Rich Hribar

Post-Season Fantasy Football Guide

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The NFL Super Bowl Worksheet

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

You may have heard, but this Sunday happens to be the Super Bowl. I’m going to combine my seasonal Worksheet format with the playoff rankings format I've been doing here to run through the big game. This year’s Super Bowl features the highest over/under in Super Bowl history (58.5 points) and it's easy to see why that is as the Patriots and Falcons have been two of the league’s premier offenses in the NFL all season long. Atlanta scored on 55.8 percent of their offensive possessions in the regular season, which led the NFL. That mark is also the second-best percentage for any offense since 2000, only bested by the 2007 Patriots, who scored on 57 percent of their drives. The Falcons have rolled that right over into the postseason, scoring on a blistering 72 percent (13 of 18 drives) in their two playoff games.


Including the playoffs, since Tom Brady returned from suspension in Week 5, the Patriots have scored on 48.7 percent of their possessions and scored a touchdown on 32.1 percent of their drives, trailing only Atlanta (56.6 percent and 36.4 percent) in each department over that time period.


There’s some separation between the two teams defensively, and under Bill Belichick, the Patriots have made it a postseason normality of shutting down high octane offenses, just ask Peyton Manning. New England allowed a league-low 15.7 points per game this season, but on the flip side, the Falcons have been the steadiest offense in the NFL this season regardless of their opponent. Atlanta played four games against teams in the top-10 in points allowed this season (Seattle twice, Denver and Kansas City), averaging 27.8 points per game those weeks—with at least 23 points in each game—while scoring on 21 of 40 possessions those weeks. I do believe New England is bringing the better defense into Sunday, but I also don't believe you should be pushed off the Atlanta offense.


By all accounts, this is one of the best offensive matchups we’ve had on Super Bowl Sunday possibly ever; let’s just hope that it meets expectations. The past four Super Bowls (three involving New England) with a combined implied total of 50 points or higher have gone under and four of the six Super Bowls involving Tom Brady and Belichick have gone under as well.  At least if we end up being robbed of the anticipated shootout, recent history suggests that we should get a close game as all six of those New England Super Bowls were decided by four points or less.


Let's kick things off with a look at the full statistical snapshot for this matchup…


New England vs. Atlanta


-3   Spread 3  
30.8   Implied Total 27.8  
28.4 3 Points/Gm 34.4 1
15.7 1 Opp. Points/Gm 24.8 23
31:01 5 Avg. TOP 30:33 13
66.3 7 Plays/Gm 62.9 23
62.8 10 Opp. Plays/Gm 65.4 25
44.9% 5 Rush% 42.4% 11
55.1% 28 Pass% 57.6% 22
36.3% 5 Opp. Rush % 34.7% 3
63.7% 28 Opp. Pass % 65.3% 30
112.6 12 Rush Yd/Gm 118.2 5
87.6 2 Opp. RuYd/Gm 104.0 17
275.6 4 Pass Yd/Gm 302.2 2
239.8 14 Opp. PaYd/Gm 263.5 27
5.14% 23 Def. Sack Rate 5.07% 25
4.26% 6 Opp. Sack Rate 6.13% 23
0.8 3 Turnovers/Gm 0.6 1
1.6 12 TakeAways/Gm 1.4 16
5.6 4 Penalties/Gm 6.1 8

*Includes Postseason


1. Tom Brady

2. Matt Ryan

This is really a 1A and 1B situation as I don’t believe you can go wrong with either as a fantasy option. This game features two of the league’s best passers in the vertical passing game and two defenses that allowed their share of downfield opportunities per game. Excelling at getting the ball downfield is something you’d expect from Ryan given his season, but on passes 15 yards or further downfield, Brady was also near the top of the league.


Passes 15 Yards or Further Downfield

Matt Ryan 3.5 2 6.2 15 56.3% 1 98.7 6 11 5
Tom Brady 3.4 3 6.8 9 50.5% 4 106.9 1 12 2
NE Def 3.1 26 8.0 31 38.2% 11 80.9 22 7 12
ATL Def 3.0 24 6.8 23 43.9% 24 79.9 21 6 11

*Pass Depth Data Courtesy of Pro Football Reference

Brady being the favorite while also having the better paper play is enough for me to split the hair in his favor. Brady has cleared 20 points in four of his past six games with his only hiccups over that span coming against Houston and Denver, the two teams that allowed the fewest passing yards per game to opposing passers over the course of the season. Only Cleveland (18.2) allowed more passing points per game than the 17.5 allowed per game by the Falcons this season. Teams consistently trailed versus Atlanta, so some of the counting stats against them are inflated as they rank 11th in yards allowed per pass attempt (6.5) on the season, but nearly every quarterback that you’d consider a top half fantasy option in 2016 posted big numbers against them season as they allowed 20 or points to Aaron Rodgers (twice), Drew Brees (twice), Jameis Winston (twice) and Derek Carr.


Ryan has been the best quarterback in the NFL wire to wire this entire season and he’s been nothing short of sensational to start the postseason.  Ryan has completed 70.7 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns and no interceptions while also adding a rushing score to start the playoffs. Going beyond this postseason and into the regular season, Ryan also has tied an NFL record with five straight games of completing at least 70 percent of his passes with multiple touchdown passes in each game and has also been over 8.0 yards per pass attempt in seven consecutive games, something only four quarterbacks managed to do versus New England all season long. New England definitely has not faced a quarterback as strong as Ryan this season, but the quarterbacks we’d qualify as just average and above average options they’ve faced all season were more than adequate fantasy performers against them. Russell Wilson (26.5 points), Ben Roethlisberger (17.6), Andy Dalton (21.9), Joe Flacco (20.1) and Carson Palmer (18.9) all posted good fantasy games against the Patriots.  I believe both Brady and Ryan both push past 20 fantasy points, but if you're making me choose who is the better fantasy option, I'll slightly edge to Brady. 


Running Backs

1. Devonta Freeman

2. Tevin Coleman

3. Dion Lewis

4. LeGarrette Blount

5. James White

6. Patrick DiMarco

With both of these teams playing with such an advantage on the scoreboard all season long, they each allow the bulk of the scoring done by opposing backfields to come through the air. In fact, the Patriots allow the most receptions (6.6) and receiving yards (51.8) per game to opposing backfields while Atlanta has allowed the next highest totals (6.4 receptions and 51.7 receiving yards) per game.  The only difference is that New England has been better versus the ground game, allowing 3.6 yards per carry to backfields (third best), while Atlanta has allowed 4.3 yards per carry (20th).  


The most rushing yards allowed by the Patriots to an individual back this season was 89 yards to David Johnson all the way back in Week 1 and just six individual backs have hit the century mark in yards from scrimmage against the Patriots this season. It’s doubtful that either Atlanta back will hit those marks on their own this weekend, but both backs combined pose a major all-purpose threat. In the eight games Atlanta has played since Coleman returned from injury, the Atlanta duo has averaged 168.6 yards from scrimmage on 30 touches per week (6.1 receptions per game) with 17 combined touchdowns. Even though the Patriots run defense has been excellent, I’d still look to either Atlanta back for their all-purpose ability over any individual piece from the fragmented New England backfield. 


Freeman edges Coleman in weekly snaps as the split runs roughly 60 to 40 percent in Freeman’s favor, but the Atlanta offense treats both Freeman and Coleman as near equals, hardly altering their offensive attack regardless of which back is in the game.  When Freeman is on the field, Atlanta runs 40.3 percent of their plays as opposed to 38.2 percent with Coleman in the game.


Both Freeman and Coleman have each have scored a touchdown in three straight games coming in, but Freeman has 34 red zone touches to 21 for Coleman over that span. Inside of the 10-yard line, Coleman closes the gap in usage as Freeman has had 17 touches to 12 for Coleman over the same timeframe.


The Patriots backfield has the better paper matchup, but their backfield is much more compartmentalized. Over the past eight games when all three of the New England backs were active, here’s the average breakdown of their usage and how the Patriots have called plays when each is in the game.


NE RB Usage with All Three Active

PlayerSnaps/GmPass %Run %
LeGarrette Blount 28.7 36.1% 63.9%
Dion Lewis 23.7 56.8% 43.2%
James White 23.6 92.5% 7.5%

*Per Pro Football Focus


The Patriots run the ball 63.9 percent of the time when Blount is in the game as opposed to throwing the ball 56.8 percent of the time Lewis is on the field. James White also makes his way into the lineup for about a third of the offensive snaps per week, and his splits are the most drastic as New England has called a passing play 92.5 percent of the time White is on the field with their complete backfield.


Projecting a Belichick game plan is foolhardy at best from a novice such as me, but with Lewis being the most balanced back, I’d expect the core of the game plan to revolve around his versatility being in the game. It makes sense this week given Atlanta’s issues with receiving backs and his ability to work on the Atlanta linebackers in the passing game as Atlanta can be exploitable through a balanced attack in a neutral script. All of that said, with White being capable of shaving his way into the passing game and Blount having higher probability at reaching the end zone, Lewis is never an easy player to set ceiling expectations on for fantasy purposes.


Blount has at least one touchdown in 14 games this season, but hasn’t reached 60 yards from scrimmage in a game since Week 14. Since Lewis returned in Week 11, Blount has yet to reach 15 points in any game after hitting that mark in four of the opening nine games. There’s an inkling here that New England could use Blount early on to try muddy the game up from the start, preventing Atlanta from finding an early groove offensively in a similar fashion that Philadelphia was able to corral the Falcons, but I’d still put that in the lower range of probable outcomes.  For one, Blount doesn’t offer the offensive versatility to incorporate a balanced attack without tipping play calling and second, the Patriots best weapon on offense is still Brady and attacking the Atlanta defense on the intermediate levels. Revolving the game plan around Blount as a priority would be doing a favor to Atlanta in a sense.  If you’re leaning on Blount, I’m still anticipating relying on a short scoring plunge or two and salting away carries if New England is able to control the scoreboard, and those touches could be more than enough to make him the top fantasy asset out of this group in formats that don’t reward receptions.

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Rich Hribar is a husband, father, sports meteorologist and a slave to statistics. A lifelong sports fan and fantasy gamer. You can find him on Twitter @LordReebs.
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