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Rams, 34-23!

Jan 29, 2002 10:11 AM

The 3 p.m. kickoff Las Vegas time will be the single largest wagering event of the year in Nevada’s Sports Books.

Unfortunately the game rarely lives up to the incredible hype that precedes the game.

Fact is, most Super Bowls have been blowouts. Last year the game was competitively priced with Baltimore a 3-point choice over the New York Giants. Baltimore made the Super Bowl as a Wild Card.

It was the second straight season that a Wild Card had won three games en route to playing for the big prize. The Giants were the top seeded team in the NFC but were still regarded as the underdog.

And the final score justified the linesmaker in favoring the Wild Card over the NFC’s top seed. Baltimore was clearly the better team as the Ravens held the Giants to just 152 yards of offense in winning 34-7.

Since the NFL modified its playoff format in 1990, only three of eleven Super Bowls can be classified as competitive. The Giants defeated Buffalo 20-19 in Super Bowl XXV on Scott Norwood’s famous “wide right” FG attempt in the closing seconds. Denver bested Green Bay 31-24 in Super Bowl XXXII, the first of the Broncos back-to-back wins. And two years ago the St. Louis Rams defeated Tennessee 23-16 as the Titans fell one yard short of forcing the first overtime in the history of the Super Bowl.

The other eight Super Bowls since 1990 have been one sided games each decided by double digits. Seven of the eight games were won by 13 or more points and three of those games were decided by at least 21 points. The NFL can’t be too pleased with its marquee event being so consistently one sided over the years.

The linesmaker has done a pretty good job of recognizing the one-sided nature of the Super Bowl. The winning team is not always the favorite. When Baltimore was favored by just three points last season it marked the first time in more than a decade that the favored team was less than a six point choice.

In half of the past 12 Super Bowls there has been a double digit favorite. These huge favorites have gone just 3-2-1 against the pointspread with Green Bay’s 35-21 win over New England in Super Bowl XXXI resulting in the push. There has been another Super Bowl push in recent years with the Rams win over Tennessee two seasons pushing the seven point line.

For many years the straight up winner of the Super Bowl also covered the pointspread but, with a pair of pushes in the past five years, shopping for a good line becomes very important. The line for Super Bowl XXXVI opened with St. Louis a 15½ point favorite over New England but within hours the line had dropped to a fairly solid 14 points across Las Vegas.

If you are interested in backing the Patriots you might do well to shop around and hope to find a 14½. Rams backers might wish to wait a few days and see if the line drops a bit further, to 13½ or perhaps even to 13. The number “14” is one of the NFL’s “key” numbers that falls just under five percent of the time.

Recent Super Bowls have also tended towards being high scoring affairs, at least as determined by the Over/Under numbers posted on the game. Four of the last five Super Bowls have gone Over the total as have seven of the last nine. This season’s total opened at 52½, largely due to the presence of the record setting Rams. But this is not the highest recent total posted for the Super Bowl.

Both franchises are making their third Super Bowl appearances with New England’s previous two Super Bowls, both losses coming in New Orleans.

Both teams enter Super Bowl XXXVI riding eight straight winning streaks. New England’s last loss came in mid-November to St. Louis. The Rams won that Sunday nighter 24-17 as 8 point favorites. The total in that game was 47½.

In that game the Rams scored a pair of quick touchdowns but also used a ball control, 11- play drive that covered 75 yards and took six minutes off of the clock. The game ended with the Rams running the final eight minutes off of the clock in moving from their own 28 to New England’s 15 when the game ended. One of the Patriots’ two touchdowns came on a 52 yard interception return by Terrell Buckley.

The Rams were clearly the better team in that game and outgained New England 482-230 in total yardage and had a first downs edge of 26-13. Neither quarterback was especially sharp with St. Louis QB Kurt Warner tossing a pair of interceptions in addition to completing three TD passes while Patriot counterpart Tom Brady was also picked off twice in addition to throwing one TD pass.

The Rams are justifiably huge favorites. They can win in so many ways. Although their offense has received much of the attention this season it’s been the emergence of their defense as one of the league’s best that makes St. Louis the most complete team in the NFL.

New England is proof that often the sum of the individual parts is greater than the parts themselves. The Patriots epitomize the team concept. They are not flashy and rarely make spectacular plays. Rather, they make timely plays.

On offense they don’t gain much yardage but they make the yardage they do gain count. On defense they yield yardage between the twenties but come up big in the red zone. And their special teams were the reason they defeated Pittsburgh last week for the AFC Title.

QB Tom Brady was injured in the second quarter but in came Drew Bledsoe to lead New England to their only offensive touchdown.

Brady’s injury, a high ankle sprain, keeps his starting status for this week uncertain but Bledsoe stepped right in and handled the offense capably. Bledsoe also has Super Bowl experience having played with the Patriots in their loss to Green Bay.

In breaking down the game it’s hard to find any edges to support New England but that’s been the case all season. Perhaps they can be given the slightest of edges in coaching with Bill Belichick doing a masterful job in rallying the Pats after starts of 0-2 and 1-3.

Belichick is a defensive genius and you can be sure he and his staff will again make the Rams work hard. It’s hard to forecast a New England upset. The Rams will win 34-23. So, take PATRIOTS and OVER.