Super Bowl LIII will see an unparalleled number of legal wagers. That’s due to the fact it’s the first to take place with regulated single-game betting available outside of Nevada.
The game features a tight point spread in favor of the New England Patriots. Depending on sportsbook, that projected margin of victory currently ranges from 2.5 to 3 points over the Los Angeles Rams. For much of the betting public, which figures to include more novices this year than any other Super Sunday, that number likely comes off as very surmountable for Tom Brady and company.
Part of that belief is certainly the mythical perception surrounding New England’s postseason acumen. Another is likely a common belief that the wide gulf in experience between the two head coaches should tilt the game decidedly in favor of the Patriots.
Thus, there may be plenty of temptation for the inexperienced to plunk their money down on not just the New England moneyline but also a cover.
However, it’s usually worthwhile to play a little devil’s advocate when a high-stakes game involves two very evenly matched squads. As such, here are five reasons to contradict the notion of the Patriots besting the Rams by more than a field goal.
The indoor environment of Mercedes-Benz Dome suits two of the Rams’ most important skill players
Football speed traditionally translates better on an indoor track. There, the perfect conditions ensure elements such as the wind can’t shave a tenth of a second off the straight-line speed of a running back or receiver.
That’s particularly relevant when considering the track record of both Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks. The running back/receiver duo qualifies as Rams offense’s two most explosive players.
Gurley has thrived in indoor environments for two of his four pro seasons. We can factor out his forgettable 2016. That year, the Georgia product experienced an outlier campaign overall playing under an offensive albatross known as Jeff Fisher.
And Gurley was admittedly more or less ordinary in domes in 2017. He averaged a pedestrian 4.1 yards on a sample size of 57 rushes. However, he was highly efficient in both his rookie campaign of 2015, and most important, this past regular season, when away from the elements:
- 2015: 122 rushes, 690 yards (5.7 yards per carry) / 7 TD
- 2018: 36 rushes, 200 yards (5.6 yards per carry) / 3 TD
Then, Cooks sports an even more extensive body of work indoors. Having spent the first three seasons of his career in New Orleans, Cooks plied his trade in domes often. He’s also familiar with Mercedes-Benz Dome specifically; he faced the Falcons there on three occasions from 2014-2016.
Here’s a look at Cooks’ overall numbers in indoor games during the four seasons in which he’s played an appreciable sample in that setting:
- 2014: 47-495-3
- 2015: 58-744-6
- 2016: 37-661-5
- 2018: 13-211-1
Todd Gurley is more rested than any time since Week 1
We’ll never know for sure, but it *seems* coach Sean McVay wasn’t fibbing when he claimed there was nothing physically wrong with Gurley following the running back’s sparse usage during the NFC Championship win over the Saints.
Naturally, McVay wasn’t “saving” his star for a Super Bowl that was far from guaranteed, especially considering one of the most egregious non-calls in NFL postseason history is responsible for vaulting the Rams into the big game. But with the way things played out, it just so happens Gurley now sets his sights on the Patriots with a body that should be about as refreshed as it was coming into the regular season.
A pair of weeks off to wrap up the campaign allowed Gurley to rest an ailing knee. That was followed by a first-round playoff bye that gave the 24-year-old’s legs even more of a break. The benefits were evident in Gurley’s spry 16-carry, 115-yard effort versus the Cowboys in the divisional round. That performance featured a 35-yard touchdown rumble in which he was the most explosive player on the field.
A shocking four-carry workload followed against the Saints, however, meaning Gurley has just 20 rushing touches since Dec. 16. With spring in his step, Gurley’s burst could make all the difference in keeping the Rams close Sunday.
The Rams now have two viable running backs to keep the chains moving
As if the upside of a well-rested Gurley wasn’t enough, the Rams now have another highly viable weapon in their backfield arsenal. In mothballs with the Panthers for the majority of the season, the Rams snapped up C.J. Anderson off waivers before Week 16 following his one-game inactive stint with the Raiders.
During Gurley’s aforementioned two-game absence to cap the campaign, Anderson exploded for 299 yards and two touchdowns on 43 carries. Then, with Gurley set to return for a divisional-round battle against the Cowboys, it was widely assumed Anderson’s carriage was about to turn into a pumpkin. That was far from the case, as evidenced by his 23-123-2 line in that contest.
And even in the NFC Championship Game against the ultra-stingy Saints rush defense, it was Anderson who paced the ground attack. In fact, he logged 12 more rushing touches than Gurley. He had a 16-44 line on the ground versus a nearly impenetrable front, but he churned out just enough yards to keep New Orleans honest. Moreover, Anderson demonstrated a penchant for keeping the chains moving during the last two games of the regular season, with a robust 41.9 percent of his carries resulting in first downs.
That knack for productive runs could be a pivotal factor in helping the Rams keep time of possession on their side and the ball away from Tom Brady in the process.
The Patriots simply don’t separate in Super Bowls, and they lose more often than many think
The Belichick-era Patriots’ mythical postseason aura isn’t without some “pokable” holes. One of the more prominent is their overall Super Bowl record. Yes, New England naturally has a winning mark in Super Bowls under Belichick and Brady, but not by much. The Pats are 5-3 on Super Sundays under the future Hall of Fame coach and quarterback.
However, the fascinating part is that they could arguably be either undefeated or winless over those eight chances if a handful of plays had gone differently. The point is, if the Pats are in a Super Bowl, it’s virtually guaranteed to be close, win or lose.
Beginning with the game that officially initiated the Legend of Brady, Super Bowl XXXV – coincidentally versus the very Rams franchise they’ll face Sunday – New England hasn’t seen any of its five Super Bowl victories decided by more than six points. And that six-point triumph came two seasons ago in the first OT game in Super Bowl history. Moreover, the extra period came about only due to the Patriots’ furious 19-point fourth-quarter rally.
Likewise, two of New England’s last three Super Bowl defeats – losses to the Giants following the 2007 and 2011 seasons – came by three and four points, respectively. The third stumble during that span, a modest eight-point loss to the Eagles in last year’s game, nevertheless qualified as the most lopsided score of any of the Patriots’ last eight SB appearances. And it’s worth noting a single point separated the teams with as little as 2:30 remaining in that contest.
The Patriots are a different defense outside of Foxborough
Belichick has a well-earned reputation as a defensive Jedi Master. He’s corroborated his uncanny ability to tailor game plans to opponents on countless occasions. Yet it’s worth noting that his mastery is often in peak form when the Pats line up in the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium.
The Pats defense, while still obviously effective enough to get them to Sunday’s game, is nevertheless a more vulnerable unit when traveling. A glance at New England’s road metrics in several major defensive categories tells the tale:
- Points allowed: 24.8 (17.9 at home)
- Total Yards per game allowed: 386.8 (231.3 at home)
- Passing Yards per game allowed: 269.6 (231.3 at home)
- Rushing Yards per game allowed: 117.2 (89.8 at home)
New England surrendered a quartet of 30-point tallies on the road this past regular season, followed by 31 points to the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game. They also gave up 26 points to the Lions at Ford Field in their one indoor contest back in Week 3.
In all, New England generated an unsightly 3-5 mark outside of Gillette Stadium this season. Two of those victories came against the lowly Jets and Bills. The Pats were 1-2 on the road versus teams with winning records during the regular season.