Happy Super Bowl Week! I have a bunch of numbers (and contextual explanations for why they matter) coming at you in the run-up to the awesome matchup between the Rams and Bengals in Super Bowl LVI, but I wanted to take a few minutes to give you five of my favorite early picks for the game and five picks that are ... murky ... based on value.
What do I mean by value? Well, I ran one million simulations of this game (I'll do another million on Friday) and then compared my results to the lines and implied odds provided by Caesars. Below, you'll find the five picks where there is the biggest net difference between the implied odds from Caesars and my model's odds, along with five more where the odds are nearly aligned.
Let's give this a go!
EDITOR'S NOTE: The odds cited below are provided by Caesars and current as of 6:30 p.m. ET on Monday, Feb. 7.
1) Odell Beckham Jr. to score a TD (+112)
OBJ only has six receiving touchdowns as a Ram, with the most recent coming against Arizona during Wild Card Weekend. Beckham has only even had one game with more than 100 receiving yards since he joined the team in November, and that was his 113-yard outing in the NFC Championship Game. Yet, my models have him reaching paydirt in 52.2 percent of simulations, which delivers nice value over the sub-50 percent implied odds. Why do my models like this? Because in my eight-season sample, high QB-to-WR connections (those with a +120 passer rating) are indicators for TDs; they are more related to big plays, and big plays are more likely to turn into TDs. When targeting OBJ this postseason, Matthew Stafford has a 123.9 rating -- the seventh-highest mark in any of the previous five playoffs (min. 20 targets, per Next Gen Stats). Oh, and Beckham is catching 72.7 percent of targets of 10-plus air yards in this year's tournament.
2) Joe Burrow to attempt more than 36.5 passes (-110)
Burrow has attempted more than 36.5 passes in just eight contests this season; however, he's done it four times in his past five games. My models have Burrow with at least 37 attempts in 54.5 percent of simulations. Why? In large part due to a high probability of short passes. Burrow throws short on 51.7 percent of his attempts (fourth-highest rate in the NFL), averaging a whopping 7.4 yards per attempt (most in the NFL), per NGS. And we know the Rams prefer to play their corners off the line, as evidenced by them being the only team to have played more than 450 snaps without a defender in press coverage, according to Pro Football Focus. The Rams' ability to generate a ton of pressure up front also suggests a high number of throws, with Zac Taylor likely to mitigate the heat on his QB -- and aid the O-line -- by scheming up quick passes that imitate runs. Important to note: Although the Bengals may be able to churn up yards via the quick-passing game, TDs will be harder to come by, as L.A. owned the best TD-to-INT ratio in the NFL on short throws (3:6).
3) Joe Burrow to have more than 2.5 rushing attempts (+100)
Here's another line that Burrow has only crossed eight times this season -- and just twice in his previous five games. It's easy to say that pressure leads to scrambling, which is true, but there's more to the story here. I have Burrow rushing on at least three plays in 54.5 percent of simulations, compared with the implied 50 percent; my models are pretty conservative, so 4.5 percent is fairly dramatic. Why? Quarters coverage (cover four, cover six). The math says not to play single-safety shells against Burrow, who is the best in 2021 in every metric we track. But against certain two-safety shells -- quarters -- his passer rating drops by 20 (113.6 to 89.6). The Rams' 287 snaps in quarters coverage is the most in the NFL, and they rate in the top 10 when they use it. Burrow forecasts to run to avert pressure and to beat blanket coverage downfield.
It's the "and" that is key here, as this special implies that both marks are only reached in 29.41 percent of game outcomes. My models have both thresholds being passed in 40.5 percent of outcomes. Akers has yet to surpass 55 yards in a game in his four appearances since returning from an Achilles injury, but his yards after contact last week went up to 3.08, and he's had two 10-plus-yard rushes so far, which flags for explosive-play potential. Kupp has had more than 102 receiving yards in four of his last six games.
5) Cooper Kupp's longest reception will be over 28.5 yards AND Ja’Marr Chase has over 5.5 receptions (+215)
The implication of these both being achieved in only 31.75 percent of game outcomes is a significant difference from my model forecasting this in 43.9. Kupp averages 28.0 yards per target on deep passes this season, including playoffs (the most in a single season since 2018), posting the most receptions (28) and receiving yards (818) on vertical routes (go, corner, post, wheel), per NGS. Chase has excelled downfield, as well, becoming the first rookie in the NGS era to lead the NFL in deep TD passes over an entire regular season (seven). But in this game, my models have more certainty about the number of receptions Chase will have, in part because he does not project to be shadowed by Jalen Ramsey. The two elite talents forecast to match up some, but NGS shows the All-Pro corner lined up wide on 88.1 percent of postseason snaps and in the slot on just 7.7 percent. Meanwhile, Chase has played in the slot on 16.8 percent of postseason plays. He has had six or more catches in four his last six games.
1) Matthew Stafford passes for more than 279.5 yards (-125)
Stafford passes for at least 280 in 50.1 percent of simulations, and these odds imply a percentage of 55.6. Whenever something falls within the confidence range of 49.0 percent to 50.9 percent, that's always a flag to look deeper into the why and how. The why here is in part because the Bengals are allowing increasingly more rushing yards per game in recent weeks; they gave up 139 to the Chiefs in the AFC title game and have allowed an average of 127.3 rushing yards over the past three weeks in the playoffs, easily above their average of 106.2 (including playoffs, ranked eighth best). There's also the fact of Trey Hendrickson's pressure rate (19.4%), which was the best in the NFL, per NGS. Keeping the play-calling balanced between the pass and the run is the higher-probability path for the Rams to take.
2) Joe Burrow passes for more than 273.5 yards (-115)
The odds imply this will happen 53.49 percent of the time, which is too close to what my models have (occurring in 54.2 percent of simulations) for this not to be a murky call. However, I do like pairing both QBs to throw for over 1.5 passing TDs (+129, for just those two) and over 0.5 INTs (combining all four is +650).
3) Joe Mixon logs over 16.5 rushing attempts (-115)
Mixon has attempted at least 17 rushes in three of his last five games, which is what drives the implied rate of 53.49 percent. To me, this only happens in 51.6 percent of simulations, as we've seen Mixon's use in the short passing game increase. Over his past five games, he's been targeted 29 times, hauling in 26 catches for 216 yards and a TD.
4) Tyler Boyd has over 3.5 receptions (-160)
Boyd has caught at least four passes in six of his last eight games. The odds here could be a reflection of C.J. Uzomah's uncertain status. At 61.5 percent, this pick meaningfully surpasses my 54.8 percent result. Burrow to Boyd has really been special on intermediate passes since Week 7 (76.5 percent completion rate, 14.8 yards per target, 157.5 passer rating). While my model suggests this outcome is more likely to happen than not, the lack of value makes this one my model wouldn't want to take on its own.
5) Cam Akers' longest rush will be under 14.5 yards (-140)
My models think the over has some value (+110). As mentioned above, Akers' two 10-plus-yard rushes this postseason and improving yards after contact per carry, in conjunction with the Bengals' decreased run stopping ability, paint an unclear picture here.