Vegas Outliers provides a quick snapshot of year-to-date Vegas trends and their daily fantasy implications for the Super Bowl. For more of our fantasy football content, visit the FantasyLabs NFL homepage.
The playoffs did not disappoint, and the Super Bowl looks like it should be a great game. Underdogs are 9-1 against the spread this postseason and the Super Bowl now presents us with an epic quarterback battle between Tom Brady and some other random guy named Nick Foles. To understand how the Patriots and Eagles have performed vis-à-vis Vegas, I’ve collected the point spreads and game totals for Weeks 1-20 and put them next to the year-to-date production data.
I’ve created a Vegas Plus/Minus metric (similar to our proprietary daily fantasy Plus/Minus metric) that compares actual production in points per game (PPG) with the totals implied by the Vegas data. A positive number means that a team scores more points than its implied total; a negative number, fewer points. If a team hits its Vegas-implied expectations in a game, that counts as a win; if a team fails to hit expectations, that’s a loss.
The Patriots have the slight advantage with 28.72 PPG, but they are disadvantaged with a -0.32 Plus/Minus and have hit their Vegas expectations in just eight of 18 games. The market has been highly efficient at accounting for New England’s offense, which makes sense. Brady has started 287 games for the Pats (including playoffs) since 2001. That’s quite the data set. In any given game the Pats can over- or underperform their offensive expectations, but in the aggregate they tend to offer implied totals that are accurate. For the Super Bowl they dominate with a total of 26.75 points. Brady will likely have high ownership.
No Carson Wentz, no problem: Despite entering the NFC Championship as +3.0 home underdogs, the Eagles defeated the Vikings thanks to a strong performance by Foles. Over the past two games, Foles has completed 77.8 percent of his 63 pass attempts for 598 yards and three touchdowns (and no interceptions). For the season, the Eagles have a highly beneficial +4.35 Vegas Plus/Minus. In Foles’ four starts (minus his partial Week 17), they have a +4.31. Foles isn’t Wentz, but in the aggregate the Eagles have outperformed their Vegas expectations with him almost as much as with Wentz. No team in the league has hit its implied total more often than the Eagles have.
Vegas Opponent Plus/Minus
When thinking about game script, spreads, and over/unders, we should take defensive performance into account, so I’ve created a Vegas Opponent Plus/Minus. A positive number means that a team allows fewer points than its opponent’s implied total; a negative number, more points. If a team holds an opponent below its implied total, that’s a win; if a team allows an opponent to hit expectations, that’s a loss.
The Patriots have an intriguing unit. The Pats have held opponents below their implied Vegas totals in a league-high 12 games. They’ve been especially strong since Week 7. In the first six weeks of the season, they allowed every quarterback they faced to pass for a minimum of 300 yards while half of their opponents hit their Vegas expectations. Since then, not one quarterback has passed for 300 yards and they’ve held opponents below their implied totals in nine of 12 games. The Eagles scored an impressive 38 points in the NFC Championship against a tough Vikings defense, but the Pats defense has been more than competent for the past three months. The Pats don’t have the best pass rush, but they’ve averaged 4.5 sacks per game over their past eight contests and their four starting defensive backs all have Pro Football Focus grades above 80.0.
The Eagles defense has been overlooked for much of the season, but it’s a near-elite unit. The touted Jaguars held opponents to just 17.74 PPG this year; the Eagles, 17.33. The Eagles defense entered the playoffs fifth in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), and the unit is incredibly balanced, ranking seventh against the pass and third against the rush. In the playoffs they have limited the Falcons and Vikings to a combined 17 points. Not one of the 11 players in Philadelphia’s base nickel defense has a PFF grade lower than 75.0.
To highlight teams that tend to play in games that fall short of or surpass the Vegas total, I’ve created an Over/Under Differential metric. A positive number means that a team on average participates in games that hit the over; a negative number, the under.
Ever since the Pats defense toughened up in Week 7, they have a -6.13 Over/Under Differential and a 4-8 over/under record. There might not be much value in taking a position on the game total, which opened at 47.0 but has quickly moved up to 48.0 — but the Pats could drive this game to the under with their bend-but-don’t-break defense.
The point spread is the go-to number for Vegas and DFS, as it is predictive of game script and outcome. I’ve created a Spread Differential metric so we can see how teams have done on a PPG basis relative to the spread. A positive number means that a team on average overperforms the spread; a negative number, underperforms.
This should be a great game. As they have for much of the year, the Eagles lead the league with their +7.56 Spread Differential. In Foles’ four starts (minus Week 17) the Eagles have been too discounted, resulting in a +9.50 Spread Differential. That number is inflated because of the small sample, but as underdogs they have destroyed the spread over the past two weeks against two very good teams. Throughout the season they have outscored their opponents by a league-high average of 11.00 PPG. Even without Wentz, the Eagles are an impressive team.
The Pats, though, are no less impressive. This season they have outperformed their opponents by an average of 10.39 PPG — the second-highest mark in the NFL — and they are tied with the Eagles with their league-best 12-6 ATS record. Amazingly, they are 10-2 with a high +5.38 Spread Differential (and an average spread of -9.13) since Week 7, when they evidently learned how to play defense: Opponents have scored only 14.50 PPG since then. Brady will likely face consistent pressure from a line led by edge defender Brandon Graham and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, both of whom have elite PFF grades above 90.0 — but in the AFC Championship the Pats put up 24 points against the Jags even though they were without tight end Rob Gronkowski for over half of the game. Just over a month ago the Eagles allowed quarterback Eli Manning and a Giants team without a No. 1 wide receiver and a head coach to score 29 points and throw for 434 yards and three touchdowns. Even with a tough matchup, the Pats could still put up points.
In a contest of No. 1 seeds, the Eagles ultimately seem to be the more enticing team. They opened as +6.0 underdogs, but the line has moved to +5.5 even though they’ve gotten just 46 percent of the spread bets. Translation: The early sharp money is on the Foles-led Eagles.
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Matthew Freedman is the Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs. He has a dog and sometimes a British accent. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he’s known only as The Labyrinthian.
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