New England Patriots Favorite vs. L.A. Rams in Super Bowl LIII
The New England Patriots are a slight favorite to defeat the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII on February 3 in Atlanta. Las Vegas sportsbooks installed the Patriots as a -1.5 favorite on the neutral field site of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The two teams took parallel paths to the 2019 Super Bowl. Both went on the road to face the No. 1 seed in their respective conferences. Each won a hard-fought contest in overtime. Championship Sunday was the first time ever that both of the NFL’s conference championship games went to overtime.
Super Bowl 53 shapes up as a classic match-up between a team of cagey veterans and a team that embodies the latest trends. Sean McVay is the youngest-ever Super Bowl coach. He’s the genius offensive guru who changed how NFL front office’s hired head coaches this offseason.
On the other hand, the New England Patriots core contributors (Tom Brady, Bill Belichick) have a record that is unmatched in the Super Bowl era: 9 Super Bowl appearances, 5 Super Bowl victories, 13 championship game appearances, and the first team to reach 4 Super Bowls in 5 seasons.
The Patriots either cement their status as the G.O.A.T., or the Rams get an early start on building their championship legend. If the AFC and NFC Championship games were any indication, this should be a first-rate Super Bowl. The consensus Super Bowl 53 point spread suggests no decided favorite.
Rams Defeat Saints in Overtime
First, the Los Angeles Rams beat the New Orleans Saints 26-23 in overtime, avenging a 45-35 regular season loss on Nov. 3 at the Superdome. Like the previous game, the Saints took an early lead and looked as if they would control the flow of the game.
The New Orleans crowd made it difficult for Rams offensive players to hear the play calls or the snap count. In the November match-up, though, the Saints scored 5 touchdowns in 5 trips inside the red zone.
L.A. Rams Defense Was Up to the Challenge
This time, the Los Angeles defense held the Saints to a pair of field goals in the early onslaught. Once the Rams’ offense came alive, they only had to dig out from a 13-0 deficit. A 2-minute drive at the end of the 1st half changed the complexion of the game, as the Rams felt good to be down 13-10 at halftime.
The NFC Championship game was a surprisingly gritty defensive slog, with Drew Brees and company failing to put away the Rams several times. Their best chance came on 3rd-and-10 at the Rams’ 13-yard line with 1:49 left in the 4th Quarter.
Controversial End to Saints Game
As receiver TommyLee Lewis streaked down the right sideline, Drew Brees threw a touch pass that looked as if it would go for a first down, if not a touchdown. Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, coming over late to cover the receiver, ran directly into Lewis without looking for the ball or making a play on it.
It was a clear case of interference, which would have given the Saints an automatic 1st down and 1st-and-goal from the 5-yard line. The team would have kneeled with the ball three times and kicked a chipshot field goal with little or no time remaining, as coach Sean Payton explained after the game. Payton also claimed the head referee told him the crew blew the call.
The Saints kicked a field goal, but the Rams had 1:40 on the clock to engineer their own field goal drive to send the game into overtime. New Orleans won the coin toss and were driving the ball for a potential game-winning touchdown, but Drew Brees was hit by Dante Fowler as he threw a pass intended for star receiver Michael Thomas. Thomas ran into Rams safety John Johnson, who fell down on the play, but had the football fall gently into his hands as he laid on the ground.
From there, the Rams drove into long field goal range. Greg Zuerlein kicked a 57-yard field goal to send the Rams to the Super Bowl — and the Saints were left to wonder what might have been.
Patriots Defeat Chiefs in Overtime
If anything, the game between the Patriots and Chiefs was even more entertaining. Though Kansas City and New England had a similar defensive battle for three quarters, the 4th Quarter was a showcase of the talents of the likely NFL MVP (Patrick Mahomes) and the quarterback many think is the greatest of all time (Tom Brady).
Little that happened in the 4th Quarter or overtime would undermine either player’s claim to their respective honor.
The lead changed hands four times in the 4th Quarter, as Pat Mahomes and Tom Brady led their teams down the field in increasingly more efficient drives.
Patrick Mahomes Comeback 2nd Half
The 2nd Half was a clinic in quarterback play. The Patriots had a 14-0 halftime lead, but coming out of halftime, Mahomes led the Chiefs on a 4-play, 74-yard drive to halve the lead at 14-7. After the Patriots kicked a field goal midway through the third, Mahomes engineered a 9-play, 62-yard drive to cut the lead to 3 at 17-14 late in the 3rd Quarter.
After the teams failed on short possessions to open the 4th Quarter, the Chiefs took advantage of a Tom Brady interception which was tipped by Julian Edelman to take the lead at 21-17. Brady bounced back with a 10-play, 60-yard touchdown drive to take the lead at 24-21, which opened a sequence of rapid scoring drives.
With only 3:26 remaining in the game, Patrick Mahomes took the Chiefs to a touchdown in 5 plays and 40 yards — taking up 1 minute and 29 seconds of clock time. Tom Brady then led the Patriots on a 6-play, 60-yard touchdown drive using only 1 minute and 24 seconds. Even that wleft too much time on the clock (39 seconds), as Pat Mahomes led the Chiefs 48 yards on 4 plays (in 31 seconds) to set up Harrison Butker for a 39 yard field goal.
That set up the second overtime of the day. Anyone watching the game knew the winner of the coin toss would win the game. The Patriots won the toss and drove the field on a methodical 13-play, 75-yard drive that took 4 minutes and 21 seconds. A Rex Burkhead dive up the middle proved to be the winning touchdown, giving New England a 37-31 win and a third straight trip to the Super Bowl.
Rams vs. Patriots
Despite Tom Brady’s heroics in the 4th Quarter and overtime — and Brady kept that final drive alive with three straight 3rd-and-long conversions — it is the running game which led the Patriots’ surge in the playoffs. After rushing for more than 250 yards against the Chargers last week, the Patriots kept the Chiefs’ vaunted pass rush off-balance with an effective running attack on Sunday.
The Chiefs’ run defense gave up 5.0 yards per carry this year. Only one team in the NFL had a worse average — the Los Angeles Rams at 5.1 ypc. Expect to see Bill Belichick dial-up a fierce running attack against the Rams in the Super Bowl. Despite NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate Aaron Donald and perennial All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in the middle, both players’ specialty is rushing the passer from the interior — not stopping the run.
Tip #1: Watch for Todd Gurley Injury News
Also, sports bettors should pay special attention to injury news on Todd Gurley. The Rams running back had 21 touchdowns in the first 14 games of the season this year, before being shut down late in the regular season with a variety of injuries. Gurley has not looked the same since, while an overweight-looking CJ Anderson was claimed off waivers and had a string of three straight 100-yard games coming into Sunday’s contest.
It’s a trend in the NFL that less talented running backs sometimes have productive runs late in the season, if they haven’t been used much. They are fresh and uninjured, while the defenses they play are worn down by the grind of the regular season. So C.J. Anderson is playing above his talent level for a good reason — he’s avoided wear and tear all year.
Todd Gurley was on the field for only a few plays in the 2nd Half with the team’s season on the line. Despite Fox Sports’ announcers acting as if CJ Anderson is fresher and the better option, that does not happen unless Todd Gurley had a lingering injury of some kind. For his part, Todd Gurley said he was not injured, but instead, he was “sorry”. The Rams’ star running back told NFL Network’s Steve Wyche, “I was sorry as hell today.“
That might be the case, but a lingering knee injury might produce that poor play. Late in the season, star players often rest during practice sessions. That can produce erode efficiency and skills, and it can be hard to shake off the rust in the middle of an all-important NFC Championship game when playing a team with equal talents.
The stakes are higher in the Super Bowl, while that rust might be worse. But we’ll be a full 2 months from the knee injury, which means Todd Gurley might be better healed. It also means he might be more active in the Rams’ practices, especially after seeing the effects of that rust in the last two playoff games.
For those who think Gurley’s word is gospel on the injury front, keep in mind that hiding injuries is an old tactic in contact sports like football and hockey. It keeps tacklers from targeting the injury or game-planning around Gurley’s presence. He is motivated to deny the injury.
Whatever the case, Todd Gurley has 2 weeks to prepare for the biggest game of his life. While the L.A. Rams are being canny with Gurley’s injury, expect the Super Bowl sports media to dig deep. Bettors should pay close attention to the Rams’ injury report — especially Todd Gurley’s role in practices — because a healthy Todd Gurley transforms the Rams’ offense.
Tip #2: Jared Goff’s Play under Pressure
As it is, Bill Belichick is likely to shut down the Rams’ running game and force a young quarterback to overcome nerves to win the Super Bowl. Jared Goff and head coach Sean McVay have been up to the challenge in the playoffs so far, but neither the Dallas Cowboys nor the New Orleans Saints put Goff under the kind of 60-minute pressure one would have imagined.
In the Cowboys’ game, Dallas inexplicably left their linebackers 5 or more yards off the line deep into the 2nd Half, instead of selling out to stop the run and forcing a slightly-off Jared Goff to beat them. The Saints, while their linebackers did come up to stop the run, never put up the kind of offensive numbers one would have expected to force Jared Goff to pass his way back into the game. Those two stops on the early field goal drives were huge for the Rams defense.
If Jared Goff is up to the pressure and the Rams run offense can take a bit of that pressure off him, then the Rams have a chance. But expect Jared Goff to be forced to win the game for the Rams.
Tip #3: Rams D’s Ability to Pressure Brady
The Rams Defense will have to slow down Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead. The Patriots will try to neutralize the Rams front seven with its rushing attack. The most elemental question is whether the Rams can force the Patriots’ into 3rd and long situations. While Aaron Donald is an extraordinary D-lineman, he is smallish and his one potential weakness is the running game.
If the Rams stop the run, then the question becomes whether Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, Michael Brockers, and Dante Fowler can get in Tom Brady’s face. In the three Super Bowls the Patriots have lost in the Brady Era (Giants, Giants, Eagles), the defensive pass rush hit Tom Brady often, beat him up through the game, and forced him to hurry throws. Even at 41, Tom Brady still looks to be at the top of his game in these playoffs, so the LA Rams pass rush has to force the issue or lose the game.
The Las Vegas odds on Super Bowl LIII are about right. The Los Angeles Rams are a worthy opponent with stars all over the field and a wunderkind at head coach, but the Patriots run game poses a match-up problem and their top player (Gurley) might be a non-factor. Meanwhile, the New England Patriots have veterans at virtually every position — having been to 3 Super Bowls in a row and 4 out of the last 5 — and every coaching position.