Super Bowl Pick: Patriots vs. Rams Early Prediction
New England Patriots (13-5 SU, 11-7 ATS) vs. Los Angeles Rams (15-3 SU, 9-8-1 ATS)
Super Bowl LIII
Date/Time: Sunday, February 3, 2019 at 6:30pm EST
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia
By: Loot Levinson, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: NE -2.5/LAR +2.5
Over/Under Total: 57
The New England Patriots take on the Los Angeles Rams (+3 at Bovada at time of writing) in Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta on February 3. This has become almost old-hat for the Pats, their ninth Super Bowl in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick tenure. For the Rams, this is the culmination of a long wait to return to the Big Game. Somewhat ironically, the last Super Bowl appearance for the Rams was when they were in St. Louis, losing to the Pats in Super Bowl XXXVI. That was the first Super Bowl win for Brady and Belichick and they’re still here 17 years later, looking for another notch on their belt. Both teams overcame a lot to get here, including winning their respective conference title games in overtime on the road. They are worthy and tested teams playing in what looks to be an evenly-matched Super Bowl where any number of different positions seems viable. Nevertheless, I like the Patriots to win and cover the point spread in Super Bowl LIII.
Heart and Clutch
Over the course of the season, we see a lot of great things on the field on offense and defense. We’ve seen big plays from both teams all year. But it’s not a coincidence that the Patriots are in their third straight Super Bowl and are a perennial participant in this event. When the offense needs a score, Brady and Company are able to deliver, while the coaching staff is able to dial up the right move. And this is proven over the course of history that puts this team atop the list of all-time great teams. We only have to look at their last game to see how this bears out to this day. The Pats somehow withstood a furious late-rally by the Chiefs and won the only way they probably could—by taking the first OT drive for a touchdown to beat a never-say-die Kansas City team in Arrowhead. For the Patriots, it was typical.
When talking about the opponent, it’s never going to measure up to the Patriots. But signs are good for the Rams in this regard. While they’re a team of riches that made a lot of moves to patch together a Super Bowl-caliber team, they have shown some guts, first by overcoming some rocky moments at the end of the season. They started the postseason beating a red-hot Dallas team. But against a good Saints team on the road, they overcame an early deficit and fought their way into the game, closing escrow on the strength of two long Greg Zuerlein field goals. It’s not like they just sailed into the Super Bowl without having to fight their way in. I expect that to resonate in this game.
Reputation Versus Merit
A lot in this game comes down to perception. Even the point spread, which favors the Patriots, might be more based on rep than actual merit. The Rams won more games this season and more frequently looked the part of a Super Bowl contender than the Patriots. They have a rising force at QB with Jared Goff with a boy-genius at the helm in the 33-year old Sean McVay. On offense, they have a wealth of tools that exceed that of their opponents, with the best O-line in the conference. Goff can throw any pass and has the guys to catch any throw. A defense that underachieved for much of the season has come together and is now showing its postseason fangs. But you say the names Goff and McVay and they just don’t register a ripple when compared to Brady/Belichick.
With the Patriots, their reputation is hard to ignore, even in the face of a formidable foe. But as you think they are more hype than substance, you remember what they’re made of and how that manifested in the AFC title game. They might lack the big-play threat of the Rams, but they have a wealth of gifts on offense at the disposal of Brady. And Belichick and his staff’s knack for coming up with the right answers on the other side of the ball is a big part of their collection of rings. They turn it up another notch when the light is shining the brightest.
Issues for the Patriots
Brady is money is these spots. They chop away with aerial targets Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, prolific RB James White, and still-dangerous Rob Gronkowski. Rex Burkhead was big against the Chiefs, while rookie back Sony Michel is peaking after a huge showing in the AFC title game. But alas, they lack that real reliable deep threat. They might have more offensive depth and their line matches up decently against the most-feared defensive-front in the league. But they’re not as explosive as their opponent. Another point of concern is how their “D” has been exploited against the better teams they’ve faced. In the last two Super Bowls, they were lit up in spots against Atlanta and especially in losing to Philly last year. Against the Chiefs, they couldn’t seem to get a stop late in a pinch, as the offense bailed them out.
Issues for the Rams?
The Rams’ offense has massive horsepower both on the ground and through the air. Goff showed a lot of moxie late against the Saints, making a slew of big second-half throws following a disheartening first-half. With Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, he has a pair of big-game receivers, bolstered by Gerald Everett and Josh Reynolds—both huge targets. I’m not sure I like the lack of continuity in the running-game, with CJ Anderson taking such a central role in the ground-attack. After a few miscues, Gurley quickly fell out of favor in the title game, despite scoring a touchdown. Granted, the Patriots’ defense won’t make anyone forget the ’86 Bears, but against defenses that can plan well, the Rams’ offense doesn’t fire automatically. They can lay an egg from time to time, be inconsistent, or take a while to get rolling.
On defense, the playmaking component is big for the Rams. That line is truly scary, with Aaron Donald raining down mayhem, along with Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers doing damage. The middle is well-manned with Mark Barron and Cory Littleton. In the secondary, John Johnson, III., Aqib Talib, and Marcus Peters are big playmakers. But as we saw with LaMarcus Joyner and Nickell Robey-Coleman’s uneven play, in addition to Peters’ tendency to get burned, this secondary is vulnerable. And that would certainly appear to apply meaningfully in this specific case against the opportunistic Brady.
Lay the Points on the Pats
The key parts of the longtime Patriots’ Super Bowl winning tradition are nearing the end, as Brady and Belichick are both getting long in the tooth. After coming up short last season in the big game, there should be a little extra urgency to add one more notch to their ledger. There is also a certain edge that goes with experience, as the Patriots won’t melt in the heat of the spotlight. The Rams are a major threat, led by a thoughtful young head coach who has done well to turn this thing around. They showed a certain championship mettle in withstanding that first big surge by the Saints in the NFC championship and hanging in there to win, despite what good fortune may have come their way. That type of clutch could go a long way in this spot. I just see Brady and the Patriots coming up with the right answers late to get to the end a nose ahead. I’ll take New England.
Loot’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the New England Patriots minus 2.5 points.