Super Bowl Picks & Preview: Rams vs Patriots
January 29, 2019
The New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams have had a chance to catch their collective breath, but they are now six days away from the kickoff of Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, and the intensity will get ratcheted up several notches.
It is certainly a scenario that the Patriots are quite familiar with, but experience alone won’t get them a sixth Super Bowl championship. The Rams have a formidable team and have made some notable improvements in the postseason that could give them a better chance to win the franchise’s second Vince Lombardi Trophy.
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The big improvement for the Rams has come with their run defense. That unit struggled quite a bit during the regular season, as the Rams allowed 5.1 yards per carry—the worst in the league.
However, Los Angeles has made a dramatic turnaround in that area during the postseason. The Rams have allowed 98 rushing yards in two games, giving up an average of 2.3 yards per attempt.
The key to that run defense is the combination of defensive linemen Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. When those two are at their best, it is nearly impossible to attack with a productive interior running game, and there’s every reason to believe they will be fully committed Sunday.
Of course, the Patriots are not about to back down either. Rookie running back Sony Michel has already scored five rushing touchdowns in two postseason games, and teammate Rex Burkhead has added three rushing touchdowns.
One of those TDs was the overtime touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs that gave the Patriots the AFC title and sent them to the ninth Super Bowl of the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era.
Brady has been quite sharp in the two games the Patriots have played in the postseason. He has completed 71.1 percent of his postseason passes and is throwing for 345.5 yards per game.
Julian Edelman, James White, Rob Gronkowski and Chris Hogan figure to serve as Brady’s primary receivers in the game.
Goff has not been as productive, completing 58.8 percent of his passes and averaging 241.5 passing yards per game. Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks are solid receivers, but the absence of Cooper Kupp (knee) has limited the Los Angeles offense to some degree.
The Patriots remain 2.5-point favorites. The Rams opened as one-point favorites, but there was an early influx of New England money, sending the odds in the Patriots’ favor. However, with a little less than a week to go before kickoff, Los Angeles money is likely to come in, especially if the point spread goes to three points.
The total in the game is 56.5 points, and while that number is high by NFL standards, both the Patriots and Rams have explosive offenses that could reach the 30-point mark.
New England is -150 on the money line, while the Rams are +130. Those backing New England to record a straight-up victory must wager $150 to win $100, while Los Angeles supporters will risk $100 to win $130.
Brady reiterated that he would not be retiring after the Super Bowl and has no plans to leave the game.
“There’s zero [chance], yeah. There’s zero,” Brady told EPN’s Jeff Darlington, (h/t Trevor Haas of Boston.com). “I’ve said that for a long time. I feel like I’m asked that a lot, and I feel like I repeat the same answer, but no one wants to believe me.”
That could mean that Super Bowl LIII is the just the latest chapter in the Patriots’ dynasty and not the last one.
Even though there are seven more states to allow legal betting on the Super Bowl than a year ago, an overwhelming amount of bets for Sunday’s game — about 95 percent — will continue to be made with bookies, offshore sportsbooks or acquaintances.
The percentage of legal bets (5.3 percent) was calculated by USA TODAY Sports from a survey released Monday by the American Gaming Association ($6 billion in total bets for Super Bowl LIII) and an estimate of the total legal wagers on the NFL title game supplied by sports gambling network VSiN ($320 million).
The AGA estimated ahead of last year’s Super Bowl that 3 percent of bets placed on the game were legal, although the casino industry lobbying group did not provide a projection this year.
“I am not sure when the tipping point will be,” Bill Miller, AGA’s president and CEO, told USA TODAY Sports. “As the general public becomes more aware of the opportunity to do it in a regulated and safe manner, it will move that way.”
Added VSiN founder and chairman Brian Musburger: “It’s a ways off. A lot has to happen and the pricing has to be right. Some of the offshore operators are still offering attractive pricing that will keep customers engaged. If the states over-tax (bettors), it will be hard to kill the offshore business.”
An estimated 22.7 million adults plan to bet on the Super Bowl according to the AGA. The survey conducted by Morning Consult on Jan. 22 included 2,201 adults, who were interviewed online. The survey had a margin of error of 2 percent.
Respondents preferred bets on the Los Angeles Rams (52 percent) to the New England Patriots (48 percent).
The legal betting estimation for Super Bowl LIII is actually double the money bet legally a year ago when Nevada was the only state with state-sanctioned sports betting. The projection is not just fueled by Delaware, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia accepting bets.
Experts expect Super Bowl bets within Nevada to exceed last year’s record take of $158.58 million.
“I don’t think (other states) will ever take business from Nevada,” said Joe Asher, CEO of William Hill U.S., which operates more than 100 sports books in Nevada along with locations in Mississippi, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. “Las Vegas is unique. It’s not all about betting. There’s an entire entertainment experience that brings people to town.”
Those seven states that are currently taking sports bets moved forward after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in May. The federal law essentially limited sports betting to one state (Nevada) for 25 years.
Led by the NBA, attitudes toward sports betting began to change even before the nation’s highest court’s decision. Many major pro sports leagues and teams had already had partnerships with daily fantasy giants DraftKings and FanDuel, but once PASPA was overturned, the ruling was seen as a newfound opportunity for more revenue.
Lobbyists for leagues went to states seeking a so-called integrity fee, which would have resulted in 1 percent of any bet going back to the respective league wagered upon. No state so far has agreed to such a fee.
While the NFL recently made Caesars Entertainment its official gaming sponsor, that doesn’t mean the league — which had fought against legalized sports betting outside of Nevada for decades — is fully on board with the current legalized sports betting environment.
The NFL has sought to ban prop bets, something that has grown in both quantity and popularity over the last couple decades when it comes to the Super Bowl. William Hill, for example, has more than 900 different ways to bet on the Super Bowl, including whether the Rams and Patriots would each net a field goal of 35 or more yards and whether Rams running back Todd Gurley would gain at least 3.5 yards in his first carry.
NFL executive vice president Jocelyn Moore told a Congressional committee in September that such bets “are significantly more susceptible to match-fixing.”
“I can’t speak for their motivations,” Asher said. “We’ve been doing these types of bets in Nevada for decades. It’s our money that we are putting up to take these bets. We know how to protect ourselves. The idea of the NFL telling us what bets we can and can’t offer is crazy.”
No U.S. sportsbook will offer the obscure bets of some offshore sports books, such as how long the national anthem will go. The states, so far, are taking Nevada’s lead, where the state gaming commission only approves bets that are determined on the field of play.
The number of states that will take such bets is expected to swell ahead of the next Super Bowl.
“We have already seen three other jurisdictions (Arkansas, Oregon and Washington D.C.) authorize it … and another 14 that have introduced bills or begun the process to move forward legislation in their states,” Miller said, “My anticipation is that we will see well into the mid-teens, if not 20 states with sports betting, in 2020.”