RAMS (15-3) vs. PATRIOTS (13-5)
Line: NE by 2½
Cote’s pick: NE 31-24
TV: 6:30 p.m., CBS
Atlanta hosts the 53rd Super Bowl today. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick haven’t actually been in all of them. It only seems that way. New England’s Double-G.O.A.T. quarterback/coach combo is making their ninth SB appearance together, in search of their record sixth NFL championship. These two have more rings than Saturn. But will they add one more? Or is the dynasty about to end with 120 million Americans bearing witness?
An L.A. Rams team led by a 24-year QB (Jared Goff) and a 33-year-old head coach (Sean McVay) is well-poised to represent “Next!” But can they? I’m doubting it. While also admitting the fact that these teams haven’t played each other in three years accentuates the element of mystery.
There’s a neat full-circle thing in play here, too, because it was the Rams (then based in St. Louis) who gave Brady and Belichick their first Super Bowl win 17 years ago. Rams haven’t been back to the Big Game since. New England was way back then a 14-point underdog; today they are 2½-point favorites. NE opened a 1-point ’dog before money pouring into the Northeast grabbed that line by the neck and shook it.
Faith in the Pats is easy by now. New England is playing its best ball of the season, and nobody is more clutch on this stage than Brady, and now it seems Rob Gronkowski has gotten his second wind. That’s huge, because the Rams have defended tight ends poorly all season.
The Patriots’ defense also is better than L.A.’s, which has given up 30-plus points seven times this season. Then there’s Belichick. He has a great track record vs. young QBs, and Goff still qualifies. He also earned his Genius Card by limiting opponents’ most dangerous threat, which is why I think he’ll find a way to insulate Brady from the Rams’ pass rush led by Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh.
I know underdogs tend to be a smart Super Bowl play; that ’dogs have wons six of the past seven SBs outright. But that trend ends here. Yes, the Patriots have been much better at home than on the road this year. But guess what? For New England, the Super Bowl is home.
HOW THE DARTS LANDED
We had a dream-like regular season, setting personal records, but have rudely awakened with a thud in the playoffs. That included 0-2 marks both straight-up and against the spread in the AFC and NFC Championship Games — although I’ll take an asterisk on the Saints loss thanks to that officiating gaffe that left all of New Orleans and about half of betting America fuming. All that’s left to do now is nail our Super Bowl pick for the sparkler atop what still has been a big seasion for us. So let’s do it!
Overall; Vs. spread
— Playoffs: 5-5, .500; 3-7, .300
— Season: 179-75-2, .705; 145-104-7, .582