Early Super Bowl Thoughts: What to Watch For

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The super bowl is coming. We’ll have the next two weeks to dissect, analyze, and break down one game. With that in mind, I wanted to start with some interesting story lines and what we should be looking for.

Both teams are remarkably healthy. In fact, neither team had a single player listed on their injury reports ahead of the conference championship, and neither team lost anybody in the game. Earlier in the year, both teams lost a significant receiving threat – Cooper Kupp (ACL) for the Rams, and Josh Gordon (personal/suspension) for the Patriots. Outside of that, neither team has had any significant injuries throughout the year. They are two of the healthier teams in the league.

What’s up with Todd Gurley?
Todd Gurley missed the last two games of the season with a knee injury. Before that, Gurley was the work-horse, bell-cow running back where he essentially played every snap. He returned in the divisional round, where he split time with CJ Anderson. Through 3 quarters, Gurley and Anderson had 13 carries each. Anderson then out-carried Gurley 9 to 2 in the 4th quarter, but that was when the game was already decided. The other main takeaway was Gurley ran 20 routes and Anderson only ran 5. My conclusion: Gurley’s knee still wasn’t quite right, but he and Anderson were splitting the run game work while Gurley was dominating the pass game work.

Then the conference championship game came, and Gurley was a fucking disaster. In the first half he had just three carries, where he gained all of four yards and dropped two passes. One drop lead directly to an INT, and the other was on third down in the red zone. In the second half Gurley was non-existent — CJ Anderson was even playing passing downs.

Now this begs the question, did he mess up his knee, or was it just a bad game and Sean McVay decided Gurley couldn’t be trusted? Gurley claims it was the latter — he said his reps were limited because he was “sorry as hell” in the game — whatever that means. I’m not buying it. I think Gurley potentially re-injured his knee and his health is worth monitoring. And it’s worth monitoring because Todd Gurley matters. In Gurley’s healthy days, the Rams were running exclusively 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs). Even after Cooper Kupp tore his ACL, the Rams simply plugged in Josh Reynolds as the 3rd wide receiver and continued to roll with 11. However, with CJ Anderson they’ve felt the need to go more heavy packages, which we saw again last night. The Patriots have struggled the last two years against runs in 11, and I therefore think being able to get back to that exclusive 11 game plan is key for the Rams. Further, the Rams tight ends (Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett) are not that involved as receivers, so when both are on the field that means a legit receiving weapon (typically Reynolds) has to leave.

Is Sony Michel ok?
Sony Michel carried the ball 29 times last night, until the Patriots decided to go exclusively with Rex Burkhead toward the end of the game and OT. One thought was that Michel might be hurt — I’ve heard rumblings that he was limping on the sideline. Personally, I think the Patriots simply felt that 29 carries was a massive workload, and felt the need to get fresh legs into the game. Either way, we should keep an eye on the practice reports. Michel has easily been the Patriots best running-back-who-actually-runs (technical term) this season.

Betting Lines
The Vegas Consensus opened at a pickem. That line has been bet all the way to NE -2.5, so early money is on the Patriots. Vegas will occasionally shade their lines if they believe the money is on the wrong side, but that’s not the case in the super bowl. This is the most heavily bet game, and Vegas isn’t looking to take any risks. They’ll simply be moving the lines so the action remains balanced on each side. Keep that in mind as it moves throughout the next two weeks.

Strangely, that’s really it. There isn’t much left to do except dive into the games and have some fun with prop bets. More on that later.

That’s it for now, bitches.

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