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February 21, 2018

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Super Bowl by the odds: Vegas pick and preview of Eagles vs. Patriots

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Rick Osentoski / AP

Official balls for the NFL Super Bowl LII football game are seen at the Wilson Sporting Goods Co. in Ada, Ohio, Monday, Jan. 22, 2018.

Super Bowl 52

Which side would you take in Super Bowl 52? (Poll consensus year to date: 8-11-1)
Eagles plus-4.5 — 52.7%
Patriots minus-4.5 — 47.3%

This poll is closed, see Full Results »

Note: This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

For indecisive sports bettors, the last 13 days have been a super bowl of second-guessing.

The two-week break between the NFL’s conference championships and its final game has many benefits like building interest and boosting teams’ chances to be at their best. But it can be counterproductive to those looking to bank a profit in the final football game for six months.

There’s the risk of information overload, with so many sources analyzing the Super Bowl from so many different angles that it’s only natural to get turned around. It’s times like these where a gambler’s best move is often honing in on what’s brought his or her success in the first place.

That’s what Talking Points will try to do in the final pick’em of the year. Will the blog stay the course with the side and vision of the game it’s already written about or listen to all the noise and stray?

Find out below. The record on the season picking every game stands at 148-110-7 — 36-16 on plays, 45-39-4 on leans and 67-55-2 on guesses.

Super Bowl 52: Philadelphia Eagles vs. New England Patriots in Minneapolis; 3:30 p.m. on NBC

The line: Patriots minus-4. So much for that suggestion that the line would eventually shift towards the Patriots after settling at minus-5 following the first night of action. It’s done the opposite, proving that even on the biggest stage, sports betting patterns can be unpredictable. Who would have ever guessed the Eagles were on their way to being the public side in the Super Bowl three weeks ago when few would even touch them as a home underdog to the Falcons? Now they’ve prompted as much as a 2.5-point line move after some shops opened the Patriots as high as a 6.5-point favorite. So much also for the short-lived narrative that the Eagles would be the biggest Super Bowl underdog in nine years. With the shift in the odds, there have now been three teams that have taken more points in the Super Bowl since 2009 — the Saints were plus-5 against the Colts in 2010, the Ravens were plus-4.5 versus 49ers in 2013 and the Broncos were plus-5 taking on the Panthers in 2016. All of those underdogs, of course, ended up hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

The matchup: Taking into account the season as a whole, this is the strongest Super Bowl pairing possible and one that’s incredibly evenly matched. The Patriots and Eagles shared the best point differential in the league during the regular season at plus-162. They’re the two top rated teams by Football Outsiders’ DVOA. Most would say New England has the best offense in the league. Some would say Philadelphia has the best defense. There’s a reason these were the two favorites to reach this point when they were both at full strength in the second half of the regular season.

Going into week 14, the Patriots were offered at Even money to win the AFC at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook while the Eagles topped the NFC odds at plus-350 (risking $1 to win $3.50). Back then, the Patriots projected as about a 3-point favorite over the Eagles on a neutral field. But that was with Carson Wentz behind center for Philadelphia, so shouldn’t Nick Foles merit more of an adjustment than 1 or 1.5 points? Not necessarily, not when looking back to how the market responded when the switch was first made. With Foles taking over the injured Wentz for the first time in week 15, Philadelphia went from only a 9- to a 7.5-point favorite over the Giants. The line didn’t look flawed afterwards even though Philadelphia failed to cover in a 34-29 victory. It was to no fault of Foles, who threw for four touchdowns and no interceptions at a clip of 6.2 yard per attempt.

But something else stood about the Giants’ game — and, to a lesser extent, the previous week’s 43-35 win at the Rams. It was the worst the Eagles’ defense looked all year. And that seemed to be because the Giants, which employed the second-fastest offensive pace in the NFL this season, were pushing tempo. New York also found success and covered against Philadelphia in week 3, losing 27-24 as 5-point underdogs. The Eagles are going to face another team that likes to shave off seconds in between plays in the Super Bowl. The Patriots were fifth in the NFL by pace.

As strong as the Eagles’ defense has been over the course of the season, the Patriots appear to present some real matchup problems. The Patriots’ best weapon is Rob Gronkowski at tight end, the one position the Eagles have found trouble defending this year. There’s been a lot of talk that the Eagles will be able to rattle the Patriots with their knack for pressure. But analytics rate the Patriots’ previous two playoff opponents, the Jaguars and Titans, as superior in that department and they were able to survive their onslaughts. New England offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia is considered one of the best in the history of his position, and an extra week of scheming would theoretically play to his advantage. And all of these edges are before even broaching the big one — Tom Brady, who’s about to pick up a third NFL MVP award and the odds-on favorite for a fifth Super Bowl MVP trophy. Put simply, Brady’s career inspires trust.

To back the Eagles, bettors need to have a similar level of trust in Foles. That hasn’t hurt anyone so far, as Foles has outperformed Brady this postseason. He’s completing 78 percent of his passes for 9.5 yards per attempt to Brady’s 67 percent completion rate and 6.9 yards per attempt. Neither Foles nor Brady have thrown an interception in the two games and have faced defenses of comparable strength. Overblown concerns with Foles boiled over after the aforementioned Giants’ game when he looked outmatched and turned the Eagles’ offense anemic in point-spread losses to the Raiders and Cowboys. That set up anyone who believed in the Eagles well, as they were a plus-400 fourth choice to win the NFC coming into the playoffs. But it should also be a reminder of the fluctuations that have followed Foles throughout his career. He can look like a Pro Bowler one game, and an XFL prospect the next. New England’s defense seemingly gives him an opportunity to look more like the latter. The unit has encountered its share of problems this year, ranking near the bottom of the league in giving up 5.6 yards per play and particularly struggling against the run. Perhaps Foles won’t even have to carry the bulk of the offensive burden, and the Eagles can rely on streaking Jay Ajayi and former Patriot LeGarrette Blount to win their first Super Bowl.

The Patriots usually have a way of figuring these things out, though — even when facing a 28-3 deficit late in the third quarter. Longtime Talking Points readers probably know the blog’s rule of not picking against the Patriots unless there’s unequivocal value on the other side. Here, the line looks fair and has probably even adjusted properly. But how many times has that seemed to be the case during the tenure of Brady and coach Bill Belichick? For another frequent blog touchstone, here’s Belichick’s lifetime against the spread record in New England — 187-130-5. He’s repeatedly shown an ability to defy the numbers, but in the case of Super Bowl 52, there might not even be anything to defy. There’s a comfort and consistency with backing the Patriots, which are in line to win a sixth Super Bowl in 16 years.

The pick: Patriots minus-4 (play)

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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