Philadelphia Eagles vs. New England Patriots: Super Bowl LII Bowl Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (15-3) vs. New England Patriots (15-3) in Super Bowl LII

Opposing quarterbacks never actually share the field in an NFL game, but the matchup between quarterbacks is usually the most discussed one in an NFL game and the Super Bowl is no different. This year, we have a very unlikely quarterback matchup, for a number of reasons. On one side, the Eagles will start Nick Foles, who no one would have expected to be starting in this game before the season, making just his 6th start of the season after taking over for Carson Wentz when Wentz tore his ACL back in week 14.

On the other side, is Tom Brady, who is in his 8th Super Bowl. Despite his history, Brady playing in this game again at age 40 is highly unlikely when you consider the history of the game, as Brady continued to defy the odds and father time as the likely league MVP in 2017. He led the league in passing yards and the Patriots once again finished with the best record in the AFC and won a pair of home playoff games. With a solid passing day, Tom Brady could become the first quarterback in NFL history with 10,000 career post-season passing yards. Nick Foles doesn’t have 10,000 career regular season passing yards. This will be Nick Foles’ 4th career post-season start. It will be Brady’s 37th. To say this is a mismatch would be an understatement.

Despite all that, Nick Foles is ironically the one who ranks 3rd all-time in single season quarterback rating, posting a 119.2 mark in 10 starts in Chip Kelly’s system back in 2013 (Brady’s best season, 2007, only ranks 4th at 117.2). The problem for Foles is he’s never done anything like that in any other season. Outside of 2013, he’s completed just 58.9% of his passes for an average of 6.42 YPA, 34 touchdowns, and 27 interceptions, which are very much backup numbers.

After an underwhelming season as the Eagles’ starting quarterback in 2014, he was sent to the Rams for Sam Bradford. In 2015, with the Rams, he struggled mightily before being benched for Case Keenum and eventually released the following off-season, after the Rams moved up to #1 overall to draft Jared Goff. As a free agent in each of the following two off-seasons, Foles had to settle for backup work in Kansas City and then back in Philadelphia this season, but, when Wentz went down, he was thrown into the fire as the starter late in the season for a team in control of its own destiny to the #1 seed in the NFC.

Foles hasn’t lost a meaningful game since becoming the starter, as the Eagles also were the #1 seed and won two home playoff games, but Foles has been a mixed bag in 5 starts. Against the Raiders and in limited action in a meaningless week 17 game against the Cowboys, he looked like the quarterback who was released by the Rams. Against the Giants and the Falcons, he looked like a competent starter. And then last week, out of nowhere, Foles had his best game since the 2013 season, completing 26 of 33 for 352 yards and 3 touchdowns against one of the best defenses in the league in a shocking 38-7 victory over the favored Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship.

If Foles does that again, the Eagles will win this game by double digits, but the likelihood of that doesn’t seem high, especially against a New England team that is well coached and has two weeks to study him. Outside of the quarterback position, the Eagles have a better roster with obvious advantages on both the offensive and defensive lines, but the Patriots have the obvious experience, coaching, and quarterback advantage and a strong roster as well. I like how this line has dropped to 4.5 after the Eagles’ win over the Vikings last week and the Patriots’ near loss to the Jaguars. Last week, this line probably would have been about 7.5, and I think dropping this line below 6 is an overreaction to a single week of play. The Patriots are my pick and are worth a small bet against the spread.

New England Patriots 24 Philadelphia Eagles 17

Pick against the spread: New England -4.5

Confidence: Medium

Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots: 2017 AFC Championship Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (12-6) at New England Patriots (14-3)

I made a big play on the Jaguars last week as 7.5 point underdogs in Pittsburgh, but I am much less excited to do the same with the Jaguars here as 7.5 point underdogs in New England. While Pittsburgh had just 5 regular season wins by more than a touchdown, the Patriots had 9 and then had another one last week in a 35-14 victory over the Tennessee Titans. The Steelers were also never the same team after losing Ryan Shazier for the season, while the Patriots enter the playoffs relatively healthy, even if Tom Brady did miss some practice time this week with a cut finger.

The Jaguars could keep this game close because of their incredible defense, especially since they can get pressure on Tom Brady without blitzing, which has always been the formula to beat Tom Brady. Even if the Jaguars don’t have an answer for Rob Gronkowski on defense and even if the Patriots consistently move the chains with runs and passes to running backs, the Jaguars’ defense should be able to keep the Patriots from putting up too high of a number by pressuring him and locking down his outside receivers. However, the Jaguars’ offense is not that complex and could have trouble against a well coached New England defense that has played a lot better in since the first half of the season. I’m taking the Jaguars at 7.5, but if this line moves to 7 by the morning I would take the Patriots. That’s how close this one is for me.

New England Patriots 27 Jacksonville Jaguars 20

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +7.5

Confidence: None

Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots: 2017 AFC Divisional Round Pick

Tennessee Titans (10-7) at New England Patriots (13-3)

The Titans pulled off a stunning upset in Kansas City last week, not only winning straight up as 8-point road underdogs, but coming back from down 21-3 at the half. I wasn’t that impressed with their performance though. I’ve thought for a while that the Chiefs were an overrated team and, even still, the Titans likely would not have had a real chance to come back if the Chiefs didn’t lose tight end Travis Kelce with an injury late in the first half. Losing him completely shut down their offense and even one good drive in the second half probably would have been enough to ice the game, given that the game was only decided by a point. Even without Kelce, you could argue the Chiefs deserved to win because of a few questionable calls by the officials that did not go their way.

On paper, the Titans have a solid roster, but they are poorly coached, especially on offense, where offensive minded head coach Mike Mularkey and offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie have been unable to design an offense that suits quarterback Marcus Mariota’s skill set. They went 9-7 in the regular season, but were tied with the Jaguars for the easiest schedule in the NFL and still finished with a -22 point differential, by far the worst among remaining playoff teams (the Patriots finished first at +162). This line is substantial at -13 and the Titans are still a talented team on paper, so I am not that confident in the Patriots, but this should still be a relatively easy playoff win for New England.

New England Patriots 34 Tennessee Titans 20

Pick against the spread: New England -13

Confidence: Low

New York Jets at New England Patriots: 2017 Week 17 NFL Pick

New York Jets (5-10) at New England Patriots (12-3)

Since losing Josh McCown for the season with injury a few weeks back, the Jets have become arguably the worst team in the league, along with the Browns and the TJ Yates led Texans. They weren’t blown out by either the Saints or the Chargers, but that was because they won the turnover battle in New Orleans (and still lost by 12) and because they got a couple long runs against the Chargers, who were missing key players on both sides of the ball. Neither of those are sustainable ways to win, as both turnover margin and big plays tend to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. The lost the first down rate battle by a wide margin in both games (-9.91% and -11.31%).

New starting quarterback Bryce Petty has been terrible, as he was last season when he was forced into starting action down the stretch, completing less than 50% of his passes in both starts so far this year. Even before having to start Petty, the Jets had no success away from home this season, as they have a -74 point differential in 7 road games this season (10.57 points per game), even though the Saints are the only difficult team they’ve faced on the road this season (Buffalo, Oakland, Cleveland, Miami, Tampa Bay, and Denver are the other 6).

The Patriots are an obvious step up in class and should be favored by much more than 15 in this one. The Patriots covered as 11-point favorites at home last week against the Bills in a game in which they won the first down rate battle by 22.06%. I don’t buy that the Bryce Petty led Jets are only a few points worse than the Bills. The only explanation I can think of for why this line is only 15 is that the oddsmakers think the Patriots could pull their starters in the second half if they are up big, but that’s not historically how they’ve done things in week 17. In fact, they are 12-4 ATS in week 17 games in the Bill Belichick era. The Patriots may pull their starters late in the game if the game is completely out of hand, but by that point they’ll likely have already covered, so I’m not too worried. This is a high confidence pick.

New England Patriots 34 New York Jets 13

Pick against the spread: New England -15

Confidence: High

Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots: 2017 Week 16 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (8-6) at New England Patriots (11-3)

The Bills are 8-6 and right in the mix for one of the two wild card spots in the AFC, which would send them to the post-season for the first time since 1999 and end the longest active playoff drought in the NFL. However, they face a bit of an uphill battle, as their final two games are on the road and they probably need to win at least one of those games to remain in the playoff pictures, with the 8-6 Titans, the 8-6 Ravens, and the 7-7 Chargers also in the mix for those two wild card spots. On top of that, they haven’t been as good as their record suggests, as they have just one win by more than 10 points, as opposed to 4 losses, and have a mediocre point differential of -43. That’s despite having +7 turnover margin, tied for 5th best in the NFL.

Turnover margins tend to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so they won’t necessarily be able to rely on that going forward, and they rank just 31st in first down rate differential at -5.30%. They are also the only team in the league with a turnover margin of +6 and a negative point differential. They are obviously a better team with Tyrod Taylor under center, instead of Nathan Peterman, but even with Taylor under center they’ve had major problems moving the ball because of their lack of pass catchers. On top of that, their defense has had major problems getting off the field without forcing turnovers.

Their opponents this week, the New England Patriots, beat them 23-3 in Buffalo a few weeks back. They rank 6th in first down rate differential at +4.36% and have been even better in recent weeks since working through some early season kinks on defense. The Patriots are also in a great spot, as they have no upcoming distractions with only a home game against the Jets on deck. Favorites of 7+ are 70-43 ATS since 2012 before being favorites of 7+ again, as good teams tend to take care of business against inferior teams when they don’t have any upcoming distractions. The Patriots have not been as good of a bet at home as they have been on the road in recent seasons and we’re not getting much line value at New England -11.5 (I have this line calculated at 12.5), so I would not recommend betting on this one, but the Patriots should be the right side for pick’em purposes.

Sunday update: Buffalo ruled out starting cornerback EJ Gaines, but this line still fell to 11 Sunday morning. I was on the fence about betting this game before, but I think it’s worth a small wager now. Gaines has been having a solid season and their pass defense has been worse when he’s been out of the lineup, something that’s going to be a big problem against Tom Brady.

New England Patriots 31 Buffalo Bills 17

Pick against the spread: New England -11

Confidence: Medium

New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2017 Week 15 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (10-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2)

This is the biggest regular season game of the year in the AFC, and possibly in the entire NFL. These two teams are the only real contenders for the #1 seed in the AFC and the winner of this game effectively gains two games in the standings because they’d own the tiebreaker. If the Steelers win, they move up 2 games in the standings over the Patriots with 2 games left to go and they would own the tiebreaker, eliminating the Patriots from contention for the #1 seed and, depending on what happens with the Jaguars earlier in the day, possibly clinching the #1 seed for themselves. The Patriots, meanwhile, would move into a tie with the Steelers with a win and they’d own the tiebreaker, meaning they’d clinch the #1 seed if they won their remaining two games, which are easy home divisional games against the Bills and Jets.

Both teams had disappointing performances last week in primetime games, as they were understandably a little flat with this game on deck. The Steelers needed a late comeback to win at home over the Ravens by 1, while the Patriots couldn’t quite mount a comeback in an eventual 27-20 loss in Miami to the Dolphins. That comeback by the Steelers is the difference in the standings between these two teams right now, but that doesn’t matter a whole lot, considering both teams still control their own path to the #1 seed. This game will more than likely decide who gets homefield advantage throughout the AFC and homefield advantage in what could easily be a rematch of this game in the AFC Championship game.

Despite the fact that the Steelers currently lead in the standings, I trust the Patriots to bounce back off of last week’s disappointing performance a lot more. Part of that is because they get tight end Rob Gronkowski back from suspension, but it is primarily because bouncing back is what they’ve typically done in the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era. They are 46-24 ATS off of a loss since Belichick took over in 2000, including 37-18 ATS in games started by Tom Brady. They’ve also only lost back-to-back games 5 times in the last 8 seasons.

They’ve typically done well in big games against tough opponents too. With Tom Brady at quarterback, they are a ridiculous 33-12 (35-10 ATS) in games against teams who have a better record than them. That’s a winning percentage of 74.4%, while the league average in that situation is 38.2%. Those aren’t just a bunch of early season games against teams with fluky records either, as they are 14-6 (16-4 ATS) in those type of games in week 10 or later. The Patriots are also close to an auto-bet in games where they basically just need to win to cover, as they’ve gone 48-21 ATS in Tom Brady’s starts as underdogs or favorites of less than 3, including a ridiculous 20-2 ATS off of a loss.

On top of that, the Patriots also happen to be the better team, despite Pittsburgh having the better record at 11-2. The Steelers have had a lot of close calls on the road to 11-2. In fact, their last 3 wins have come by a combined 8 points, even though they were big favorites in all 3 games (at home vs. Green Bay, at Cincinnati, at home vs. Baltimore). On the season, they are 7-1 in games decided by 7 points or fewer and they rank just 9th in point differential at +69. They could easily be 8-5 or 9-4 right now and they’re even worse than that suggests because they are without key linebacker Ryan Shazier for the season with a spine injury.

It’s no surprise that their defense played by far their worst game of the season in their first game without him last week when they allowed 38 points at home to the Ravens. They also struggled without him after he got hurt the week before against the Bengals. They may get top cornerback Joe Haden back from a 4-game absence with a leg fracture, which would be a big boost to this secondary, but that’s far from a guarantee and he may not be at 100% even if he does play.

The Patriots are a clear step up offensively from those the Bengals and the Ravens and have torched the Steelers over the years. Tom Brady is 10-2 in his career against Pittsburgh and not much has changed scheme wise defensively for the Steelers over the years so I would expect more of the same, especially with Shazier out. The Patriots should easily win this one by a field goal or more, so this is my Pick of the Week. I locked this in at -2.5 earlier in the week, but I still would like the Patriots a lot at -3.

New England Patriots 34 Pittsburgh Steelers 27

Pick against the spread: New England -2.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins: 2017 Week 14 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (10-2) at Miami Dolphins (5-7)

The Patriots have been on a great run in recent weeks, winning 8 straight wins, including 4 straight by 17+ points since their week 9 bye. Over those last 4 wins (Broncos, Raiders, Dolphins, Bills), they have a 22 point per game margin of victory. They seem to be rounding into the Super Bowl favorite most expected them to be before the start of the season, even despite some injuries. Their defense is much improved, led by cornerback Stephon Gilmore, while their offense has remained unstoppable.

The Patriots are also on an impressive 15-game winning streak away from New England. They’ve covered the spread in 12 of those games and have an average margin of victory of 13.67 points per game. The Patriots have a national fanbase like the Cowboys, so it makes sense that they are able to have success regardless of where they play. In fact, it’s possible there will be more Patriots fans than Dolphins fans at this game. That being said, I can’t recommend betting on them this week. They are 11.5 point road favorites, which is a big number to cover without suspended tight end Rob Gronkowski, even against a weak opponent like the Dolphins. For pick ‘em purposes, however, the Patriots are the smarter choice, as it’s usually a good idea to pick Tom Brady unless you have a good reason not to.

New England Patriots 26 Miami Dolphins 13

Pick against the spread: New England -11.5

Confidence: None