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Super Bowl Open Thread: If You’re One of Those Compulsive Types Edition

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On The Call in the Rams/Saints game, there’s an argument that too much is made of it that I basically agree with. Yes, it was a terrible and game-changing call. But the Saints still had to do a lot of things wrong (and the Rams a lot of things right) immediately before and after the call for the Rams to win. There’s the first down play of the sequence: unlike most people, I have no problem with Payton giving Brees a pass option — the most accurate passer in NFL history throwing a shirt pass to arguably the league’s best receiver is a high percentage play — but Brees just made a bad throw. And the Saints let the Rams drive for the tying FG, turned the ball over after winning the OT toss, and the Rams kicked a very long FG (gutsy call and good knowledge of his player by McVay, and amazing clutch kick by Zuerlein) to win it. All very true.

And yet, I think the Saints are a little more entitled to complain than the typical victim of a blown call. If you combine the importance of the game, the impact on the game, and the badness of the call (two refs had a clear look at not one but two egregious, play-changing fouls) I think it’s the worst call I’ve ever seen in more than 30 years of watching football. And there’s another side to the accurate-as-far-as-it-goes “Saints coulda won anyway” counterfactual; as bad as the first down play/execution was, the 3rd down play was a beautiful call (as Robey-Coleman conceded after the game, he was caught so far out of position that running full speed at and bowling over the receiver was his only chance of stopping a TD) and Brees made the throw. And — and here we finally get to something relevant to the Big Game — McVay also got away with making an incredibly bad percentage call on the Rams drive before the call:

With just over five minutes left in the NFC championship game, Sean McVay had a chance to turn the tide in his team’s favor. The Rams trailed the Saints 20-17 and had a first-and-goal from the New Orleans 7-yard line. On first down, C.J. Anderson rushed for 2 yards. Jared Goff followed that up with a 3-yard scramble, and then Anderson fell half a yard short of the goal line on third down. So McVay faced a decision.

On fourth-and-inches, the Rams could try to punch the ball in to take their first lead of the game, or they could kick a field goal to tie. After taking an intentional delay-of-game penalty, McVay brought out the field goal team and Greg Zuerlein kicked the 24-yard attempt through the uprights.

While McVay’s decision to get the near-guaranteed points seems relatively sound on the surface, it almost proved to be a disastrous mistake. By passing up the chance to take the lead, L.A.’s shot at winning dropped by more than than 12 percentage points, according to ESPN’s win probability model…

And given the quality of the Rams running game, it’s an even worse call than the percentages would indicate. And, even worse, McVay — despite being an innovative coach in many ways — has (with the exception of a willingness to use his unusually effective-passing punter) an extensive history of McCarthyism on 4th-and-short calls.

It’s a small thing, but I happen to be in Las Vegas and can put actual money on the game, and it’s these details that compel me to take Team Trump (-2 1/2) over the Rams although the teams are superfically almost dead even. Pederson was able to beat Belichick last year precisely by not leaving these points on the table; you can’t count on McVay doing the same. And the more closely you look into the game (see Barnwell, Tanier, Farrar, Schatz), the more you like the specific matchups for the Trumpites here. My biggest concern, even beyond McVay’s 4th down conservatism, is the fact that the Rams have generally only been able to contain opposition running games by stacking the box. If they do that against New England, they’re exposing a very torchable secondary to the GOAT with a lot of weapons and strong playcalling that ruthlessly exploits weak links. If Wade tries to take away the passing game, there’s every reason to believe that the Pats will gash them on the ground like they did KC and San Diego. The Rams can overcome the dilemma if Donald and Suh can have huge games pressuring Brady internally — and they might — but:

Left tackle Trent Brown was signed as a budget-friendly replacement for Nate Solder. Right tackle Marcus Cannon is a 335-pound snowplow who spent his first five seasons in New England largely as a backup. Center David Andrews was an undrafted free agent in 2015. Guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason were third- and fourth-round picks, respectively, a few years ago. First-round pick Isaiah Wynn, Cannon’s expected replacement, was injured in the preseason.

On paper, this line should stink. On the field, it’s one of the best in the league.

The Rams are very good, and had they been bid down to +3/+135 I’d be pretty tempted. But giving up less than a FG…I’m not betting actual money against Belichick and Brady. In case you’re interested, my other bets: Pats monelyline (-140) parlayed with the over (56), White over 72.5 rushing/receiving yards, Brady’s longest completion over 40.5 (+115), and longest made FG over 47.5 yards. Enjoy!

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