Scully's NFL Championship Preview

Profile Picture: James Scully

January 30th, 2019

A pair of overtime thrillers decided this year’s Super Bowl match-up, with the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots winning conference championships on the road. The Rams opened as a slight choice but bettors quickly pushed New England into the favorite’s role.

From 1983-to-2012, a span of 29 years, every Super Bowl favorite was giving at least three points and that led to numerous blowout wins. But underdogs have fared well this century, recording a 10-4-1 ATS record in the last 15 Super Bowls, and New England will become the fourth favorite in eight years to surrender less than a field goal if the betting line holds at 2.5 points or less.

Patriots inconsistent during the regular season. Undefeated at home, recording fine victories over Kansas City and Indianapolis, New England was the only squad to win at Chicago during the regular season but also dropped five road games to non-playoff teams. They’ve come on in recent weeks, defying skeptics by elevating their level in the postseason, and experience is an edge for the Patriots, who are making the third consecutive Super Bowl appearance, including four in the last five years.

Rams must adapt to Bill Belichick’s defensive schemes and slow down Tom Brady. New England enters on a 3-0 ATS run, averaging 38.6 points per game, and Brady has been spectacular in a pair of playoff tilts, completing 75.5% of his passes with at least 30 receptions per game. The 41-year-old was particularly brilliant on the final drive versus Kansas City, converting a trio of third-and-10 situations, and utilized a full complement of weapons throughout the contest while never being sacked against arguably the NFL’s best pass rush.

Pats have run the ball effectively in the postseason, with Sony Michel recording back-to-back 100+ yard games and five TDs. Rex Burkhead provided a boost at KC with a pair of rushing TDs and RB James White adds another dimension, catching four more passes to increase his total to 19 since the end of the regular season. Julian Edelman enters in career-best form, hauling in 16 passes for 247 total yards over the last two games, and Rob Gronkowski played every offensive snap and caught six passes versus the Chiefs. WRs Cordarrelle Patterson and Chris Hogan have made plays as well.

The genius of Belichick has been on full display during the postseason, with New England holding the Chiefs scoreless and the Chargers to only seven points, outscoring those opponents by a combined 49-7 margin. I expect them to start fast once again versus a Super Bowl opponent lacking experience. Kansas City featured the NFL’s best offense and got things going in the second half, but New England never flinched and scored 14 points over the final 4:13 of regulation before winning in overtime.

The secondary has been a strength for New England, with top CB Stephon Gilmore and excellent safety play from Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, and an improved Patriots run defense has shut down postseason rivals, holding the Chargers to 19 rushing yards in the divisional round and the Chiefs (who had rushed for 180 yards on the Colts a week prior) to 41 rushing yards. Dont’a Hightower leads the linebacker corps and Kyle Van Noy has evolved into a difference maker, recording 10 tackles and sacking Mahones twice in the conference championship.

Rams have allowed only 63 points in the last four games outside of L.A. Coliseum (15.6-points per game) and will look to slow down New England up front. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is a destructive force, leading the league in sacks, and has been huge against the run in recent weeks. Ndamukong Suh has stepped up with eight tackles in the postseason including 1.5 sacks versus New Orleans. Wade Phillips has shown why he’s such a great defensive coordinator. Ranked 23rd in rushing yards allowed during the regular season, Rams took the run away from New Orleans (48 rushing yards) and Dallas (50 rushing). Count on Brady seeing some different packages and for L.A. to focus upon keeping Michel and his fellow RBs in check.

Under the guidance of Sean McVay, Jared Goff played at a MVP-caliber level as the Rams won 11 of the first 12 games. Todd Gurley (2017 offensive player of the year) was banged up during the second-half of the season and when L.A. put him on the shelf for the final two regular season games, they fortuitously signed free agent C.J. Anderson, who had been released by Carolina in mid-season. Anderson gained 422 yards over the next three games (including playoff win over Dallas) and remained the key rusher against New Orleans, receiving 16 carries compared to four for Gurley.

Gurley, who is a valuable target as well with more than 1,300 receiving yards and 10 TD catches over the last two seasons, has had two weeks to get healthier and must have a good game for the Rams to win. The offense has played great the last two weeks: L.A. outgained Dallas 459-308 in yards and the Saints 378-290 by a margin, rallying from an early 13-point deficit in the latter.

Trends favor the Rams. Underdogs are 8-2 ATS in last 10 Super Bowls, with the last seven AFC favorites going 1-6 ATS, and New England is 1-5 ATS as a Super Bowl favorite.

I’m not putting any stock in trends. Rams know they were fortunate to make the big game, winning the conference championship in overtime after a blown pass interference/targeting call cost the Saints a chance to win the game with a chip-shot FG at the end of regulation, and a major oversight has become part of their storyline. And that lends itself to the possibility of an emotional letdown in my estimation.

Patriots functioning at a higher level than New Orleans, who clearly peaked too early in the season. The NFC’s top-scoring offense failed to score half as many points over the final five games of the season as they did in November, averaging only 20 points over the final five games of the season, and Saints left points on the field last week. Rams must bring the same level of defensive intensity from recent weeks or it will be a long afternoon versus Brady.

New England scores touchdowns and more than capable of jumping on the Rams early. The defense can frustrate Goff with formations he’s never seen on film and I’m not expecting a close game.

I like New England to win convincingly and know they can burn clock with a formidable run game. Look for them to get ahead early and take the air out of the football in the second half as they dominate time of possession against a desperate Rams’ offense. I’m laying the points with the Patriots!

The Over/Under is listed at 56.5 points and the Rams haven’t scored that many points combined the last two weeks. Only one of their last seven games has reached the total. I’m projecting a low-scoring game from the Rams and like the Under.

New England (-2.5) is my main play and I will make a smaller wager on the Under in Super Bowl 53.