The 2016-17 season ended on a high note, hitting the over in dramatic fashion. I’ll discuss more about the game and my thoughts on it at the very bottom of this post. I first wanted to thank a few groups of people.
FIRST: To my 2016-17 clients, thank you for being part of yet another winning season, my 11th in 11 years of doing this. NFL computer totals, my specialty, hit 65% during the regular season, and with the 6-2 (75%) results for totals issued in the postseason (I grade all postseason releases as personal plays, regardless of whether the totals model was the source for them or not) I recorded a 28-14 (67%) final result on totals this year. This comes after my NFL totals hit 71% in 2015 and 61% in 2014.
Thanks to the success from my NFL computer totals this year and last year, my lifetime record in these has increased from 60% in 718 recommendations to 61% in 752 recommendations. And those numbers don’t even include the postseason success.
Overall in 2016, we hit 58% in the NFL, for another solid season of results. But more than just the win percentage, I hope you were able to take advantage of the knowledge I tried to share in the form of my detailed write ups. I know there are many services who refuse to provide insight into their selections, for fear it will impact their bottom line. As you can see, it does not impact my bottom line. What it does is make me work harder and smarter to continue to study the NFL each and every week looking for edges both from a betting, coaching, strategy or match-up perspective on a weekly basis. And I love doing that. As a result, there is no doubt in my mind that you guys are easily the most educated group of clients on the planet. To be able to win on an annual basis as well as share so much innovative information with you guys each week is extremely rewarding to me, and I hope you feel the same.
SECOND: To those subscribing to the Sharp Football Analysis Podcast, thank you for all of your feedback and positive reviews, both on iTunes and on Twitter. It has been a blast recording these with Evan Silva of Rotoworld and both he and I are constantly hearing from you guys about how unique and useful these podcasts are, and that is exactly what we’re going for. There are a lot of DFS specific podcasts out there, which talk about player prices and ownership, etc. There are a lot of sports betting specific podcasts out there, which talk about ATS win rates and make predictions. But our podcast talks about football, first and foremost. The hope is to teach you about the game, playing efficiently, and dissecting match-ups that will matter each week. Our belief is that by educating you about edges and mismatches, you will be able to use that information to make intelligent decisions whether they are DFS related or sports betting related. We missed a number of episodes mid-season this year but closed out the year strong and look forward to more in 2017.
THIRD: To those who checked out Sharp Football Stats.com this year, thank you for getting involved on the ground floor for some of the most enhanced visual statistical innovation the NFL has seen. The uses of the website are limitless, but the next step is continued innovation on my part. I plan to spend significant time over the next 6 months further developing, improving and enhancing the website. I have lofty goals and a long list of new features I want to add. I’ll be discussing the future of the website with multiple well-known individuals and there could be big changes (for the positive) in store for 2017, so I’m extremely excited for that. But thank you for checking it out and for spreading the word. Please continue to do so in order to have more intelligent information widely available for all to enjoy and explore.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST: For everyone who purchased the 2016 NFL Preview, the first version available in print at Amazon, thank you for helping make the book a best seller on Amazon when it launched! Along with my extensive work planned for Sharp Football Stats, I plan to start next week on the early work for the 2017 NFL Preview. I hope you enjoyed last year’s edition. I hope it was educational and taught you something about the basics of efficient football. I also hope you learned about the teams and what to expect from them heading into the season. As good as I felt when I finished last year’s edition, I am fully confident that the 2017 version will be even better. I have plenty of new ideas I plan to incorporate and while it will be a ton of hard work these next 5 months, I plan to have it ready no later than July 1, 2017.
TO EVERYONE: This season was another extremely successful one. I feel really satisfied with the content I was able to produce this season. Whether it was my 2016 NFL Preview magazine, the podcasts, the launch of Sharp Football Stats, the weekly recommendations and detailed write-ups for clients and my in-season articles at ESPN, it was a lot of work but I hope it was well received and was useful for you. Thank you for checking me out at all of those platforms. In this space, it does feel like those who approach their work seriously, with honesty, creativity and a ton of effort are noticed, and for that I am thankful. I wring out every last drop of energy I have on a daily basis during the season, because I love analyzing football. I hope that is evident. I enjoy the offseason because I can still entertain my creative football juices with other projects I have lined up, but can also return to a semi-normal sleep schedule and spend more time with my family. So you won’t find me complaining about the lack of football. I have so many football analytics related ideas that by the time training camps open, I’m going to wish I had more time to accomplish everything I envisioned. As you can see, there is a lot to look forward to as it related to the 2017 season!
AS FOR THE SUPER BOWL: The first quarter was all about field position. The Falcons started drives from their 8 and 12 yard line, while the Patriots started drives from their 10 and 25 yard line. So while I was concerned for our over, it was not because I thought either defense was better than I anticipated, rather, the field position had both play callers operating on a slightly more conservative note.
The second quarter is where Blitzkrieg! came to fruition. Atlanta’s two TD drives against the “Number One” defense each took only 5 plays and gained 71 and 62 yards. Matt Ryan posted a perfect 158.3 first half passer rating and the Falcons rushed all over the #4 run defense, absolutely destroying the Patriots at the edges, as you can see below via Sharp Football Stats.com
Meanwhile, the Patriots were still getting the ball with terrible field position, starting their second quarter drives at their own 16, 18, 25 and 25 yard lines. But their offense finally came to play against this terrible Falcons defense. Apart from one 3-and-out, those second quarter drives gained 62, 53 and 37 yards. Each drive gained multiple first downs and each drive ended well into scoring position: the Atlanta 23, 23 and 33 yard lines. But they fumbled on 1st down at the Atlanta 29, and threw an interception on 3rd and 6 on the Atlanta 23. And the drive where they kicked the FG from the Atlanta 23 saw them drive to a 1st down on the Atlanta 15. But they had just 23 seconds left in the half, and a pass that took them down to the Atlanta 3 was called back with an offensive holding penalty. The bottom line was, even with a 21-3 score at halftime, it was evident to me that the Patriots offense could produce against this bad Falcons defense, and the Falcons offense was certainly more than capable of scoring against the Patriots “number one” defense.
The third quarter went just fine for the Falcons offensively overall. But there were two key changes in the 3rd quarter that ultimately swung the game. The first was that the Patriots began to bottle up the run. After averaging 9.6 YPC in the first half, the Falcons averaged only 1.6 YPC in the third quarter. Despite terrible field position on their two drives (starting at their own 15 and 19) the Falcons were still able to string together a proficient 85 yard TD drive to extend their lead to 28-3. But that drive was extremely one dimensional: 74 yards were via passing (with 3 via a pass interference penalty).
But the second thing that really changed for the Falcons was the time of possession. The Falcons defense was on the field the entirety of the final 8:48 of the first half, thanks to two long drives by the Patriots, one of which ended with a pick-6. And thanks to a nice 6:25 drive by the Patriots in the 3rd quarter, the Falcons defense was on the field a ton and was completely gassed. What I envisioned happening early, happened much later. Thanks to the score, the Patriots offense used tempo and kept the Falcons defenders on the field without allowing many substitutions. And these players got completely worn down.
The Patriots first drive of the second half would be the only drive of the rest of the game that they punted. They shifted to passing the ball on 79% of their second half plays. Tom Brady delivered a 105 passer rating in the second half, and, they scored 24 points on their final 3 drives of the half, completely exploiting the NFL’s worst red zone defense of the Falcons, converting on 4 of 6 trips.
In the 4th quarter, up 28-9, the Falcons should have tried to run the ball more often. The problem was they became too predictable. On their 6 first downs, they ran the ball 50% of the time. They averaged just 3 YPC and found themselves in 2nd and long as a result. Whereas on the other 50% of first downs when they passed the ball, they were successful 100% of the time. So obviously Kyle Shanahan felt better about the pass game. And almost every time something bad happened, it came as a result of the run game:
1) After recovering an onsides kick at the NE 41 at the end of the 3rd quarter, Ryan gained 9 yards on first down via a pass. Now in FG range at the NE 32, they ran the ball on 2nd and 1. Not only did they lose 1 yard, they were flagged for holding, putting the ball back on the 42, and they ultimately were forced to punt.
2) After driving down to the NE 22 thanks to an epic catch by Julio Jones with only 4:40 left in the game, they ran the ball on 1st and 10 and lost 1 yard. Now faced with 2nd and 11, it was an obvious passing situation and the Patriots pressured and sacked Ryan back to fringe FG range at the 35. They successfully passed for 9 yards to the NE 26, but the play came back due to a holding penalty. And they were forced to punt.
I completely understand the thought process of fans who wanted the Falcons to run 3 times from the NE 22 and then kick the FG. It seems like a slam dunk in retrospect. But as you can see from 1) above, even a run play could have resulted in a holding penalty. That said, I likely would have advocated runs regardless. But the story of that second half was the run defense finally shutting down the Falcons run game, coupled with their poor decision making down the stretch. See the below of the Falcons run game in the second half, and compare the results to the first half:
Overall, I did not expect the Patriots to end the first half with only 3 points, but I don’t believe that point total was indicative of their offensive performance by any means. I expected the Patriots “number one” defense to fall short of their title, and in most respects they did. The Falcons offense was successful on a whopping 63% of their offensive plays. The much lauded red zone defense of the Patriots was eviscerated by the Falcons, as Atlanta ran for 4.2 YPC and Matt Ryan posted a 132 passer rating in the red zone, leading the Falcons to 3 TDs in their 3 trips. I expected the Patriots offense to produce big numbers against this Falcons defense, and they did. As mentioned earlier, they started slow and did more in the first half than 3 points would indicate, but the floodgates opened in the second half against a weak (and tired) Falcons defense.
This Super Bowl had just about everything. And some things we’ve never seen before (like overtime). Both teams made their share of mistakes from a strategical perspective. For instance, I believe the Patriots relied too much on LeGarrette Blount to run the ball on 1st down (8 rushes for 2.5 YPC). The Falcons struggled at the end of the game in situational football. And the fact is, in a close game against Bill Belichick, you can’t struggle at the end in situational football because his team rarely does and that made the difference.
Kyle Shanahan’s offense was designed incredibly early on. On first down, Matt Ryan was 10/10 for 17 YPA and a 152 rating. They did many great things in this game and on the season. They had a great run and it will be fascinating to try to watch Kyle Shanahan wear multiple hats and see even close to similar success in San Francisco with such little talent. As for the Patriots, it’s another year and another successful season. How do they keep it up? How about the fact that 30 of their 53 man roster is receiving their first ring, even though New England won the Super Bowl in the 2014 season. They reload and roster build extremely well. And part of that has to do with Brady’s unnaturally low salary, which should draw more eyeballs than it currently does. Both of these teams had incredible seasons and were great Super Bowl representatives, and the game was as compelling and thrilling as they come.