (ET)
  • Moneyline: Rams (-250)
  • Spread: Rams (-6.5)
  • O/U: 48

This is perhaps the trickiest of all games to pick a winner – and the spread reflects it.  The Falcons were in one of the best divisions in the entire NFL this year – grouped with the Saints and the Panthers.  The Falcons also dominated en route to the 2017 Super Bowl, but then, by some glitch in this simulation that we call reality: Falcons choked in sync with the Patriots playing flawlessly.

Many predicted that the Falcons would have no problem making it back to the Super Bowl.  Most people even suggested that the Falcons should be favorites to win the 2018 Super Bowl based on returning talent and 2017 domination.  However, prognosticators that picked the Falcons as their pre-season Super Bowl pick are now biting their tongues – most have already shifted their picks to the Patriots.

Anyways, let’s hash out some relevant stats for this one.  The Rams somehow have a home record of 4-4 (they’re actually much better on the road – with a record of 7-1).  Maybe this is actually a home field disadvantage?  The Falcons have a record of 5-3 on the road – which is pretty solid.

Falcons also had a much higher strength of schedule (#4 overall) compared to the Rams (#11 overall).  Comparing offenses, the Rams have the #1 offense in the league – averaging 29.9 points per game, whereas the Falcons have the #15 offense – averaging 22.1 points per game.  Comparing defenses, the Rams have the #12 defense (allowing 20.6 ppg) whereas the Falcons have the #8 defense (allowing 19.7 ppg).

I’ve watched both teams this year and have been surprised with: how poorly the Falcons looked in certain games and how dominant the Rams looked in many games.  The Falcons coaching strategy seems poor, especially considering the talent that they possess on offense.  The Rams coaching strategy has been great all year.

If I’m comparing quarterbacks, the distinct advantage goes to the Falcons.  If I’m comparing running backs, I’ll consider it a tossup.  Falcons also have a lethal weapon at wide receiver (Julio Jones).  Because I still think the Falcons are one of the top teams in the league in terms of talent – it’ll come down to coaching.

If the Falcons coach steps his game up – they should be able to pull off the “upset” and win this first-round game.  I’m not sold on Goff nor the Rams playing at home.  If this matchup were last year – nobody would even have considered the Rams.  One year later and everyone seems to be picking the Rams just because they had a hot season.  I’m going with my gut for this opener and taking the Falcs.

  • Drew’s pick: Falcons

Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints (NFC)

  • Date: Jan. 7, 2017
  • Time: 4:30 PM (ET)
  • Moneyline: Saints (-280)
  • Spread: Saints (-7)
  • O/U: 48.5

This is yet another very tough matchup for me to select a winner.  I’m somewhat of a casual Saints fan and against most teams, I cheer for Brees – he’s one of my favorite quarterbacks to watch (plus he’s got a pretty cool first name *wink *).  Anyways, along with the Falcons, the Panthers and Saints were in [arguably] the most difficult division of 2018 (sans the Buccaneers).

Though I remain indifferent when it comes to cheering for the Panthers, they have some players that I think are impressive: Greg Olsen, Luke Kuechly, Devin Funchess, and the head honcho, Cam Newton.  In terms of all-around athleticism, I think Cam is the most athletic quarterback in the NFL.  He’s got the total package in terms of strength, size, speed, and throwing ability.

Although both quarterbacks are solid, based on what I’ve seen, Brees played better than Cam this regular season.  At the running back position, I think the Saints have the advantage with Kamera and Ingram, however, McCaffrey has been solid.  I also think the Saints have a slightly superior receiving corps compared to the Panthers, however, I think the Panthers benefitted significantly from getting Greg Olsen healthy for the playoffs.

On the season, the Saints are 7-1 at home, whereas the Panthers are 5-3 on the road.  In head-to-head divisional matchups, the Saints defeated the Panthers by double digits each game.  Panthers had a slightly higher strength of schedule than the Saints, however, the Saints had the #4 offense (~28 points per game) whereas the Panthers had the #11 offense (~22.7 points per game).

On defense, each team allowed an average of 20.4 points per game.  When considering all the stats and head-to-head record this season between the teams, it’s tough to pick against the Saints.  That said, I think the Panthers are a bit underrated due to their difficult schedule and the fact that they had to make some offensive adjustments during the season (traded Kelvin Benjamin, waited for Greg Olsen to get healthy, etc.).

I’m not totally convinced that the Saints will pull this one off – even at home.  The Panthers are a very dangerous team – and probably have the better defense (even though average points allowed are the same among these teams).  My “gut” is screaming at me to pick the Panthers… (yes, my gut actually screams), but I’m going to ignore my gut and go with my head a.k.a. logic based on the stats and take the Saints.  This is easily the best matchup of the first round.

  • Drew’s pick: Saints

Thoughts on the Wild Card Outcomes (2018)

I was surprised by the fact that the Titans pulled off a victory.  After Kelce got knocked out of the game (concussion) the entire Kansas City offense seemed inept.  The Titans didn’t look overly impressive, but Mariota made some decent passes, Delanie Walker was solid, and Henry (the running back) played well.

However, it didn’t look like anyone was attempting to tackle Henry for the first 5 to 10 yards of his runs in the second half – so this might’ve been a subpar defensive showing for the Chiefs.  I was not surprised by the fact that the Falcons and Jaguars were victorious.  The Falcons looked good as was expected and, although they won by 13, they could’ve won even more convincingly against the Rams.

The Jaguars game was one of the most boring playoff games I’ve ever seen (glad I didn’t watch most of the first half).  Granted they were playing an elite defense, the Bills looked absolutely pathetic on offense, especially at quarterback (they need a new one) – LeSean McCoy was the only guy doing much of anything for the Bills offense.  Jacksonville looked almost as inept as Buffalo on offense, but slightly better.

Nevertheless, it seemed like Bortles didn’t get many opportunities to actually throw the ball.  When he actually made some passes, his throws seemed accurate (he threw a clutch TD in the second half).  The running by Bortles and Fournette was formidable, and the Jacksonville defense carried the team to victory – making for a very boring game with a bit of excitement at the end (Bills had an opportunity to tie with under a minute in the 4th quarter).

The best game of the Wild Card round, as I predicted, was the Panthers versus Saints.  Although I picked the Saints and was correct, I lucked out with this pick (and the Saints lucked into victory).  The Saints played quality football, but had the Panthers not made a couple key mistakes, they would’ve won the game… possibly with ease.

Cam’s throws were all on the money, but his receivers made some timely drops.  The biggest drop of the game was committed by Clay in the end zone (which would’ve been an early TD).  Immediately after the dropped TD, Panthers’ kicker Gano misses an early “chip shot” filed goal – his first miss from under 30 yards or something (granted he made up for it by nailing every kick thereafter).

Assuming Panthers would’ve either: caught a perfect TD pass OR hit their initial field goal kick (from less than 30 yards), they would’ve likely been victorious.  Moreover, there may have also been some serious defensive coverage errors by Carolina on defense.  Nonetheless, the Saints still played very solid football and, as most “experts” predicted, got the job done.

Correct Wild Card picks: 3 of 4 (75%)

NFL Divisional Playoffs (2018)

Well, after somewhat of a dismal set of Wild Card games, the Divisional playoff matchups are set.  Teams that rested up with the first round “bye” will now be playing.  Included below is the date, time, moneyline, spread, and over/under (O/U) for each game – along with a brief analysis and my predictions.

Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles

  • Date: Jan. 13, 2018
  • Time: 4:35 PM (ET)
  • Moneyline: Falcons (-145)
  • Spread: Falcons (-2.5)
  • O/U: 41

The Falcons tuned up the Rams in Los Angeles for a convincing 26 to 13 victory in the Wild Card round.  As I make my predictions, I like to review a few key stats associated with each team, including: respective away and home records; offensive points per game; defensive points allowed per game; and strength of schedule.  If we factor in the first round of the playoffs, up to this point, the Falcons have had the most difficult strength of schedule in the entire NFL for the 2017-2018 season.

By comparison, the Eagles have had a below-average strength of schedule, ranking in at #17 in the league.  During the regular season, the Falcons had a record of 5-3 on the road, whereas the Eagles had a record of 7-1 at home.  Defensively, the Falcons are ranked #8 in the league (allowing ~19.3 points per game), whereas the Eagles are ranked #4 in the league (allowing ~18.4 points per game).

Although I consider the Eagles to have a very solid defense, I’m aware of the fact that the defense benefitted all season from having Wentz controlling the offense.  With a good ball control and time management on offense, it keeps the defense off the field – allowing them to get more rest than defenses of teams with poor offenses.  Moreover, scoring a lot of points on offense (like Wentz did) makes the opposing team take more chances (i.e. risks), ultimately increasing the chances that the defense will capitalize on risky plays.

If Wentz were able to play, this would be a far more difficult game to pick.  That said, even if Wentz were healthy and playing in this game, I’d have a hard time picking against the Falcons – they’re absolutely loaded on offense and underrated on defense (partly due to their strength of schedule).  Everything considered, the Falcons have a superior offense, an equally strong defense, momentum from their first round victory, and a winning record on the road – I’m rocking with the dirty birds for this one.

  • Drew’s pick: Falcons

Tennessee Titans vs. New England Patriots

  • Date: Jan. 13, 2018
  • Time: 8:15 PM (ET)
  • Moneyline: Patriots (-850)
  • Spread: Patriots (-13.5)
  • O/U: 47

The fact that the Titans won their first round of the playoffs proves that we are living in a simulation controlled by aliens… and that the aliens want the Patriots to have the easiest possible opponent for their first game of the 2018 postseason.  In all seriousness, I wonder what the preseason odds were for the Titans to not only qualify for the playoffs, but win a playoff game – probably astronomically high.  Anyways, for this game, I don’t need to share any statistics to help me make my pick – I’m going with New England and not even thinking about it.

If there were one game I’d actually consider placing a wager on, this would be it.  (Back up the Brinks truck and dump it all on New England Patriots moneyline).  Despite this being my highest confidence pick, let’s compare some statistics to see how each team stacks up.  Both teams have horrendous strength of schedules: Titans’ schedule ranks in at #29 and Patriots’ schedule ranks in at #27 for the season.

The Patriots have a 6-2 record at home, whereas the Titans have a 4-5 record on the road during the regular season.  Offensively, the Titans are ranked #18 (averaging ~20.9 points per game) and the Patriots are ranked #2 (averaging ~28.6 points per game).  Defensively, the Titans are ranked #18 (allowing ~22.2 points per game) and the Patriots are ranked #5 (allowing ~18.5 points per game).

In sum, the Patriots are statistically superior to the Titans in all critical measures: strength of schedule; respective records at home and away; points scored per game on offense; points allowed per game on defense.  Moreover, the Patriots have a superior coach (the best in the league), superior quarterback (arguably the best in the league), and are well-rested after a first-round “bye.”  I’m expecting a convincing New England victory (by at least 2 touchdowns) at home, however, I’ll cheer for the underdogs to put up a fight.

  • Drew’s pick: Patriots

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Date: Jan. 14, 2018
  • Time: 1:05 PM (ET)
  • Moneyline: Steelers (-330)
  • Spread: Steelers (-7.5)
  • O/U: 41

The Jaguars looked abysmal on offense against the Bills while playing at home in Jacksonville.  I was surprised that the Jags didn’t put up a few more points – at least kick another field goal or something.  The Jaguars versus Bills game was easily one of the most boring playoff games I’ve ever watched (thankfully I mostly just watched the second half).

Although the Jaguars defense looked pretty good (as they have all season), they weren’t exactly facing an elite offense – this helped their cause.  Now the Jaguars will be traveling to Pittsburgh to face, in my opinion, the single most loaded offense in the league: Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’veon Bell, JuJu Smith-Schuster, et al.  First, let’s discuss the strength of schedule for the Jaguars during the 2017-2018 season – they rank in at #32 (dead last in the league).

Because the strength of the Jags’ schedule was so poor, I suspect that their offense and defensive statistics are somewhat misleading on the year.  By comparison, the Steelers strength of schedule ranks in at #16 – slightly below average, but not nearly as easy as that of the Jags.  Offensively, the Jaguars average 25.1 points per game (#8 in the league), whereas the Steelers average 25.4 points per game (#7 in the league).

Defensively, the Jaguars allow just 15.9 points per game (#2 in the league) whereas the Steelers allow 19.2 points per game (#7 in the league).  If we adjust for strength of schedule, I’m not sure that, statistically speaking, the offense or defense of the Jaguars would appear as strong as they did.  Moreover, the game is in Pittsburgh and the Steelers boast a 6-2 home record, whereas the Jaguars are 4-4 in away games.

Do I think the Jaguars defense could step up and neutralize the Pittsburgh offense?  Sure.  Ben could throw a couple picks and/or other players could commit turnovers and help the Jaguars’ cause.  Do I think that the Jaguars could win this game? Yes – this is not a proverbial “lock” like the Patriots game.

That said, I think the Steelers are lethal on offense, decent on defense, and are playing an overrated team who looked atrocious on offense against the Bills in the first round of the playoffs.  Gotta roll with the Steelers to win this one at Heinz Field.

  • Drew’s pick: Steelers

New Orleans Saints vs. Minnesota Vikings

  • Date: Jan. 14, 2018
  • Time: 4:40 PM (ET)
  • Moneyline: Vikings (-200)
  • Spread: Vikings (-3.5)
  • O/U: 45.5

This is by far the most difficult game of the Divisional playoff matchups to pick a winner.  The Vikings are notorious for choking away games in the playoffs – remember when they played Seattle a couple years back?  That said, historical context doesn’t really matter for this game – the Vikings have a new team and were the second ranked team in the NFC on the year.

I was very impressed with Case Keenum (didn’t expect him to play as well as he did) and the rest of the Vikings offense.  Anyways, the Vikings enter this game with a 7-1 home record on the year, whereas the Saints have a 4-4 away record on the year.  Since Minnesota is playing at home, this gives them an advantage – they clearly do better in home games and the Saints are well-known for poorer performance on the road.

When comparing the strength of schedule for each team, Saints rank #8 overall and Vikings rank #9 overall – making them relatively similar.  The Saints are ranked #4 overall on offense (averaging ~28.2 points per game), whereas the Vikings are ranked #10 overall on offense (averaging ~23.9 points per game).  The Saints are ranked #10 overall on defense (allowing ~20.7 points per game), whereas the Vikings are ranked #1 overall on defense (allowing just ~15.8 points per game).

If we were to solely consider statistics, the Vikings should be the team to pick as the winner.  Entering the season, I figured the Vikings would have a strong defense – but not be #1 overall.  No outcomes would surprise me in this game: blowout by either team, close game wins by either team, and/or wins by moderate margins by either team.

The Vikings should be well-rested after their “bye” week and highly-incentivized to win this postseason considering the fact that Super Bowl 52 will be played in Minnesota.  (If they keep winning, they’ll end up with home field advantage in the Super Bowl).  Vikings also beat the Saints 29-19 early in the season (September 11).  To me, this is a coin flip – so I’m taking the better defense and home team.

  • Drew’s pick: Vikings

NFL Conference Championships (2018)

After an exciting batch of Divisional playoff games (sans the Patriots game), the Conference Championship matchups are set for 2018.  Both of these matchups have potential to be “good games,” however, I think that one matchup is far more intriguing than the other.  Included below is the date, time, moneyline, spread, and over/under (O/U) for the 2018 AFC and NFC Championships, respectively.

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots

  • Date: Jan. 21, 2018
  • Time: 3:05 PM (ET)
  • Moneyline: Patriots (-480)
  • Spread: Patriots (-9)
  • O/U: 46.5

The Jaguars looked far more impressive against the Steelers in Pittsburgh (for the Divisional matchup) than they did at home against the Bills (in the Wild Card round).  Bortles didn’t commit a single turnover and was able to throw one TD, and Fournette looked like a full speed armored tank at running back for Jacksonville.  The Patriots won their “layup-of-a-game” against the Titans at home, and now have another relatively salivating matchup at home against the Jags.

Considering how powerful the Jags looked this past weekend against the Steelers, most would expect them to put up a much better fight against New England than the Titans.  In my opinion, Jaguars have a much better running back (Fournette) than the Titans, better receivers than the Titans, and a marginally better quarterback (Bortles).  Moreover, the Jaguars are absolutely loaded on defense compared to the Titans.

For this reason, they should be able to matchup with New England better than the Titans did.  I will reiterate the fact that Jaguars have the #2 defense in the league (allowing ~15.9 points per game) and their offense is ranked #8 (scoring ~25.1 points per game).  Though the Jaguars had the weakest regular season schedule of any team (#32 overall), they are a well-rounded and talented squad that’s capable of beating any team.

Moreover, the Jaguars record is now 5-4 on the road this season (if we count their most recent playoff win).  By comparison, the Patriots have a 7-2 record at home this season (if we count their most recent playoff win).  Defensively, the Patriots are ranked #5 in the league (allowing ~18.5 points per game) – which is not too far below the Jags.

On offense, the Patriots are ranked #2 overall (scoring ~28.6 points per game) – which is better than the Jaguars.  Though I’ll be cheering for the Jaguars, I expect the Patriots to take care of business as usual and get another win at home.  Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the Patriots organization is a dynasty that doesn’t lose too often in the playoffs.

Could the Jaguars pull off the win here? Yes.  Would it be smart to pick the Jags for an upset? Not particularly.  New England has far better coaching, the superior offense, the hall-of-fame QB, and home field advantage.

  • Drew’s pick: Patriots

Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles

  • Date: Jan. 21, 2018
  • Time: 6:40 PM (ET)
  • Moneyline: Vikings (-180)
  • Spread: Vikings (-3.5)
  • O/U: 38

After securing the most dramatic playoff win of 2018 (arguably of all time), the Vikings are traveling to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles.  My guess is that if you were to ask “neutral fans” within the general public who will win this game, most would probably say the Vikings.  Why? Because the Vikings won their last game with an insanely exciting finish – and the resulting excitement and/or hype surrounding the Vikings has blinded most fans to the chances of the Eagles winning this game.

Due to the “Miracle in Minnesota,” I think the odds are somewhat inaccurate to open this game.  A majority of the bettors are happy to back the Vikings after the exciting finish – despite the fact that the Eagles are still a solid football team, especially at home.  If I were to do a quick knee-jerk assessment of the matchup, I’d say that the Eagles are moderately better than the Vikings on offense, whereas the Vikings are only marginally better than the Eagles on defense.

Coaching is a relative “wash” (both coaches are solid), and Eagles have home field advantage.  Minnesota boasts an impressive record of 6-2 on the road, however, the Eagles have an 8-1 record on their home turf.  Vikings have the #1 overall defense (allowing just ~15.8 points per game), but the Eagles defense ranks in relatively high at #4 overall (allowing just ~18.4 points per game).

Offensively, the Vikings rank #10 for 2017-2018, averaging ~23.9 points per game whereas the Eagles rank #4 in the league for 2017-2018, averaging ~27.8 points per game.  That said, we know that the Eagles haven’t been able to put up as many points since Foles replaced Wentz.  Moreover, we know that the Vikings had a more difficult regular season schedule (ranking in at #9) than the Eagles (ranking in at #17).

Considering the Eagles relatively lackluster schedule, it’s possible that their defense and/or offense might be ranked lower – especially if their schedule was swapped with the Vikings.  All that said, this is a very difficult pick and definitely not a smart game to bet on.  Before viewing the odds and doing a brief analysis, my gut was telling me to take the Vikings.

However, the Eagles are playing at home with their rabid fan base behind them – this bodes well for the offense and especially the defense.  Comparatively, the Vikings defense will not be able to feed off the energy of the crowd as they did against the Saints.  I expect a tough, “smash mouth” game by both defenses and would not be surprised if there are a few injuries (e.g. concussions) as a result of hard hits.

I think the Eagles have the better quarterback than the Vikings (by just a little), a significantly better running game, and a modestly better receiving corps.  The Vikings have a better defense than the Eagles, but not substantially.  The Vikings will not get away with throwing up 50/50 floaters (i.e. jump balls) against the Eagles defense.

In summary, before doing this analysis and considering the odds – my gut told me to take the Vikings, mostly based on how beastly their defense is, and has been, all season.  That said, the more I analyze the matchup and consider home-field advantage for Philly, the more I think the Eagles could secure the home victory.  While the Vikings may have more incentive to win this game and return to Minnesota for the first ever “home field” Super Bowl, I think the Eagles are equally motivated and will shut down Keenum at Lincoln Financial – despite being “home field underdogs.”

Though this would be the first-ever Super Bowl for each team, part of me wants to see the Vikings win just because they’ve been horrible for years, will get a “home field” Super Bowl, and because I love watching that defense.  Nevertheless, I think the Eagles are being massively underrated right now, especially at home.  Eagles are my pick to win.

  • Drew’s pick: Eagles

NFL Super Bowl 52: LII (2018)

  • Date: Feb. 4, 2018
  • Time: 6:30 PM (ET)
  • Network: NBC
  • Moneyline: Patriots (-200)
  • Spread: Patriots (-5)
  • O/U: 48

Well, we have a nice 1-week break between the Conference Championships and Super Bowl 52 (LII).  I’m not sure which team will derive greater benefit from the break… perhaps neither team will benefit more from the break than the other, yet one team might derive greater detriment from the break than the other (some teams do better with momentum).  That said, each of these teams proved that they can win games after a 1-week break (as evidenced by respective wins over the Titans and Falcons).

Though the Falcons were the tougher team to beat coming off of a break, the Patriots looked great and put up more points against the Titans (a weaker team).  Nonetheless, each team was coming off of the break with a home game – and the Super Bowl will not be a home game.  During the regular season, each team trounced their opponents following “BYE” weeks – and each team was the “away team.”  (Eagles beat the Cowboys 37-9 and Patriots beat the Broncos 41-16).

Like I’ve done for every game thus far, I’m going to make some comparisons between the two teams in: strength of schedule, offensive points per game, defensive points per game, away records, and coaching.  (Because there weren’t any head-to-head matches between the teams this year, there’s no telling how each team might “match up”).

  • Strength of schedule: Eagles #15 vs. Patriots #29 – Eagles had the tougher schedule all year, but this shouldn’t be used to suggest that they are somehow a superior team than the Patriots; Patriots dominated the relatively weak schedule that they were given.
  • Offensive points per game: Patriots ~28.7 vs. Eagles ~28.3 – Each team averages approximately the same number of points per game. Patriots put up 24 points against a solid Jags defense last week, yet the Eagles racked up 38 points on the #1 ranked Vikings defense… this statistic is pretty much a wash.
  • Defensive points allowed per game: Eagles ~17.3 vs. Patriots ~18.3 – Eagles allow about 1 point less than the Patriots per game. I don’t think there’s really much debate as to which defense is better – the Eagles have the better defense.  That said, most people don’t realize how solid the Patriots defense is and has been all season; they are usually overlooked because the Patriots offense gets most of the attention from fans.
  • Away records: Pats 7-1 vs. Eagles 6-2 – The Patriots had 1 more win on the road this season than the Eagles. Since both teams are playing in Minnesota for the Super Bowl, I figured this stat was worth investigating.  Despite the fact that the Patriots won 1 more game on the road, we must account for their weaker schedule here; this is pretty much a wash.
  • Coaching: Patriots are known to have the best coaching staff in the league. Belichick is undoubtedly the best coach in the league, and arguably the best coach of all time.  Belichick’s supporting coaches of McDaniels (offense) and Patricia (defense) are also great.  Although the Patriots have a coaching advantage, the Eagles coach Doug Pederson has looked like a genius all season.  The supporting coaches Frank Reich (offense) and Jim Schwartz (defense) have also been money all year.
  • Playoff & Super Bowl history: We know that the Patriots are the winningest playoff team of the present era. With Tom Brady and Belichick at the helm, the Pats have won 5 Super Bowls, making them 2nd to the Pittsburgh Steelers for most total Super Bowl rings… If the Patriots win this one, they’ll be tied with the Steelers for 6 franchise Super Bowls.  With their current squad, the Eagles don’t have much playoff experience – let alone Super Bowl appearances.  If playoff and/or Super Bowl experience counts for anything – the Patriots have the advantage.

If considering just offensive points per game and defensive points per game, I’d say there should be a slight advantage for the Eagles.  However, when factoring in coaching and playoff experience, I’d say there should be a slight advantage for the Patriots.  Now I’m going to give my opinions (rather than the stats) about how the teams compare on offense, defense, coaching, and other variables.

  • Offense: Patriots have the best quarterback in the league and arguably the best tight end in the league (Gronk). However, it’s unclear as to whether Gronk will be cleared to play in the 2018 Super Bowl.  At the time of writing this, Gronk hasn’t been practicing and it’s unknown as to whether he’ll pass concussion protocol and be cleared to play. (I’m going to write this under the assumption that he will end up playing).  Brady is a superior QB to Foles and Gronk is a superior TE compared to Ertz, Celek, and Burton.  That said, the combination of Ertz, Celek, and Burton is probably better than having a single “Gronk.”  Comparing the running games of each team, it’s obvious that the Eagles are superior, rolling 3-deep with Ajayi, Blount, and Clement.  The receivers of each team are solid with Cooks, Amendola, Hogan (Pats) and Jeffrey, Agholor, Smith (Eags).  Because the Pats have Brady and solid receivers, one could easily argue that they are the better team offensively.  However, if I consider the Eagles depth at RB, TE, and WR – I think they have the more talent (sans QB) and am giving them the slight advantage in terms of non-QB offensive talent.
  • Defense: Casual NFL fans consistently sleep on the Patriots defense, assuming that their offense is the only thing that matters. Although the Patriots offense helps out the defense by putting up nearly 29 points per game, the defense has been rock solid all season – allowing just around 18 points per game… Newsflash: Up to this point, the Patriots have the #5 defense for the 2017-2018 season (including playoff games) – they are no joke, and in my opinion, are heavily slept on.  That said, the Eagles have the #2 defense for the 2017-2018 season (including playoff games) and, if given a casual “eye test” comparison, look better than the Patriots defense.  So in terms of defense, I’m giving the talent advantage to the Eagles.
  • Special teams & Kickers: In terms of “special teams,” New England has a slight advantage over the Eagles, averaging 0.4 points per game compared to 0 for the Eagles. At the kicker position, I’d give the advantage to New England.  Gostowski has made 92.5% of his field-goal kicks this season, whereas Elliott has made just 83.9%.  Additionally, Gostowski is far more experienced than Elliott – gotta give the Pats the advantage here.
  • Coaching: This Super Bowl will be one last hurrah for the Patriots coaching staff of Belichick, Patricia, and McDaniels. We already know that Patricia has committed to the Detroit Lions, whereas McDaniels seems to be considering the Colts.  In my opinion, there’s greater incentive for the 3-headed coaching monster, headed by the mastermind that is Bill Belichick, to win one final Super Bowl while they’re all together – than there is for Doug Pederson, Reich, and Schwartz to win their first Super Bowl.  Still, Doug Pederson probably doesn’t get enough credit for what he’s done in Philly… the guy is ultra-competitive and seems to have called perfect game-plans thus far for Foles et al.  I’m giving the advantage to the Patriots coaching staff for this one, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if Pederson drew up another gem for his squad.

If considering my personal assessment, you’d think I’d be leaning towards picking the Eagles… and you’re absolutely correct.  Even though this is an away game in Minnesota, and Vikings fans are apparently signing up as Uber & Lyft drivers to shuttle Eagles fans to the wrong location (relatively petty if you ask me), I think the Eagles have a slight advantage and are being underrated once again; hence the “dogs” (i.e. underdogs).

That said, the stadium is indoors and will be perfect conditions for Brady to snipe his receivers.  I guess the perfect conditions will also help Foles’ throwing, especially considering he was shut down against the Falcons – partly due to harsh winds.  I guess I’m just glad that there’s no chance that the outcome will be affected by random elements (e.g. rain, snow, etc.) – indoor stadiums for the win.

In terms of extracurricular Super Bowl-related happenings, Lane Johnson (of the Eagles) has vowed to keep his promise of free beer for Philly fans if they win the Super Bowl – assuming he buys every Philly fan ~1 beer, this will cost him just over $3M.  Also interesting is the fact that the 30-year-old Eastern European betting prodigy (or perhaps lucky guy), who won $8M in Game 6 of the World Series finals, has allegedly wagered $10M on an Eagles victory.

Although I’ve been leaning towards picking the Eagles to win this game, the Patriots were my pre-season pick to win it all.  Furthermore, I know how lethal the Patriots can be in the postseason… there’s good reason that the Pats are favorites – when it comes to Super Bowls, they usually get the job done (against teams without Eli Manning).  Somewhat comically, Apple’s “Siri” picked the Patriots (because she goes with the favorites) but Amazon’s “Alexa” picked the Eagles (great programming).

Overall, I think this game is a legitimate coin-flip pick… A majority of the mainstream sports prognosticators will pick the Patriots because they have a history of winning Super Bowls.  Moreover, the mainstream prognosticators rarely pick against the favorites – in any game (most picked chalk (i.e. favorites) throughout the playoffs thus far).

If I were forced to make a bet on the game for an even, heads-up exchange (such that for every $1, I’d win $1 if correct and lose $1 if incorrect) – I’d probably flip a coin – I’m not convinced either way.  While the Pats were my preseason Super Bowl pick, and I won’t be surprised if Brady and Belichick win another Super Bowl, I think that this is a coin-flip type game.  For this reason, I’m going with the team I want to win.  Like Amazon’s Alexa, I’m flying with the Eagles to win the Super Bowl in Minnesota.

  • Drew’s pick: Eagles

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