Why Jared Goff Will Outduel Tom Brady to Win Super Bowl MVP
Jared Goff started the 2018 NFL season hotter than fish grease. The third-year pro in his second campaign under head coach Sean McVay appeared to be firing on all cylinders. While teammate Todd Gurley was gaining steam in the MVP discussion, it was Goff's play that led the Los Angeles Rams to an 8-0 start and 10-1 record before their bye.
Rams Rushing Versus Passing
The Rams' rushing attack provided more cumulative Net Expected Points (NEP) than their passing attack in just one of the team's first eleven games. Just twice in that same period was a rush more valuable than a Jared Goff drop back.
However, a season-ending injury to Cooper Kupp and a late season nagging injury for Gurley seem to have tainted the secret sauce that defined LA's identity. As you can see, the team's offensive efficiency has really trailed off lately, specifically with some crippling performances from Goff in Weeks 13 and 14.
Patriots Rushing Versus Passing
The New England Patriots, on the other hand, are trending up at just the right time. While Sony Michel and a run-heavy approach have defined the Pats' stretch run, it has been Tom Brady's drop backs that have been most influential in lighting up the scoreboard. With the exception of a Murphy's Law sort of game in Week 16, Brady has been playing at an extremely high level since the team's Week 11 bye.
Goff Versus Brady
So how can we look at the Patriots, who are playing well offensively at just the right time, as anything less than an overwhelming favorite against a Rams offense whose best days are behind them?
The answer has everything to do with the tightly clustered range of outcomes for the Patriots offense in comparison to the massively inconsistent yet highly explosive Rams offense. Though Goff's drop backs have not been as valuable lately as earlier this year, his peak performances have been significantly better than anything Brady has put together this season.
Brady's best performance of the season was a Week 12 matchup against the New York Jets in which Brady averaged 0.50 Passing NEP per drop back. By comparison, Goff has eclipsed that rate four times this season, including as recently as the Rams' Week 17 contest against the San Francisco 49ers in which he posted a whopping 0.70 Passing NEP per drop back.
The Patriots' offense is simply not designed to consistently challenge the defense with a vertical passing attack. Though Brady is inarguably the preferred signal-caller, Goff's system allows him the opportunity to thrive with big plays and a decreased reliance on third down success. 41.5% of Patriots first downs become third downs while only 38.4% for the Rams.
Could Sony Michel be Tom Brady's Enemy?
On top of that, the Patriots' insistence on involving Sony Michel and the rest of the run game further de-weaponizes Brady. By placing the ball in the belly of Burkhead and Michel, Brady's strong Passing NEP per drop back is sidelined. While Michel, or any of the Patriots' backs, are clearly capable of having a big game, it is just very difficult for the run game to actually impact the scoreboard. You can see that from the tightly-clustered outcomes for both the Patriots and the Rams.
How to beat the Patriots
The best shot for Rams' success involves Sean McVay taking the restrictor plate off of Jared Goff and embracing the volatility of this offense. When both offenses are clicking, the Patriots' best effort just doesn't compare to the Rams' firepower.
Screw third and manageable, the Rams should aim to keep Goff out of third down entirely with an offense that focuses on passing the first down marker as much as possible. And if they keep their foot on the gas and resist the urge to feed their own running back stable, it'll be Goff, not Brady hoisting the MVP trophy on Sunday night.