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To somewhat paraphrase Mark Twain, “The reports of the demise of the New England Patriots dynasty were an exaggeration.”

Despite an aging QB in Tom Brady and a regular season in which the Patriots lost more than four games since going 10-6 in 2009, New England will be making its third straight trip to the Super Bowl. It will also be its fourth in the past five seasons, seeking to atone for last season’s highly entertaining loss to Philadelphia.

As has occurred over the past several seasons, there was widespread talk for much of this season that the end of the sustained success that has endured for nearly two decades was coming to an end. Not only did the Pats start the season 1-2 with a pair of road losses, both of those losses (at Jacksonville and Detroit) were by double digits. A 34-10 loss at Tennessee in Week 10, just before their bye, was one of their most lopsided losses since the Pats won their first Super Bowl in the Brady/Bill Belichick era. Only twice in the 16 preceding seasons did the Patriots lose by more than that 24 point margin, ignoring the 2008 season when Brady was lost for the season in the first half of the first game.

Yet the Pats rallied to finish 11-5, winning their final two games to end up as the second seed in the AFC. In winning their Divisional round game against the Chargers New England advanced to play for the AFC Championship in Kansas City. They won that game in exciting fashion, scoring on the first possession of overtime 37-31 to reach the Super Bowl.

In a bit of irony the Patriots will face the franchise they defeated in Super Bowl 36, the then St. Louis Rams who, in 2016, returned to the city they called home from 1946 to 1994, Los Angeles. In another bit of irony the “rematch” of Super Bowl 36 will be played on Sunday, February 3 which is 17 years to the day of New England’s first Super Bowl win.

And yet there is another bit of irony that ties these two franchises together that will be discussed shortly.

The storyline leading up to Super Bowl 53 could easily be written as “Will Poetic Justice Come Full Circle?” with the subtitle asking “Will What Goes Around Indeed Come Around?”

Recall that in Super Bowl 36 after the Rams took a 3-0 lead the Patriots scored 17 straight points and led 17-3 entering the fourth quarter. The Rams tied the game at 17 with a pair of touchdowns. When New England began its final drive from its 17-yard-line they had no timeouts and just 1:21 was left to play. Oh, and the Pats had been outgained by the Rams 427-214.

The rest is history as Brady let the Pats down the field and Adam Vinatieri kicked a the game winning 48-yard field goal that defeated the team that had scored over 500 points for three straight seasons and was billed as “The Greatest Show on Turf” 20-17 in the game that marked the start of the Patriots’ dynasty.

As to the connection between the teams that adds to the irony surrounding Super Bowl 53, recall that New England won their 2001 AFC Divisional playoff game in overtime with a field goal to defeat the Oakland Raiders. The Pats forced overtime after the infamous “tuck rule” play in which what appeared to be a fumble by QB Brady that was recovered by Oakland was reviewed and reversed to be ruled an incomplete pass. The play occurred with less than two minutes remaining and set the stage for a Vinatieri FG that tied the game, resulting in the overtime.

The Rams are in Super Bowl 53 because of a penalty that was not called with the game tied at 20 in the final two minutes. The Saints were in position to milk the clock as much as possible and what would be either a field goal or touchdown with little or no time left that would likely win the game. On third-and-10 from the Rams 13-yard-line Saints QB Drew Brees threw a pass intended for Tommylee Lewis.

But the Rams’ Nickell Robey-Coleman hit Lewis well before the ball arrived in a clear display of pass interference and did so in a helmet to helmet fashion, which itself carries a penalty. Afterwards Saints Coach Sean Payton told the gathered media and national audience that the NFL had called and told him the officials blew the call and Robey-Coleman admitted he did commit the PI.

Due to the non-call the Saints had to settle for a FG on the next play but it left the Rams 1:41 which gave the Rams time to move into position for the game-tying FG before winning it in overtime.

Thus we will get the chance to see the Patriots’ fortunes possibly come full circle as after taking advantage of the “tuck rule” to ultimately earn a trip to Super Bowl 36 they will face a team that benefited from its own officiating “incident” to reach Super Bowl 53. And there remains this bit of unfinished business for the Rams from that first Super Bowl.

In the aftermath of the 2007 “Spygate” scandal involving the New England Patriots reports began to surface that the Patriots had taped or had otherwise without authorization had knowledge of the Rams pregame walk-through the day before Super Bowl 36. Although the issue has never been resolved with certainty the “official” word is that those claims are false.

But as is often the case in similar matters, there may be more than a grain or two of truth to them and although no extra motivation is needed prior to playing a Super Bowl the Rams do have this bit of history to post on their bulletin board.

This is an intriguing matchup and we have two weeks to savor the buildup and anticipate what might happen in what will also be previewed as a potential of a changing of the guard both in terms of quarterback and coach as Brady the elder statesman will be opposed by third-season QB Jared Goff. And the dean of current coaches, Bill Belichick, will match wits with Rams second-season coach Sean McVay who has already earned a reputation as an aggressive play caller and risk taker.

Since seeding began in 1990 this will be the first Super Bowl in which both teams are No. 2 seeds. It is the sixth consecutive Super Bowl in which both teams were seeded either No. 1 or 2.

In the moments following the AFC Championship game the line for Super Bowl 53 opened largely opened either at Pick ‘em or with the Rams as the 1- point favorite. The early moves were towards the Patriots and by Monday evening, barely 24 hours after the line opened, New England could be found as either 2- or 2.5-point favorites with the speculation that the line could rise as high as Patriots -3 but likely no higher as Rams investors would likely scoop up +3 as soon as the most important of all key numbers shows up.

As the end of the 2018 season is upon us it’s not too early to begin thinking about the 2019 season and towards that end last week the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook posted opening odds for the 2019 Super Bowl to be played in February of 2020. Other books shall follow suit with many posting their odd in conjunction with the posting of their plethora of proposition bets (universally referred to as “props”) involving the Super Bowl for both locals and visitors alike to peruse and partake as they make their final bets of the 2018 season.

Be aware that there are few, if any, bargains to be found, especially this early in the wagering cycle. At the Westgate the Chiefs and Rams are the co-favorites at 6-1 odds followed by the Saints at 8-1. The other 29 teams are priced at 10-1 or higher, beginning with New England at 10-1. 9 other teams are priced at from 12-1 to 20-1. Another 10 teams are priced between 30-1 and 60-1 with the remaining nine teams are priced between 80-1 (Denver) and 300-1 (Miami). The seven teams between those extremes are all priced at 100-1.

There were 11 teams that finished with 10 or more wins this past season and another three finished with nine. Of the double-digit win teams, nine are priced at 20-1 or less with just Houston and Seattle priced more attractively with each at 30-1. The Texans were 11-5 and won the AFC South while the Seahawks earned an NFC Wild Card with a 10-6 record.

Of the three nine-win teams Pittsburgh is the least attractively priced at 14-1 with Tennessee the most attractive of the three at 60-1. In the middle is Philadelphia at 20-1. Note that with the Titans you get a 60-1 team that has had three straight 9-7 seasons with a playoff win in 2017 in their first postseason appearance since 2008.

As to my thoughts on poetic justice coming full circle versus the continuation of the Patriots dynasty please check out my column next week in which I shall analyze the matchup, make my prediction and offer recommendations on how to bet the game. I’ll also be including my annual dissertation on the cottage industry that has exploded over the years known as “prop bets.”

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About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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