Patriots are the right side in Super Bowl LIII

Patriots are the right side in Super Bowl LIII

January 30, 2019 3:00 AM
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For the first time in the 53-year history of the Super Bowl, the championship game will contested by teams that prevailed in conference title games as road underdogs, with the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots bracing to tangle Sunday.

Both combatants won in overtime (that’s also never happened before in one season), with the Rams beating New Orleans 26-23 and the Patriots downing Kansas City 37-31. In New England’s victory, it converted on 13 of 19 third downs, the most successes for any team this year. That was against a Chiefs defense that flustered Indianapolis a week earlier (0-for-9).

Sunday’s game in Atlanta will be a rematch of the championship game held 17 years ago in New Orleans.That’s when the Rams entered as 14-point favorites but were ambushed 20-17 by QB Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick.

At the time, it was seen as a colossal upset of the Greatest Show on Turf by a newbie QB and unheralded head coach.

On average, those Rams, led by future Hall of Fame QB Kurt Warner and RB Marshall Faulk, outgained foes by 138.1 yards a game, the widest margin for any team since World War II.

New England, meanwhile, had a norm of minus 29.4, which stands as the worst differential for any team that ever even reached the NFL title game dating to 1934.

This year, the roles are somewhat reversed with the greybeard Brady and his Patriots listed as slight favorites despite having two more losses than the Rams and third-year QB Jared Goff.

Since the 1970 merger, there have been three previous instances of a team such as this year’s Rams being a Super underdog despite a record two games superior to its foe. The squad with the inferior record won each time.

As for the matchup, the Rams opened as 1-point choices, but the line swiftly tilted in NE’s favor. It’s the eighth straight time the Patriots have been a Super favorite, going 4-3 since 2003 but only 2-5 ATS. ...

LA’s Sean McVay will be attempting to become the first second-year coach with no title-game experience to beat a Super Bowl-winning field boss in the big game since last year, when Doug Pederson’s Eagles outlasted Belichick’s Patriots 41-33. Dating back to that 2003 season, Belichick is 1-4 ATS vs. first-time Super coaches, 3-2 SU. His only spread-beating win was 34-28 in OT over Atlanta and coach Dan Quinn two years ago after rallying from 25 points down.

In the Patriots’ march to the Super Bowl last season, Brady never threw an INT when taking a snap in enemy territory. By contrast, he’s already done so seven times this season, including from the Kansas City 1 in the AFC championship game. LA’s Jared Goff has four such interceptions this year.

The Patriots had a 94-47 edge in offensive snaps in their win at KC, the widest margin (47) for any squad the past nine seasons. Keeping with that subject, no team has had more than 94 offensive plays since the Steelers had 95 in 2002 against expansion Houston in 24-6 loss despite holding the Texans to 47 yards. That’s the lowest yardage total for a winning team in NFL history. In keeping with that theme, at the other end of the spectrum, New England produced 613 yards in last year’s Super Bowl. That’s the highest total for any losing team in history.

The Rams’ rally from a 13-0 hole vs. the Saints was the biggest road comeback in the playoffs since Tennessee overcame an 18-point deficit in Kansas City in last season’s wild-card round.

The only fresh injury of note (official reports will come out closer to game time) is the sprained left (non-kicking) foot of LA’s Greg Zuerlein. He reportedly hurt it in warmups against New Orleans, but it didn’t stop him from hitting that 57-yard FG in overtime to knock out the Saints. Otherwise, since both teams had a late-season bye and two more off weeks during the playoffs, all hands should be well-rested and ready to go.

Analysis: Both teams have potent offenses, with the Rams averaging 32.9 a game, which ranked second in the league, and the Patriots fourth with a norm of 27.2. The running games are particularly strong, with LA having RB Todd Gurley, the third-leading rusher with 1,251 yards despite missing Weeks 16 and 17, along with C.J. Anderson. NE has the recently surging Sony Michel, who leads all playoff rushers with 242 yards. And, of course, both QBs are standouts, but one has a little more experience.

What’s been startling this postseason, though, has been the teams’ defensive transformations, especially with regard to stopping the run. New England yielded 4.9 yards a carry during the regular season, the highest rate in Belichick’s 19-year reign. L.A. was even worse, allowing 5.1, the third-worst norm ever for a playoff team.

But in the postseason, the Pats held the Chargers to 19 yards on 10 carries in the Divisional round and then the Chiefs to 41 on 12 rushes, an average of 2.7 a run. The Rams were just as good, yielding only 50 yards on 22 carries to Dallas and rushing king Zeke Elliott, and then 48 yards on 21 rushes to the New Orleans. That’s a 2.3-yard norm. For both victors, it was their two best defensive performances against the run this year.

These turnabouts are eerily similar to what transpired with the Super Colts of 2006, who allowed 5.3 yards a carry in the regular season, the worst ever for a playoff team, but in a three-game run to the playoffs that average was reduced to 3.6.

What should separate these Super teams is the savvy of Brady, who’s always throwing to his backs, such as in the win against the Chargers when RB James White had 15 catches for 97 yards. And Brady makes great use of the middle of the field by targeting WR Julian Edelman and TE Rob Gronkowski, who had a season-high 11 targets last week.

And that’s a sore spot for the Rams, who lost two key linebackers in the offseason, including leading tackler Alec Ogletree. It should again be a ball-control game for New England. for over their past six-plus Super Bowl quarters they’ve punted only once.

The Rams for sure will get their scores, too, but might be putting the ball up for grabs more against an experienced Patriots secondary.

One last thing to consider: The Patriots’ 39-16 (.709) mark against the spread since 2016 is the best three-season mark in the league the past 40 years. I look for the Patriots to win and cover the spread. PATRIOTS

Now for something completely different, as they used to say on Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Here are five prop bets offered by the Westgate SuperBook that seem appealing:

1. Will Tom Brady have more or less than 1.5 rushing yards?: No quarterback has greater success on sneaks on third- and fourth-and-short than Brady, so he’s good for at least one try there. That’s one yard at least. Also, since he figures to drop back to pass close to 40 times he’s bound to be running for his life once or twice while chased by Aaron Donald, who led the league with 20.5 sacks. That should be good for more yardage. This would be a nice bet at even money. At +130, MORE

2. The Patriots will score a first-quarter touchdown: In Brady’s previous eight Super Bowls, the Patriots have totaled three points, with that field goal coming last year against the Eagles. But in New England’s past three games, it has scored a total of nine TDs on its first four possessions. These odds look good. At -110, YES

3. Will Rams RB C.J. Anderson have more or less than 10.5 carries?: Coach McVay emphasized that he has to get the league’s third-leading rusher more involved in the offense after he had only four rushes in New Orleans. Of course, if Gurley’s getting the ball that mean’s fewer carries for Anderson, who averaged only 2.8 yards a rush on 16 runs vs. New Orleans. At -110, LESS

4. Will the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights and Florida Panthers combine for more goals than Robert Woods has receptions for the Rams?: This will be the second game in as many nights for both hockey teams. And if the Golden Knights follow their season-long pattern when playing consecutive games on the road, their backup goalie will be in net. That could well happen for the Panthers, too. As for Woods, only once did he have more than seven catches in a game and it seems this hockey game should be light on shot-blocking and full of odd-man rushes against guys caught on ice with weary legs. A high-scoring affair on the ice seems reasonable. The odds are outstanding. At +130, YES

5. Will Rams punter Johnny Hekker attempt at least one pass? This is for those of you with deep pockets. This is a specialty for Hekker, who quarterbacked his high school team to the championship game as a senior. He pulled off a first-down completion against the Saints that jump-started the Rams’ comeback from 13-0 down. Would L.A. dare to try that stunt two games in a row?

Probably not, although Hekker did have back-to-back games this year when he did throw a pass, but he was unsuccessful in the second attempt. As for the Patriots, they forced 79 punts this season but no punter tried to throw for whatever reasons. Maybe it’s because New England is always on the lookout for such shenanigans. At -550, NO

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