Los Angeles Rams (4-7 SU, 4-6-1 ATS) vs. New England Patriots (9-2 SU, 8-3 ATS)
NFL Week 13
Date/Time: Sunday December 4th 1:00 PM EST
Where: Gillette Stadium
by Mike M, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: LA +13 / NE -13
The Los Angeles Rams travel across the country to Foxboro to take on the New England Patriots in a Sunday afternoon mismatchup at Gillette Stadium. The spread of 13 points is double the next highest line on the NFL docket and with the Patriots having gone 6-1 in their last seven games and the Rams an exact opposite 1-6 in their last seven, it’s easy to understand why the oddsmakers instilled New England as such a lofty favorite.
The Patriots enter the game coming off of a hard fought 22-17 road victory against the rival New York Jets, and with the win also saw Tom Brady tie the NFL record for career wins by a quarterback with 200. Wary of the Jets 4th ranked run defense, Belichick and New England went with a pass heavy game plan that saw the team throw 50 times on the game while running the ball only 21 times. The Patriots are now 5-1 in their last six games that Brady had 50 or more pass attempts, which is something that has happened a lot more in recent years in comparison to the first decade of his career, as through the 2011 season he had only thrown 50 or more passes in a game four times total, but from 2012 through 2016 it has happened fifteen times. With his favorite target Rob Gronkowski still feeling the effects of a back injury Brady and the offense will be looking for someone to step up in his absence, and they have a found another contributing cog for the machine in their rookie 4th round draft pick from Georgia, Malcolm Mitchell.
Mitchell seems to be on his way to breaking an unfortunate streak of early round wide receivers drafted by the Patriots since 2003, nearly all of which would undoubtedly be labeled as busts. The list includes – Bethel Johnson (2nd round – 2003), Chad Jackson (2nd round – 2006), Brandon Tate (3rd round – 2009), Taylor Price (3rd round – 2010) and Josh Boyce (4th round – 2013). With injuries amongst the other offensive weapons and playing time suddenly available, Malcolm Mitchell has seized the moment and taken full advantage of the on the field opportunities given to him and over the past two weeks has caught nine receptions on twelve targets for 140 yards and three touchdowns, including last week’s go ahead score in the final minutes to get the win in Jersey. With so many options available amongst the Patriots’ offensive playmakers it may make it harder for Mitchell to get the continuous playing time that fans are hoping for, but if he keeps making plays like he has over the past couple of weeks, it will make it that much more difficult to even consider keeping him off the field.
One thing you hear the announcers say nearly every game the Patriots play is how much the team likes to score in the final two minutes of the first half and then again on their possession when receiving the ball in the second half. While it’s difficult to imagine any team in the NFL that wouldn’t want to find themselves in that scenario, it’s no longer close to accurate to laud New England for such a strategy as they have only managed to pull it off three times in their last fifteen games, this despite having been outscored in the 3rd quarter only once in those same fifteen games. One reason for their lack of double-scoring success can be traced to their kicking game, as they have either missed on field goal chances or of late just consistently ran out the clock at the end of the half rather than race up the field to go for points like they have done in years past, and that is likely due to a lack of faith in continuing to struggle Stephen Gostowski.
Yet again the Patriots game was marred by a missed kick by Gostowski, this time another extra point gone array that now puts him at 26th in the league in percentage made. While only eight kickers have made all of their extra points this year (Josh Brown isn’t included in the total extra point total because he no longer plays in the league due to the fact that he is a gutless coward who repeatedly abused his wife) and the added distance continuing to cause problems for many throughout the league, ranking near the bottom of the barrel is almost inexcusable when considering Gostowski is the highest paid kicker in the league at 4.3 million dollars per year. The Patriots have been lucky to have such consistency at kicker through the recent years with just Adam Vinatieri and Gostowksi starting at the position over the past 20 seasons, but if they continue to see struggles at the spot throughout the season, especially if the choking happens in the playoffs again, it would not at all be surprising to see them save the cap space and look in another direction in the offseason.
The kicking game is one area that the Rams could be rated higher than their opponent this week as Greg Zuerlein is one of those eight who has not missed a point after on the season thus far, though his Achilles heal appears to be distance as his three field goal misses have all be from 48 yards out or more. Scoring as a whole has been a major issue for the team this season, as the Rams finish dead last in the league ranked 32nd in the category while averaging just 15.5 points per game. The offense in general has been a nightmare, ranking 31st in yards per game and 29th in both passing and rushing. The team has attempted to revamp their squad with early picks in the draft by taking Tavon Austin in 2013, Todd Gurley in 2015 and this year going with Jared Goff as the 1st overall pick in the draft. Goff was the 14th quarterback selected first in the draft since 1998, and while some struggled to find success (David Carr and Tim Couch had no offensive lines and JeMarcus Russell was just flat out terrible), nine of the remaining ten made Pro Bowls and the other, Sam Bradford, won rookie of the year in 2010 playing for the Rams.
Jared Goff took a lot of grief for looking far in over his head during the HBO show Hard Knocks that followed the team through their training camp and preseason while the second pick in the draft, Carson Wentz, showed so much promise that the Eagles were willing to trade the previously mentioned Bradford for draft picks and hand the starting reigns over to him starting in week one. The Rams rookie was given a chance to start two weeks ago and like Patriots wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell has made the most of his opportunity, completing 37 of 63 passes for 348 yards and three touchdowns compared to one interception. Goff has definitely shown the promise and potential that led to the L.A. to trade a boatload of picks to move up and draft him, and their fans are hoping he has more of a lasting impact than those taken in a similar spot by the team over the past near decade. In the last nine years the Rams have had a top 2 pick five different times, taking Goff this year along with Chris Long 2nd in 2008 (now on New England), Jason Smith 2nd in 2009 (hasn’t played in the NFL since 2012), Sam Bradford 1st in 2010 and Gregg Robinson 2nd in 2014 (benched last week for his addiction to getting called for penalties). They are also tied with the Colts for most #1 picks in the NFL history with seven, and with only one Super Bowl title to show for it over the past 65 years, the pressure is on Goff to try and turn around the stumbling franchise.
The biggest disappointment of the season for the Rams, other than head coach Jeff Fisher’s continuous refusal to regrow his mullet to match the mustache that makes him look like someone starring in a adult film about the NASCAR industry, has been the play of second year running back Todd Gurley, who started his NFL career strong but has since struggled to find any sort of consistent success. Over his last 20 games Gurley has rushed for over 100 yards one time while averaging only 3.5 yards per carry, and his performance this season specifically has been especially porous with 200 carriers for only 641 yards while scoring just four touchdowns, only one of which was in the past six weeks. With the offensive line constantly besieged and expected cornerstone Gregg Robinson not coming remotely close to living up to expectations, the Rams will likely be looking to invest in some line help after the year is over in hopes of protecting their offensive future of Goff and Gurley.
Playing in the NFL as a rookie quarterback is never easy, but having to do so on the road behind an anemic offense and going against a head coach with a well earned reputation for befuddling newcomers (Bill Belichick is 8-1 over his last 9 games against rookie quarterbacks), will likely be too much for Goff and the Rams to overcome this weekend. Giving a lot of points is always difficult in the NFL and the Patriots have managed to buck this trend of late by going 3-0 against the spread in their last three games giving 13 or more (after going 4-15 in their previous 19 in the same scenario). If worried about laying the double digits the game could always be teased down to 6 or 7, but I would still feel confident laying the full allotment of points and going with Brady and the Patriots at home against an overmatched Rams team playing on the road for the second straight week.
Mike M’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: New England -13
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