SharpClarke's Super Bowl Breakdown
I am sure by now you've read every article and heard every talking head discussing the Super Bowl matchup between the Chiefs and the 49ers. Instead of doing a full matchup breakdown, I want to take this analysis in a bit of a different direction. I'll talk about some betting philosophy and then get into how it could apply in this game. Don't worry; I've got my best bets at the bottom if you prefer to just scroll down and see what I'm playing. But if you're interested in a different look, I offer my thoughts below. Let's dive in.
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By this point, the Super Bowl betting markets on the side in this game are very efficient. The most influential bettors with the most sophisticated models have had an opportunity to get hundreds of thousands (millions?) of dollars on whichever side they want. So, instead of doing a typical breakdown where I justify my model's output, I want to take a step back and think about whether there could be any potential value on a side here.
The models and bettors that have shaped this market rely on countless assumptions. Most models and bettors make assumptions about the range of outcomes for each team based on historical data, this season's performance, player-specific nuances, injuries, rest, travel, coaching, and thousands of other elements. We make errors in all of these assumptions, but most of the time, these errors are marginal or have a marginal impact on the game's outcome. For example, we might model how frequently Brandon Aiyuk will be able to separate from L'Jarius Sneed and project his impact on the game from that model. But being wrong by a few plays won't fundamentally alter the outcome of the game; the 49ers might get a couple more first downs, but there are plenty of other options and factors that matter.
But sometimes, we make assumptions that involve game-changing errors. Being wrong on these assumptions completely shifts the range of outcomes for the contest. So many spread bets in the NFL come down to a few key plays because the market is efficient, and outcomes cluster around the median projection implied by the market. In these games, being on the "right" side might come down to a penalty call or a tough catch late. But the best bets are those where the outcome is never in doubt. Typically, this happens when a key market assumption turns out to be incorrect. If a bettor could identify that key market assumption before kick-off, then the bettor could make a very solid bet. That's the hard part, of course. But I think there is a possible angle here to attack.
Key Player: Brock Purdy
Brock Purdy has been a very good quarterback during his short career. He has thrived in Kyle Shanahan's system with the excellent weapons around him. In fact, Purdy has the highest EPA/dropback and the highest dropback success rate in the NFL over the last two seasons. He brings more to the offense than Jimmy Garoppolo ever did with his ability to make plays happen out of structure. If he continues to play at this level, then this Super Bowl should be a very good matchup, and the 49ers being favored is appropriate. They have been better than the Chiefs this season overall.
But what if Purdy's production is more fragile than the numbers suggest? We assume his range of outcomes is tied to his career production, but a deeper look at his career splits raises at least some concern. In his 27 starts, Purdy has only played six games against defenses that finished the season top-10 in overall and pass defense (using blended EPA/play and success rate allowed). His numbers in those six games are quite concerning:
Washington in 2022: 0.174 EPA/play, 37.0% sucess rate.Philadelphia in 2022: -0.955 EPA/play, 40.0% success rate (on only 5 dropbacks before injury).Dallas in 2022: 0.091 EPA/play, 48.6% success rate.Cleveland in 2023: -0.223 EPA/play, 33.3% success rate.Baltimore in 2023: -0.441 EPA/play, 38.9% success rate.Pittsburgh in 2023: 0.265 EPA/play, 47.1% success rate.
His overall numbers in that sample: On 173 dropbacks, -0.07 EPA/play, and a 41.0% success rate.
Now, it's important to recognize the context here. He obviously got knocked out early against Philadelphia. The Cleveland game was outdoors in the rain, and Deebo Samuel's absence early on mattered. The Baltimore game involved four interceptions, two of which were off tipped passes. There are ways to explain away these poor performances that don't indicate he will surely be bad against the Chiefs this week (who are also top-10 in overall and pass defense this season). But it's also possible that his career stats have benefitted greatly from playing so many of his games against bad defenses, and bad pass defenses in particular.
I am not suggesting Purdy is a "game manager." He is far from it. In fact, I am suggesting the opposite. Purdy takes too many chances. Against bad defenses, his tendency to wait in the pocket to make a play has typically been to his benefit. But that same aggressiveness and unwillingness to give up on a play has led to some very bad situations against good defenses. The play that knocked him out of the Eagles playoff game last year was a sack-fumble as he tried to make a late pass into pressure. His fourth interception against Baltimore also involved him getting hit as he threw to the flat, forcing the ball behind Christian McCaffery for an interception. Even last week against Detroit, his interception came when a defender hit his hand on the throw. Purdy also gets a lot of passes tipped at the line, a tendency that increases with a defensive line that is able to get pressure. One of his interceptions against Baltimore was tipped up by a rushing defender. And last week, Justin Reid of the Chiefs did the same to Lamar Jackson, who made a miracle play to catch his own tipped pass. Purdy is not able to make that play.
Now, to be clear: I don't think that Purdy struggling is the median outcome of this game. I think the market is close to correct in predicting the median here, which is very favorable to Purdy. But I am suggesting that the tail outcome of him struggling involves a much wider range of outcomes than a tail outcome where they put Kansas City out of reach with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback. In other words, this should be a close game. But if it's not, I think it's because Purdy materially disappoints in this matchup. I think a sure-fire Chiefs winning ticket is more likely than a sure-fire 49ers winning ticket. So that's what I want to attack here.
I am on the perceived "public" side here. Despite the Chiefs getting a ton of action at recreational books, the market has moved slightly back towards San Fransisco at -2 on the spread and around -130 on the moneyline. That indicates that influential money from winning bettors is once again against me as I continue to back this Chiefs team. I do respect it, especially with these limits. So I am not leveraging too hard into this bet, and am looking for props to play that support my position as well. But, I have offered my thoughts on sides throughout the season in this article, and I'll pick a side in conflict with market support for the 49ers.
I'll give out two best bets here that both rely on the idea that Purdy might struggle. I do think Mahomes can be trusted to perform on the big stage, but his tendency to take what the defense gives has led to a lot of slower drives and might lead to some field goals here. So I like both the Chiefs and the Under.
KC +2 (-110) (across the board) Under 47.5 (-110) (across the board)
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