For the playoffs, I will post picks on sides and/or totals on all the games since I know people are in contests and pools. I will highlight the ones that I have personally wagered on and will be including the units I have bet as well. I will also mention the specific games that I did not wager on and are for pools and contests only. Note, I will only count the sides and totals that I have personally wagered on for my playoff record.
2019 NFL ATS Record posted in this article:
Supercontest Picks: 40-44-1 (48%)
Thursday Night Football: 11-3-1 (79%)
Other Posted Regular Season Picks: 18-9 (67%)
Wildcard: 0-4 (-5.4 units)
Divisional: 2-2 (-0.75)
Championship: 2-1 (+0.80)
All Posted Picks: 73-63-2 (54%)
Sides and Totals I have wagered on:
- Winning Margin by Winning Team Under 8 (2 Units -114 5Dimes)
- Niners +1.5 (1 Unit -110 5Dimes)
- Niners +7.5/Over 48.5 Teaser (1 Unit -120 5Dimes)
Yesterday I highlighted all of the player matchups to look out for so I won’t re-hash all of that here.
This is a coin flip game to me, although my personal model has this game with San Francisco as a 1.5-point favorite. In any event, absent a bunch of whacky, random events like multiple turnovers or special teams TDs, there aren’t many paths to a double-digit victory from either team.
Since Patrick Mahomes took over as the Chiefs’ starting quarterback, he has lost eight games in his career. The margin of loss in those games: 3, 3, 1, 7, 6, 6, 7, and 3 for an average of 4.5 points per game. He has never lost a game by more than seven points in his career. The Niners have only lost three games this year and they were by 3, 3, and 7 points. They have been dominant all season. I just find it difficult to believe a team will pull away so that is why I do like the winning margin being by one score.
There are so many great matchups in this game and plenty of reasons to either side but here are a couple of reasons why I decided to ultimately go with the 49ers.
From a high level, to beat any great offense and especially one with a quarterback like Mahomes, getting pressure up front without having to blitz very often and having a secondary that is instinctive and keeps everything in front is as good as it gets. When I broke down the types of defenses that Mahomes has “struggled” against, the ones that rarely blitzed and kept everything in front of them, had the best success. And when I say struggle it’s a relative term of course. Mahomes’ struggles are more like an average performance but that’s what an opposition needs to have a chance.
The Niners ranked second during the regular season in pressure rate and have done so with the fourth-lowest blitz rate in the NFL. In reality, the Niners’ pressure rate is by far the best in the NFL with Dee Ford in the lineup. They have ramped up the pressure even more in the playoffs, with a tremendous 45.4% pressure rate on 77 QB dropbacks. San Francisco also has allowed the second-lowest explosive pass rate in the NFL at 6%. So, the Niners get heavy pressure without having to blitz, which in turn helps to prevent big pass plays.
When I went and dug into the game by game analysis in all of Mahomes’s starts, I listed the blitz percentage for each game. What I noticed was a clear correlation between the teams that blitzed Mahomes at a low percentage and some of his worst games of the season. I broke out the games by blitz percentage with the “low blitz splits” being his five opponents who blitzed at a rate of 13% or less.
As you can see in the table below, in the five “low blitz” games, Mahomes produced a passing success rate below 50% in each game. His completion percentage, yards per attempt, passer rating, and TD to INT ratios all were well below his aggregate games against “high blitz” opponents. To but this in perspective, his 45% success rate against teams that rarely blitzed him, would place Mahomes around the middle of all NFL QBs for a full season. His aggregate numbers aren’t terrible in that case but just not the juggernaut that we are all used to seeing. He goes from posting the No. 1 passer rating and No. 2 yards per attempt figures in games where opponents blitzed at a higher rate to Andy Dalton-like numbers in low blitz games. To be fair, the Chiefs did win all of those games in the low blitz splits.
What’s interesting is that the Chargers, Lions, and Raiders ranked as the three lowest blitz teams in the NFL this season, so this strategy was the norm for those defenses. But the Patriots, who only blitzed Mahomes 11% of the time in their matchup, were the sixth-heaviest blitz team during the regular season at 37%. So, they totally changed up their defensive strategy against Mahomes. It’s clear Bill Belichick did this on purpose. Maybe this is all coincidence but maybe there is a formula to potentially turn Mahomes into a mortal QB?
Mahomes vs low blitz
|Opp||Cmp/Att||Cmp%||Yds||YPA||TD/INT||Passer Rating||Success Rate||Blitz%||Pressure%|
Mahomes vs high blitz
|Opp||Cmp/Att||Cmp%||Yds||YPA||TD/INT||Passer Rating||Success Rate||Blitz%||Pressure%|
All week I have heard about how Mahomes picks apart zone defenses like the one that San Francisco plays, but are we sure it’s fair to lump all of those pass defenses together? There’s one team that the Chiefs have faced that plays an exact same scheme as the Niners and that’s the Chargers. Gus Bradley is the current Chargers defensive coordinator and was in that same role when the Legion of Boom defense was formed in Seattle. The Niners’ current defensive coordinator, Robert Saleh, is also a Seahawk disciple and was a defensive quality control coach at the same time as Bradley. Both run the same Cover-3 defense with many of the same principles. What better comparison to use on how to defend Mahomes than in the two Chargers games this season?
In those two games against the Chargers, Mahomes produced his worst and third-worst passing games of the season, from a passer rating and success rate standpoint. And let’s be fair here, the Chargers run a similar scheme to the Niners but their results on the season were almost polar opposite. While the Niners were the No. 2 DVOA pass defense and No. 2 in pressure rate, the Chargers ended the season ranked 20th in DVOA pass defense and 12th in pressure rate.
Yes, the defensive schemes are the same but the production between the defenses was not. Also, who are the best pass and pressure defenses that Mahomes has faced this season? He faced none of the top 5 defenses in pressure rate or sacks. He faced two other defenses, like the Niners, who ranked in the top 10 in both pressure rate and DVOA pass defense. Against the Patriots and Bears, Mahomes was solid but unspectacular completing 67% of his passes, with 4 TDs, 1 INT, a 7.3 yards per attempt, and a 51% success rate. To beat the Niners, Mahomes has to be special. The Niners will be a totally different animal than what he has seen this season.
It does help to know that historically the best DVOA defenses have performed better than the best DVOA offenses in the Super Bowl. Examples like the 2008 New York Giants topping the second-best DVOA pass offense of all time in Tom Brady and the Patriots and the 2014 Seahawks destroying the seventh-best pass offense of all time in Peyton Manning and the Broncos are interesting comps for this matchup.
I will say that in matchups where the best offenses of all time lost in the Super Bowl, rarely has the QB of the best offense had the mobility of Mahomes. That’s where I think this game could be decided. Mahomes has rushed for 53 yards in each of the two playoff games and on the season has produced a 100% success rate on third down scrambles. His ability to scramble for first downs to extend drives has been demoralizing for defenses that think they have done everything necessary to stop this Chiefs team on offense. The Niners have been susceptible to QB runs (29th in the NFL in success rate allowed to QBs) although they are much worse against designed runs than scrambles.
Could we see Andy Reid use Mahomes more on designed runs? The ability of Mahomes to get out of the pocket, avoid the pass rush, and either extending drives on third downs with runs or finding a receiver down the field with the extra time could be the Niners kryptonite.
All About The Scheme
It’s not a secret the Niners have a distinct advantage in the run game against the Chiefs’ 29th ranked DVOA run defense. The Niners also use pre-snap motion in the run game more than any other team in the NFL. The Chiefs are the worst run defense in the NFL against pre-snap motion. Kansas City has allowed opposing RBs, that on average run for 4.44 ypc, to run on them for 4.80 ypc. Since taking over the lead RB role, Raheem Mostert is averaging 6.3 ypc against a set of opposing run defenses that have allowed 4.4 ypc on the season. He is the No. 1 RB in the NFL in success rate since Week 13. There is no reason the Niners’ success on the ground won’t continue.
But it’s not just the run game that will lead to success for San Francisco. The notion that the Niners don’t need Jimmy Garoppolo or that he can’t be relied upon to win a game is flawed. Just because the Niners saw their run game totally decimate both the Vikings and Packers defenses, doesn’t mean they didn’t trust Garoppolo to throw it. Why fix something that was never broken?
Look for Shanahan to play into Garoppolo’s strength when they do decide to throw the ball and that is by utilizing play-action. He has used play action 32.6% of the time this season, good for second-most in the NFL. On those play-action passes, he finished ninth in completion percentage, third in yards per attempt, and eighth in passer rating in the NFL. There is zero doubt he can have success on those passes against a poor set of pass coverage linebackers for the Chiefs. Out of 87 LBs, Anthony Hitchens ranks 61stt and Damien Wilson 78th in passer rating allowed in coverage, per PFF.
In addition, if the Niners are forced to win a game late, I don’t doubt Garoppolo can win it for them. In one-score game situations, he ranks tied for fifth with a success rate of 49% and 8.0 yards per attempt. When isolated for just one score game situations in the fourth quarter, Garoppolo ranks second-best in success rate at 54% and fifth in yards per attempt at 8.0. The sample size isn’t tiny, he has 95 attempts in the fourth quarter of a close game this season.
He has led multiple late comebacks including in New Orleans and at home against the Rams. He also put the Niners in position to win a game in OT against Seattle, but their kicker missed a chip shot for the win. There isn’t doubt in my mind that he can lead the Niners to a title on Sunday.