@FastMoneyLabs Super Bowl LVI Betting Preview & Pick

After painting Cincinnati as a feel-good underdog story in my debut piece…

“Who doesn’t like a good underdog story? Listed as +15000 long-shots (0.7% implied probability) to win the Lombardi Trophy as recently as August, the 2021 Cincinnati Bengals continue to defy expectations. Fresh off their first playoff win since January 1991, oddsmakers are left clenching their cheeks as Cincinnati’s Super Bowl odds have been slashed down to +1500 – still the longest in the field, but that’s enough movement to have Bengals fans and investors alike feeling giddy (+1500 odds imply 6.3% probability, +5.7% vs. pre-season).”

…I proceeded to fade them in Kansas City. At the time it felt right. In the end, I was left to cough in a cloud of Joe Burrow’s cigar smoke, but I see two silver linings: (1) we get to see fresh blood in the Super Bowl, and (2) we get a shot at redemption on football’s biggest stage.

The Matchup

To find the answers, let’s start by breaking down the matchup by the numbers.

For context on what you’re about to read, the following analysis is anchored to DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) rankings published by Football Outsiders. DVOA is widely considered the best ranking system because it adjusts for quality of opponents.

DVOA is expressed as a percentage that can be interpreted as percent better or worse than league average. On offense, you positive DVOA is preferred (i.e., greater than 0%). On defense, you want it to be negative (i.e., less than 0%).

Cincinnati's Keys to Victory

Using DVOA rankings, we quickly established that LA is the superior team. Luckily for Cincinnati, these games aren’t played on paper. They can certainly still win. But how?

This is not rocket science. I see the keys to Cincinnati victory as:

  1. Protect Joe Burrow. It does not pull through in DVOA rankings I just walked through, but we’re staring at a major mismatch in the trenches, as the Rams boast one of the fiercest defensive fronts in the NFL, whereas the Bengals offensive line is struggling mightily in pass protection. If they can’t diagnose and remediate their issues with effective game planning, Joe Burrow could be in for a loooong day. However, if they can protect him just enough to limit turnovers, I think they have a fighting chance to win this game. I see protecting Joe Burrow as Cincinnati’s number one key to victory.
  2. Stop the Run. To win this game, the Bengals need to find a way to get stops. And it starts with the run. If LA builds a lead and opts for a methodical, run-heavy game script like I expect: Cincinnati needs to bear down. If they can’t get stuff the run, especially on 1st down, LA will control the clock and cruise to victory.

LA's Keys to Victory

For Los Angeles, the key to victory is the same as last week: execution. They are the more talented team with a superior coaching staff (in my opinion). If they can play a full 60-minute game, limit turnovers and hold the Bengals to 20 points or less, they should win this game.

$FML Verdict

On a DVOA-basis, the Rams are the far superior team. In fact, Cincinnati ranks as the 3rd lowest DVOA team to ever make the Super Bowl. If the game were played on paper, I’d put my money with confidence on the Rams. However, as we learned in the AFC Championship, the better team does not always win the game.

Looking at Against-the-Spread (ATS) results, one could argue the Bengals are the superior team, at least from a betting perspective. Entering Sunday, Cincinnati covered the spread in 13 of their 20 (65%) games including playoffs. As underdogs, the Bengals a mind numbing 8-3 (73%) ATS. Conversely, the Rams are a mediocre 10-10 (50%) ATS overall. As a favorite, they are just 7-10 (41%) ATS, including playoffs.

While I trust DVOA rankings, I tend to lean more towards the findings of the ATS results. To me, they indicate a team’s propensity to outperform expectations. In Cincinnati’s case, we’ve seen first-hand this team is capable of defying expectations. If the eye-test wasn’t enough for you – I’d argue their ATS track record confirms it. The opposite is true of the Rams, who consistently failed to exceed expectations this year, especially when playing as a favorite.

To be fair, the Bengals might need to play a perfect game to have a shot at winning on Sunday. Even if they’re not perfect, I think it’s reasonable to expect they can keep the game close based on their track record. While it was tempting to back them on the moneyline for an enhanced payout – In a game I see coming down to the final possession, I prefer to hold a ticket that’s getting 4.5 points via the spread. Therefore, for my Best Super Bowl Bet, I’m taking the points and backing Burrow & Co. with confidence to keep this thing close!

Best Bet

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BENGALS +4.5 @ -110

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