Will Super Bowl LIII Be the Highest-Scoring Super Bowl of All Time?
We're in the midst of what might be the greatest offensive season in NFL history. Passing is up. Scoring is up. Yardage is up. And oddsmakers are right on top of that trend.
At the FanDuel Sportsbook, the over/under for the Super Bowl matchup between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams is set at a whopping 57.5 points. That is a half-point higher than we've ever seen for a Super Bowl, per VegasInsider.com. There are also alternate lines available, with +650 odds on the game going over 75.5 points, which would make it the highest-scoring Super Bowl of all time.
Is there betting value to be had in either of these lines? Can we realistically expect this Super Bowl to out-score all the rest?
The 2018 Season
The 2018 NFL season has seen teams average 23.3 points and 352.3 yards per game. Those are both the second-highest marks in league history (23.4 points in 2013 and 352.7 yards in 2015 being the highest) while this is also the first time the league has averaged 5.6 yards per play, hitting the previous high of 5.5 on three occasions (2011, 2015 and 2016).
This came on the back of some huge numbers through the air. While the league average of 34.5 pass attempts per game is only the seventh-most in history, teams averaged the third-most passing yards (237.8) and most passing touchdowns (1.7) of all time.
In an already high-scoring year, the Super Bowl will feature a matchup between two of the league's four highest-scoring teams as the Rams finished the regular season ranked second with 32.9 points per game while the Patriots came in fourth with 27.3.
Neither that combined average of 60.2 points nor the 57.5 points suggested by the over/under would even put this among the top five highest-scoring championships, though, as the game has had at least 58 points 11 times and at least 61 points 10 times.
Oddsmakers have never expected a matchup to be higher scoring than this one, however. The previous highest over/under in Super Bowl history was 57.0 points, most recently coming in the 2016-17 season. That game went over, with the Patriots and Atlanta Falcons combining for 62 points.
We have seen only two Super Bowls in history top the 70-point mark, with last year's Philadelphia Eagles-Patriots matchup combining for 74 points and the 1995 clash between the San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers hitting 75.
The two matchups that surpassed the 70-point mark make for a good place to start making comparisons.
Last season, the Patriots and Eagles were the league's second- and third-highest scoring teams, respectively, both averaging 28.6 points per game. In the 1994-95 season, the 49ers ranked second in the NFL with 29.7 points per game, and the Chargers sat in sixth with 24.6. That means the two matchups had teams combining for 57.2 and 54.3 points per game. This year's matchup boasts a combined average of 60.2.
While the Rams out-scored the Pats this season, oddsmakers have also been severely underrating this New England offense in the postseason. The over has hit in both of their playoff games, per KillerSports.com, with their games totaling 69 and 68 points while having over/unders of only 49.0 and 56.0, respectively.
Our advanced numbers back up these absurd offenses of LA and New England. These two attacks rank third (Rams) and fourth (Patriots) in Adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) per play, with marks of 0.20 and 0.17, respectively. For context, those are the 8th- and 18th-best marks in our entire database, which dates back to the 2000 season. Last year's Patriots had a mark of 0.17 while the Eagles posted a clip of just 0.11.
The only Super Bowl matchup with a higher combined NEP in the numberFire era was the aforementioned Falcons-Patriots matchup, which went well over its then-historically high over/under.
The Pats crushing the over in the playoffs doesn't come as much of a surprise when you look at the level of competition they played in the regular season. They played six games against defenses that our schedule-adjusted metrics had ranked as top-10 unites, managing an impressive 26.3 points per game in that sample. The Rams had four matchups against top-10 defenses, and they put up 25.5 points per game in that sample. That means against defenses outside the top-10, the Rams averaged an astronomical 35.4 points per game, scoring fewer than 29 only once in those 12 games.
The historically great offensive matchup is enticing, but we've also got to look and see what's going on on the other side of the ball.
Neither team makes that top-10 cutoff discussed above, per our numbers, but they're as close as it gets. We have the Patriots ranked 11th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play while the Rams check in 12th.
LA allowed by far the most points of the two teams in the regular season, giving up 24.0 per game (12th-most in the NFL), while the Patriots allowed only 20.3. With their similar schedule-adjusted scores, though, we can chalk up much of that difference to the gap in the level of competition they played.
For some context on how they stack up against the defenses in the 2016 Super Bowl shootout between New England and Atlanta, this year's Patriots and Rams both have an Adjusted Defensive NEP per play mark of 0.06 (lower is better, defensively). The 2016 Patriots' D sat at 0.09, and the Falcons came in at 0.03.
It's worth noting that neither of these defenses had to spend much time on the field. The Patriots allowed opponents the league's 8th-lowest time of possession while the Rams allowed the 14th-lowest. The Rams also faced the 4th-fewest plays per game, compared to the 18th-fewest for New England. With both offenses ranking above average in time of possession, at least one of these defenses is going to be on the field more than they're used to.
The Patriots' D has three games against offenses that rank top-five by our metrics, including their two playoff games so far. They gave up 40, 28 and 31 games in those contests, with game totals hitting 83, 69 and 68.
The Rams have played four games against top-five offenses, allowing 23, 45, 51 and 23 points. The total scores in those games were 58, 105 (the second-highest scoring game in NFL history in the insane matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs), 80 and 49.
So as far as this game's 57.5-point over/under goes, these teams have been over that total in five of their combined seven games against top-five offenses while three of those seven games finished with scores that would hit the over on a total of 75.5 (remember: the record for most points in a Super Bowl is 75).
Matchups vary so much on a team-by-team basis, and sample sizes in the NFL are so small that it's tough to make a direct comparison for this one, especially when the teams will have two weeks to prepare for each other. But the trends for these two squads are fairly clear -- their games come with a ton of scoring, especially when they're up against other elite offenses.
As I've mentioned, the over/under for this game is set at 57.5 points, but FanDuel Sportsbook also offers alternate totals from as low as 29.5 (with the over priced at a prohibitive -20000) to as high as 89.5 (with the over priced at +5000).
With -110 odds on each side of 57.5, the book is implying the game is about 50% to hit either side of that. At +650 to go over 75.5, this game is implied for a 13.3% chance to be the highest-scoring Super Bowl of all time.
With what we've seen from these two teams this season, and how they stack up in a historical context, it's worth taking a long, hard look at the over on both of those lines.