After a pair of dramatic and controversial conference championship games, the New England Patriots are set to meet the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 EST on Sunday, February 3, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The game will be televised nationally on CBS.
Oddsmakers list the Patriots as 2.5-point favorites over the Rams. The over/under is set at 57 points.
This will be the third straight season the Patriots are in the Super Bowl, as well as the ninth time in Bill Belichick’s 19 seasons in New England. Of course, that includes five previous Super Bowl victories, all with Tom Brady at quarterback with Brady winning Super Bowl MVP on four occasions.
As for this season, the Patriots hit stumbling blocks both early and late in the regular season, finishing with a somewhat modest 11-5 record. However, as usual, they’ve been at their best in the playoffs, dismantling the Chargers at home before taking out the Chiefs on the road. Of course, the AFC Championship Game could have gone either way, especially after the game went to overtime. However, New England dominated the game, doubling Kansas City in first downs while out-gaining the Chiefs by more than 200 yards.
Meanwhile, the Rams were the toast of the NFL for the two months of the season. Los Angeles started the regular season 8-0 before falling to the Saints in Week 9. Of course, the Rams got their redemption over New Orleans in the NFC Championship Game, erasing a 13-0 1st quarter deficit and eventually winning in overtime, albeit with a little help from a missed call by the refs. Despite a little good fortune, it’s tough to argue against the 15-3 Rams being a worthy and legitimate Super Bowl participant.
This will be the first time the Rams have played in the Super Bowl since the 2001 season when they still called St. Louis home. The Rams were favored by 14 points in that game, only to lose to the Patriots 20-17 in the first New England title of the Brady-Belichick era. The only championship in franchise history came two years before that when Kurt Warner led the Rams in a Super Bowl that was also played in Atlanta.
Most of the betting seems to be going in New England’s favor heading into this game, and it’s tough to go against that. Despite last year’s loss, Brady and Belichick are 5-3 in the Super Bowl. With so much experience, it’s tough to go against them, especially since the upstart Rams have so little. Also, one can’t help but think the Rams could be the victims of karma after the way they won the NFC Championship Game. As long as the spread remains under a field goal, I feel good about the Patriots winning and covering in Super Bowl LIII.
It’s not just New England’s storied history in the Super Bowl that has me leaning toward the Patriots. It’s their recent history as well. Brady has looked as good as ever during these past two playoff games, both of which came against teams that went 12-4 this year. He’s looked as if he’s in complete control, allowing the Patriots to start fast, finish drives once they get in the end zone, and take care of business against quality opponents.
To be fair, Brady’s supporting cast has also stepped up. He wasn’t sacked in either playoff game. When you consider the pass rushing talent the Chargers and Chiefs have, that’s awfully impressive, and a great sign against Aaron Donald and company. Meanwhile, Sony Michel has rushed for 242 yards and five touchdowns over his last two games, taking a lot of pressure off Brady.
On top of that, Brady’s loyal band of receivers are once again coming to his service. Outside of his one drop against the Chiefs, Julian Edelman has been near unstoppable during the playoffs. Rob Gronkowski was featured heavily against the Chiefs and should be ready to go with the extra week off. James White is also a player to watch coming out of the backfield after his 15 catches against the Chargers. While the Los Angeles defense has played better during the playoffs, they figure to have their hands full against Brady and company.
On the other side of the ball, Todd Gurley may be the biggest X-factor in this game for either team. Despite scoring a touchdown, he was almost invisible against the Saints, touching the ball just five times. Gurley was a little limited due to injury late in the season and his health remains a huge concern for the Rams, even with two weeks between games.
Obviously, C.J. Anderson has stepped in for Gurley and looked good at times. But he was limited to just 44 yards on 16 carries against the Saints. More importantly, he’s not the same caliber of player as Gurley. Anderson did a great job of getting the Rams through the end of the regular season and their first two playoff games, and he’ll certainly get some touches in the Super Bowl. But if the Rams are going to win, they need Gurley to be at full strength, and that’s far from a certainty at this point.
Meanwhile, the New England defense has done an impressive job of stopping the run during the playoffs. They allowed 19 rushing yards against the Chargers and 41 against the Chiefs. In fact, neither team ran the ball more than 12 times. Not only have the Patriots committed to stopping the run on defense, but the ability of Brady and company to score early in games has taken away the running game as an option for opposing teams.
With Gurley banged up and the Patriots keen to stop the run, the Rams are likely to ask a lot of Jared Goff in this game. To be fair, Goff has been solid and mistake-free during the playoffs. However, one has to wonder if he’s ready to one-up Brady in a quarterback duel, especially after Patrick Mahomes fell short in the AFC Championship Game. The Rams need to be able to run the ball in order to set up play-action and put Goff in the best position to make plays throwing the ball down the field. Otherwise, Goff and the L.A. offense could struggle to reach the high point total they will likely need to outscore Brady and the Patriots.
In the end, the Patriots are the safer bet in this game. We know that Brady and Belichick will be ready for this game and have all of the pieces to win. With Goff, Gurley, and company, there is no doubt potential to have a performance that can win the Super Bowl. But the Rams have too many variables, which makes me comfortable taking the Patriots to win and cover the 2.5-point spread in Super Bowl LIII.