Raybon: Ranking Super Bowl 54 Mismatches & Player Props I’m Betting
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images. Pictured: Deebo Samuel
What are the biggest mismatches in Super Bowl 54?
More importantly: How we can leverage them into betting value?
In this piece, I rate and rank all of the key team and player matchups through the lens of their per-play efficiency, adjusted for strength of schedule. To measure this, I used Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric.
1. 49ers Rush Offense vs. Chiefs Rush Defense
If you’re looking for an x-factor that could swing the game — or the MVP vote — look no further than Samuel. Seventeen carries into his professional career, the rookie already has five runs of 20-plus yards and three rushing scores under his belt.
To get a sense of how valuable Samuel is as a runner, consider this: On just 14 carries, he generated 110 Defense-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement this season, which would have made him the 16th-most valuable running back.
Degen alert: Samuel’s median carry is 9 yards. He has now received at least one carry for seven games and counting. Most sports books have settled on a line of 13.5 for his rushing prop (9 yards x 1.5 carries), but his median outcome, carry-wise, over the last seven games is actually 2. He has hit that mark in four of his last six (67%) and three of his last four (75%), so you can make the case that bookmakers are being too conservative with this line, both at 13.5 (-112 at DraftKings) and 17.5 (+130 at PointsBet).
Kyle Juszczyk & George Kittle
Juszczyk and Kittle both earned top-three run-blocking grades from Pro Football Focus this season, and the Niners’ run game is a completely different beast when both of them are on the field together:
- Juszczyk and Kittle both active (12 games): 5.3 yards per carry, 173.8 yards per game, 1.8 touchdowns per game
- Juszczyk and/or Kittle out (6 games): 3.5 yards per carry, 115.0 yards per game, 1.2 TDs per game
After surrendering an unforgivable 28.2 carries for 148.1 yards and 1.2 TDs per game in Weeks 1-10, the Chiefs run defense has started to come on. Since Week 11, Kansas City is allowing just 21.5 carries for 93.6 yards and 0.5 TDs per contest.
Just in case you thought the Chiefs weren’t for real, they derailed the Derrick Henry train last week, holding him to just 69 yards on 19 carries. Still, things won’t be nearly as easy this week. The 49ers’ backs possess more speed than Henry. In fact, Raheem Mostert finished first among running backs in rushing DVOA (26.4%) — 10 spots higher than Henry (6.5%).
Mostert’s rushing props have been all the map, and they’ll continue to be something of an adventure as long as Tevin Coleman (shoulder) remains a game-time decision. I’ve seen Mostert’s yardage as low as 60.5 and as high as 80.5, and though the extremes have likely dried up, you may want to consider attempting to middle if you have accounts at two sportsbooks with diverging lines.
The best value, though, lies with Mostert’s TD props. His anytime TD prop can be found as low as -140 (at FanDuel), which implies 58.3% odds, but he has found the paint in seven of his past eight games (87.5%). And despite notching multiple scores 50% of the time over his past six outings — and his teammates doing so on five on occasions — his multi-TD prop is being offered as low as +420, which implies 19.2% odds.
- Deebo Samuel Super Bowl MVP: +3300
- Deebo Samuel over 13.5 rushing yards: -112
- Deebo Samuel over 17.5 rushing yards: +130
- Raheem Mostert 2+ TDs: +420
- Raheem Mostert anytime TD: -150
2. 49ers Pass Offense vs. Chiefs Pass Defense
Chiefs Blitz vs. Jimmy Garoppolo
The book on Jimmy G is simple: blitz him.
- Garoppolo vs. normal rush: 71.0% completion, 5.5% sack rate, 7.73 net yards per attempt, 2.0% interception rate
- Garoppolo vs. blitz: 66.7% completion, 9.4% sack rate, 7.16 net yards per attempt, 3.8% interception rate
The Chiefs blitzed on 29.1% of snaps during the regular season (14th-most), but when they did, it paid dividends. Opposing passers completed just 51.4% of their passes and collectively posted a dismal 73.9 passer rating.
Garoppolo Play-Action vs. Chiefs Pass Defense
None of the above matters if Garoppolo is allowed to coast like he has over the past two games with just 25 combined pass attempts. The over/under for Garoppolo’s pass attempts is set at 29.5. Only two teams attempted 29 or fewer passes against the Chiefs this season (Colts in Week 6, Titans in Week 10); both won. The Chiefs are 14-2 when the opposition has 30 or more pass attempts.
During the regular season, Shanahan called the fifth-highest rate of play-action passes (27.4%), and Garoppolo recorded an absurd 11.5 yards per attempt and 113.0 passer rating when using play-action.
Kyle Juszczyk vs. Chiefs Linebackers
Mostert has a wide receiver-esque 11.6 yards per reception this season, but Juszczyk’s 12.0 mark is even better. Kyle Shanahan used two-back sets on a league-high 40% of snaps and will be able to create mismatches against the Chiefs linebacking corps this season.
- Anthony Hitchens: 43-of-50 (86%), 520 yd (11.1), 4 TD
- Damien Wilson: 47-of-57 (83%), 446 yd (10.4), 4 TD
- Ben Niemann: 38-of-45 (84%), 310 yd (8.3), 1 TD
- Reggie Ragland: 13-of-17 (77%), 102 yd (6.3), 0 TD
The numbers understate the deficiencies of Ragland, a run defender who has played only 87 snaps in coverage this season. Entering 2019, Ragland’s PFF coverage grade never even cracked the top 60 (min. 80 snaps).
Thirteen of Juszczyk’s 24 targets have come on play-action, and he parlayed them into 11 catches for 164 yards and a TD. He’s been volatile with six games of 20 or more yards and eight of six or fewer yards, but I think this matchup puts the odds in favor of him going over his receiving yardage prop of 9.5 here (-125 at PointsBet).
Kendrick Bourne vs. a Defense with Other Priorities
Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo employs a multiple scheme that has shifted between various personnel groupings, coverage schemes and blitz looks, but one constant has been to make it tough for opponents to get the ball to their top wide receivers: The Chiefs allowed an NFL-low 51% target share to wide receivers, and they limited opposing No. 1 and No. 2 wideouts to a bottom-seven efficiency mark.
The trade-off has been subpar performance versus the remainder of the opposition’s wide receiver corps, which would benefit Kendrick Bourne in this case.
In 12 games since the 49ers acquired Emmanuel Sanders, Bourne has established himself as a go-to guy in scoring position, drawing the second-most targets inside the 10 (six) and converting each one for a score. His six receiving TDs lead the team not only during that span, but also for the entire 18-game season to date.
Bourne’s anytime TD prop (+300 at DraftKings) implies 25% likelihood, but Bourne has scored in five of 12, or 41.6%, of his games since the Sanders trade, and his 27.3% TD share over that span equates to 0.49 TDs when applied to the 1.8 passing TDs we have projected for Garoppolo. Half of Bourne’s TDs have come in the first quarter, so I also bet Bourne’s first TD prop (+2000 at DraftKings). We’ve seen him catch multiple scores in a game once this season, so I also got down on his multi-TD prop (+2500 on DraftKings).
George Kittle vs. Tyrann Matheiu
Through two playoff games, Kittle has caught just four balls for 35 scoreless yards on six targets while spending 89 snaps relegated to blocking duties. But don’t go and lose sight of the fact that, despite the down receiving games, he’s still clocked in with a hefty 30.6% target share in eight games since returning from a knee injury in Week 12 — a figure that easily trumps that of Samuel (20.2%) and Sanders (18.0%).
Analysis of how the Chiefs match up against tight ends has been all over the map. Some point to their No. 4 rating DVOA, while others knock them for allowing high volume to the position (their 8.9 schedule-adjusted targets per game were second-most). When a defense allows high volume and low efficiency to a certain position, it’s usually a result of a deliberate scheme to funnel action to a position of strength.
That’s where Tyrann Matheiu comes in. Though only 19 of Honey Badger’s 92 targets faced this season have come against tight ends, he’s usually been the primary cover man when the Chiefs face top-tier guys like Hunter Henry, Darren Waller and Mark Andrews. Overall, Mathieu allowed opposing tight ends to catch just 10 of their 19 targets against him for a minuscule 84 yards while he collected two interceptions and a pass breakup.
Mathieu can definitely hold his own against Kittle, but it will take the clichéd team effort to truly slow him down. For Mathieu, having primary responsibilities on a tight end has meant covering 25-45% of their targets. Case in point: In the five games in which his team faced one of Henry, Waller or Andrews, the over on their receiving yardage and reception props went a combined 4-for-5 and 3-for-5, respectively.
Interestingly enough, Kittle has already faced three other defenses that finished top-five in DVOA vs. tight ends, posting stat lines of 3-16-0 vs. Minnesota (No. 1), 6-57-0 vs. Pittsburgh (No. 3) and 13-134-0 vs. Atlanta (No. 5). He also had three matchups against defenses that were among the top six in most schedule-adjusted targets allowed, going for 7-67-0 vs. Seattle (No. 3), 8-54-0 vs. Tampa Bay (No. 4) and 7-67-1 vs. Arizona (No. 6).
Emmanuel Sanders vs. Charvarius Ward
Garoppolo has thrown eight interceptions since Sanders joined the team, and Sanders has been the intended target on half of them, which is kind of insane considering this has all transpired on just 56 targets. Since throwing two picks intended for Sanders in Week 16, Garoppolo has thrown his way just 14.6% of the time.
Kansas City’s numbers versus opposing No. 1 and 2 wide receivers point toward another low-volume game from Sanders. But there’s some volatility here. For one, Ward has become less reliable. In his first 12 games, his PFF coverage grade was 73.0, but over his last six, it has plummeted to 48.4 as his penalties per game have doubled from 0.33 to 0.66 and his yards per catch allowed has shot up from 15.5 to 18.6.
In the two playoff games, he allowed a team-high 136 yards. The line for Sanders to get 100-plus receiving yards (+600 at PointsBet) implies 14.2% odds, but he’s cracked the century mark in 16.7% of his games with the Niners so far (20.0% if you remove the two games in which he was banged up and played fewer than half of the snaps). And both of Sanders’ 100-yard performances came in one-score games in which the two teams combined for at least 53 points.
- Kyle Juszczyk over 9.5 receiving yards: -135
- Kendrick Bourne anytime TD: -300
- Kendrick Bourne first TD: +2000
- Kendrick Bourne anytime TD: +2500
- Emmanuel Sanders 100+ receiving yards: +600
3. 49ers Rush Defense vs. Chiefs Rush Offense
Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead & Co. vs. Damien Williams & the Four Chiefs O-Lineman to the Left of Mitchell Schwartz
Nobody should knock Andy Reid if he abandons the run in this one. Damien Williams ripped off career-long 91- and 84-yard runs this season — which account for a whopping 29.7% of his season total — but has otherwise struggled to find room, averaging just 3.0 yards per carry on his other 138 totes.
The issue for the Chiefs is that while their offensive line is solid in pass protection, only right tackle Mitchell Schwartz has been a formidable run-blocker. Here’s how PFF grades each member:
- LT Eric Fisher: 77.7 pass block, 60.3 run block
- LG Steven Wisniewski: 84.7 pass block, 59.6 run block
- C Austin Reiter: 78.1 pass block, 53.7 run block
- RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif: 70.4 pass block, 51.0 run block
- RT Mitchell Schwartz: 83.3 pass block, 83.6 run block
You’d think the 49ers’ best run defenders would play on the interior of the defensive line or at linebacker, but PFF grades Arik Armstead (88.5), Jimmie Ward (86.2), and Nick Bosa (79.7) — two edge defenders and a safety — as their top three (though Armstead and Bosa also play inside).
Even with Williams logging snap rates of 97% and 85% in the two playoff games, respectively, the overs on his rushing props are a dicey proposition. In fact, my favorite rushing prop for Williams is first carry under 3.5 yards (-139). Williams has failed to net 4 or more yards on 62.6% of his carries this season, which implies value on the under up to -167.
In regard to stopping the run, the 49ers should be more worried about Patrick Mahomes than Williams. During the regular season, San Francisco allowed opposing quarterbacks to rush for the third-most yards per game (23.8) and the fifth-highest success rate (31%, per Sharp Football Stats).
- Damien Williams first carry under 3.5 yards: -139
4. Chiefs Special Teams vs. 49ers Special Teams
Mecole Hardman vs. Mitch Wishnowsky
Hardman didn’t waste any time putting his 4.33 jets to good use, averaging 26.1 yards per kickoff return and earning a Pro Bowl nod as a rookie. In Week 17, Hardman took a kickoff back 104 yards to the house, the longest of the 2019 NFL season. He’s popped a return of at least 32 yards in each of his past four games. This is not a dude that you want to kick anywhere even remotely near.
Because if there’s one thing the Niners fanbase absolutely needs, it’s a screw-up on special teams that ends up costing them a shot to win a championship. It naturally follows, then, that of the 32 kickers to attempt 36 or more kickoffs this season, Wishnowsky’s 51.8% touchback percentage ranks seventh-worst.
“At least 90 percent of the time if the ball’s not going for a touchback it’s not on purpose,” he told The Athletic ahead of the NFC Championship game. “There’s still a bit for me to figure out,” he then added.
While Mr. Wishnowsky is figuring that out, we should all be figuring out how to get more money down on Hardman for Super Bowl MVP.
- Mecole Hardman Super Bowl MVP: +8000
5. Chiefs Pass Offense vs. 49ers Pass Defense
Patrick Mahomes vs. 49ers Pressure
The 49ers are the rare team that can get pressure without blitzing. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s unit generated pressure at a 28.7% rate, second-best, while blitzing at a rate of 20.9%, fourth-fewest. Mahomes being Mahomes, though, posted a 95.0 passer rating under pressure, second-best in the NFL.
49ers Pressure vs. Mahomes
Despite Mahomes’ success against pressure, it’s still relative. The true value of pressure emerges when you view performance under pressure and from a clean pocket side-by-side.
- Mahomes pressured: 49.0% completion, 7.9 yards per attempt, 1.4% interception
- Mahomes kept clean: 78.8% completion, 8.6 yards per attempt, 0.8% interception
Mahomes is the No. 2 rated quarterback under pressure, and he still throws incomplete once every two attempts and falls short of 8.0 yards per attempt. This is, of course, the Super Bowl, but for the 49ers, every pass-rushing snap is another Super Bowl.
Tyreek Hill & Mecole Hardman vs. Slower Human Beings
As a unit, the 49ers play fast and fly to the football. But they don’t have enough speed in the secondary to keep up with Hardman and Tyreek Hill. We’re talking 4.33 and 4.34.
Meanwhile, Richard Sherman, K’Waun Williams, Jimmie Ward, and Jacquiski Tartt are — or, were once — in the 4.5s, at best. The only guys in San Francisco’s secondary to ever sniff the 4.4s — cornerback Emmanuel Moseley and Akhello Witherspoon — are its least talented members.
Wide receivers have accounted for 69% of the receiving TDs against the 49ers this season — including scores by speedsters like John Ross, Brandin Cooks and Tyler Lockett. If you remove the two games in which Hill played under 20% of the snaps due to injury, his TD rate is 50%. Most books have posted Hill’s anytime TD prop with negative juice, but FanDuel has it at +105. Also, Hill’s multi-TD prop of +425 at DraftKings implies 19% odds, but he has posted multiple TDs in 25% of his non-injured games this season after scoring at least twice in 22% of his outings last season.
And Hardman has scored in seven of 18 (38.9%) games overall, including five of 11 (45.5%) when he played under half of the offensive snaps. Hardman is due for regression and is one of the more uncertain usage projections in this game, but his anytime TD prop (+325 at DraftKings) implies 23.5% odds, a 15-20% buffer relative to what’s actually taken place.
Jacquiski Tartt, Kwon Alexander & Co. vs. Travis Kelce
Most sportsbooks have installed Hill and Travis Kelce with similar receiving props, but Hill looks to be the better bet. The 49ers allowed the fewest yards per target to opposing tight ends (5.9), and having Tartt (5.6 YPT allowed) and Alexander (5.5) back leaves them well equipped to force Kelce to work underneath.
Shorter targets could still lead to a high-volume game, so I’d bet his receiving yardage under than his reception under. But the best way to bet Kelce in this game is to fade him in head-to-head yardage props, where he’s favored or has even odds against virtually every other pass catcher in this game.
It’s also worth noting that of the 24 tight end yardage props we tracked in our FantasyLabs NFL Player Props tool against San Francisco this season, 71% have gone under.
Those Not-So-Fast Guys I Mentioned Earlier vs. Sammy Watkins & DeMarcus Robinson
The 49ers also match up pretty well with Watkins and Robinson. On the one hand, Watkins’ receiving yardage prop of 50.5 is probably enjoying recency-biased inflation. On the other hand, that’s a figure Watkins has handily eclipsed in all four of his postseason games as a Chief, so that’s a stay-away for me.
Robinson, though? I’m all over the under on his receiving yardage prop. In 14 games with Hill active, Robinson’s median is 1 catch for 9 yards on 2 targets.
Speaking of a stay-away, Robinson probably ends up seeing Richard Sherman for the majority of the evening. Sherman graded out as the No. 1 coverage corner in the league this year, according to PFF. Robinson is way down at No. 105 among wide receivers. Now that’s a mismatch.
49ers Linebackers vs. Damien Williams
From a pure efficiency standpoint, the 49ers pass defense vs. Williams clocks in as one of the biggest mismatches on the slate. That said, I do like over 3.5 receptions.
Similarly to his rushing yardage prop, I’m more concerned about him posting subpar efficiency than struggling for volume. The 49ers are a low-percentage blitz team, so I always viewed their below-average running back target rate as somewhat of an anomaly this season. Sure enough, we saw Dalvin Cook (6 receptions) and Aaron Jones (5) each go way over their reception prop against the Niners in the playoffs.
- Tyreek Hill anytime TD: +105
- Tyreek Hill 2+ TDs: +425
- Demarcus Robinson under 26.5 receiving yards: -189
- Damien Williams over 3.5 receptions: -130
Matchup Edge Summary
Note: DVOA reflects regular season data only. To better reflect the most relevant sample possible, I made adjustments to the data as follows. Matt Moore’s starts are removed from Kansas City’s pass-offense DVOA. Games missed by Kyle Juszczyk or George Kittle are weighted less in San Francisco’s rushing DVOA. Games missed by Jacquiski Tartt are weighted less in San Francisco’s pass-defense DVOA.