A lot has changed in the 17 years since the Rams and Patriots initially met in Super Bowl XXXVI. In that meeting, the Rams were “The Greatest Show on Turf” and were heavy favorites against this upstart New England team with a quarterback nobody had ever heard of. When I say the Rams were heavy favorites, I mean it. They were favored by 14 points.
I was 21-years old, yet even I was old enough to know that was a ridiculous spread. I was also living in Champaign, Illinois at the time, and it’s possible my surroundings were influencing my natural contrarian inclinations. The University of Illinois is essentially a gathering of students from Chicago and its suburbs as well as kids from the rest of the state as well as the St. Louis area. A lot of kids in central and downstate Illinois grow up rooting for St. Louis teams like the Cardinals and Rams (though the Rams had been in St Louis barely half a decade at the time). I was a Bears fan from Chicago. I was surrounded by Rams fans who only grew in number as the season progressed. The Bears went 13-3 that year themselves but lost in the Divisional Round at home to the Philadelphia Eagles (this all feels too familiar). So I, and every other Bears fan on campus were catching grief from the Rams fans about this, as the Rams fans were all convinced the Patriots had no chance in hell of winning the game.
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And they weren’t alone. Most of America felt the same. As I said, the Rams were 14-point favorites, and to put that in perspective, consider this season. The Patriots, who are now widely accepted as the greatest dynasty in the history of the sport, played the lowly Buffalo Bills at home earlier this season. They were 13.5-point favorites in that game. When they hosted the Jets a week later, they were 14-point favorites.
So, basically, the spread in Super Bowl XXXVI then was telling you that the difference between the 2001 Rams and 2001 Patriots was the same as the difference between the 2018 Patriots and 2018 Jets. I wasn’t that stupid. Yes, the Patriots got off to a slow start that season when Drew Bledsoe got hurt and Tom Brady — who I was familiar with from his time at Michigan — stepped in. They started the year 1-3. But then they won 10 of their last 12 regular season games (one of those losses a 24-17 loss to the Rams in Foxboro). They played well enough to earn a first-round bye. The Patriots entered the playoffs on a six-game winning streak and beat the AFC West champion Raiders in the Divisional Round 16-13 in overtime (The infamous Tuck Rule Game). The next week they went on the road to beat a Steelers team that had gone 13-3 on the season and 7-1 at home in Heinz Field.
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By the time the Patriots reached the Super Bowl, it was evident that they were an outstanding team, but nobody wanted to admit it. While I don’t know the numbers, I would guess that at least four out of every five bets on the Super Bowl were on the Rams. Obviously, the Patriots would not just go on to cover that spread, but win the game outright, shocking most of the world and kicking off the dynasty most people outside of New England are sick of today.
So here we are about to play Super Bowl LIII, and the Patriots are no longer that overlooked underdog. They’re the kings. They’re the team that nobody thinks can lose to the Rams in this Super Bowl. Nevermind that the Rams went 13-3 this season and beat New Orleans in New Orleans to get here. The lines for this game opened at either a Pick’em or with the Rams as 1-point favorites in some places. They quickly swung to where they are now, with the Patriots as 2.5-point favorites, and as much as 3-point favorites in other establishments. They swung because nobody wants to bet against New England, as roughly four out of every five bets placed on the spread in this game have been on New England as I type this.
The Tom of 17 years ago is currently yelling at me not to be an idiot and take the Rams and the points in this game. The Tom of today is smacking me upside the head to let me know that the underdog has covered in eight of the last 11 Super Bowls, and won seven of those games outright.
But I can’t do it. I can’t go against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in this game. Even though I know the Patriots are only 3-5 ATS in their previous eight Super Bowl appearances, and 2-5 ATS as favorites, I just can’t do it. The thing that is at the heart of Bill Belichick being a great coach is that his fundamental principles are simple, even if his game plans themselves aren’t. He figures out what you do best, and then he comes up with a way to take that away from you and force you to beat him with everything else you have. Some teams can do it. Most can’t. Then there’s Tom Brady, who figures out what you’ve taken away from him and is perfectly content to beat you with what you’ve left him. And he’s good enough, and patient enough, to do it more often than not.
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And I see the Patriots doing that to the Rams in this game. I see New England taking away the Rams rushing attack — be it Todd Gurley or C.J. Anderson — and forcing Jared Goff to beat them. A Jared Goff who I’ve long been a fan of, and who I think will be an excellent quarterback in the NFL, but not one who I believe is ready to beat Tom Brady in the Super Bowl.
I see the Patriots offensive line, a unit that has been underappreciated for the most part this season, figuring out a way to neutralize Aaron Donald (you can’t stop him completely) and slow down the Rams pass rush, giving Brady time to do as he pleases from the pocket whether it’s a receiver downfield or James White underneath.
And I see the Patriots doing what four out of every five bettors expects them to do in this game: win it. Maybe if they do, it’ll be the last one. Perhaps a Super Bowl win leads to Tom Brady riding off into the sunset. If it does, I hope Tom Brady’s legend ends the same way it began. With a cover. Patriots 27, Rams 21.
Patriots (-2.5) and Under 56.5
Those are two picks for this game, but all season long I’ve given you three picks per week, and I have a third pick for you as well. It goes along with something I mentioned earlier.
Rams Team Rushing Yards – Under 127.5
That total is what’s currently listed at Bovada, but there may be different totals at your local establishment. As long as it’s in the 125-yard range or higher, I’d be very comfortable taking the under. I don’t see the Rams having much success rushing the ball in this game as the Patriots game plan will be centered around taking it away and forcing Jared Goff to win this game.