Simulating New England’s Super Bowl Chances With and Without Gronk
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
The New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles will meet in Minneapolis for Super Bowl 52. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick had to overcome a 10-point fourth quarter deficit, but the Pats are headed back to the Super Bowl for a second straight year and third in the past four seasons. The NFC Championship wasn’t nearly as dramatic, as the Eagles dominated the Minnesota Vikings. Philly is back in the big game for the first time since facing the Patriots in Super Bowl 39.
The Patriots opened as consensus 6-point favorites, the line has been bet down to New England -5 with a majority of spread dollars on the Eagles. Each team has matchup advantages they can exploit on Super Sunday, but which squad will be crowned the new NFL champion?
To find out we simulated the Super Bowl 10,000 times, using player and team statistics adjusted for strength of schedule.
And the winner is…
This is not the best Super Bowl team in the Brady-Belichick era. Philadelphia is set up to stop the Pats on the ground with a defense ranked No. 1 in adjusted line yards and No. 1 in rush yards allowed per game (79.6). The Eagles’ stable of backs should have success running the ball against a Matt Patricia defense that conceded 4.7 yards/rush (30th in the NFL). Controlling the clock and making an opponent one-dimensional are often the keys to success in the NFL, but New England has a future Hall of Fame quarterback, the best coach in the league and superior special teams, which often get overlooked when analyzing a championship matchup.
According to the simulations, the Patriots have a 68.5% chance of winning a sixth Super Bowl ring. The model has New England winning by 6.1-points on average, which means the Pats are slightly undervalued by the betting market.
Our simulations assume that Rob Gronkowski will play and that Tom Brady’s thumb won’t be an issue (it wasn’t last week). But what would happen if the Pro Bowl tight end was sidelined or even worse, Brady wasn’t on the field in Minneapolis? It’s not going to happen, but just for hypotheticals, how would the Super Bowl change if Carson Wentz was under center for the Eagles instead of Nick Foles?
Brady’s favorite target took a hit to the head in the second quarter of the AFC title game and Gronkowski was not cleared to return due to concussion symptoms. In his previous six postseason games prior to this year’s AFC Championship game, Gronk averaged 10.5 targets, 6.2 catches, 85.3 yards and 1.2 touchdowns. You’d think his absence would be a blow to the Patriots’ odds, but Gronk is typically worth a half point to the spread. Only public perception inflates his value.
If Gronk doesn’t play, the Patriots’ win probability decreases, but only from 68.5% to 65.7%. New England would remain a clear favorite as they have shown an ability to win without their star pass catcher on the field, rallying from down 10 points against the Jags last week.
Tom Brady’s thumb was the main storyline heading into Championship Sunday. The Patriots quarterback injured his throwing hand in practice, requiring 12 stitches. The damaged appendage didn’t hamper Tom Terrific as Brady threw for 290 yards and two touchdowns against the Jaguars’ vaunted pass defense.
It will take more than a banged-up thumb to keep Brady out of the game. It is hard to imagine any scenario where TB12 is sidelined and Brian Hoyer starts in the Super Bowl. If an even freakier occurrence over the next 12 days happened to force Brady to sit, the Eagles would narrowly become the favorites according to our projections. Philadelphia would be 50.4% likely to win in a battle of the backups.
As a small boy, Carson Wentz dreamed of leading his team to an 11-2 record only to tear his ACL and watch a backup journeyman take his team to a Super Bowl. Erroneous, erroneous! If the Eagles win the championship, Wentz will get a Super Bowl ring, but it won’t be the same as being the quarterback that hoists the Lombardi Trophy. While Nick Foles was spectacular (352 yards, 3 TDs) in a 38-7 shellacking of the Vikings in the NFC Championship game, there isn’t an Eagles fan out there that wouldn’t prefer Wentz running the offense.
If Philly’s franchise quarterback had remained healthy or somehow miraculously heals in time for the big game, our simulations would favor the Eagles. According to the numbers, Philadelphia would win 50.5% of the time. Deer antler spray can fix a torn tricep, it might work on an ACL, Wentz should look into it.
Photo via David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports