By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
ATLANTA (CBS) — Might it finally happen? Might this finally be the year? Can the New England Patriots finally play on a Super Bowl Sunday without sending half their fan base to the hospital with heart palpitations?
It just may be the year.
We’ll explore that in a minute, but before we get to the game, it would be just terrible — terrible — to end the picks column for the year without exploring some of the more fun prop bets for Super Bowl LIII between the Rams and the Patriots.
(Prop bets gathered from various sources online)
The prop: What song will be performed first by Maroon 5?
The pick: “Moves Like Jagger” +600
Come on, now. You come out at the halftime show, and you’re Maroon 5, you’ve got one job and one job only: With your first note, you MUST get the moms dancing. And “Moves Like Jagger”? Dungareed moms in living rooms from coast to coast will be bopping from the jump.
(Need to have #GetTheMomsBopping trend on Twitter.)
The prop: Will CBS show replay of missed pass interference call on Rams vs. New Orleans?
The pick: Yes -130
They absolutely will. The league knows that nobody from New Orleans will be watching anyway, so they know they won’t be offending any viewers.
The prop: Over/under of 2.5 for number of times Jim Nantz/Tony Romo say “Gronk.”
The pick: Duh. Over.
The prop: Will a play Tony Romo predicts result in a touchdown?
The pick: Yes +191
If you were to bet “no” on this, you hate fun. Plain and simple. I’m not actually sure how this one would be ruled upon. Like, when Romo said that Tom Brady was checking out of a play which means they’re running wide right, and when Sony Michel then burst through the right side untouched on a fourth-and-1 to go untouched for a go-ahead touchdown, that would count. I would hope.
Either way, watching the game as an impartial observer would be WAY more fun if you had the yes here.
If you have the no? You stink. Nobody invited you to a Super Bowl party. You hate fun. You won’t even watch the game. Boo hiss to you. Boo hiss.
The prop: Super Bowl MVP
The picks: Julian Edelman 25-to-1/C.J. Anderson 22-to-1
Gotta go with the big payouts here. Edelman is overdue. The Patriots can’t stop the run. These aren’t bad picks.
If you really want to get nuts for a low-risk, high-reward pick? Cordarrelle Patterson at 80-to-1. A threat to go all Desmond Howard on us for a few seconds.
The prop: First touchdown scorer
The pick: Phillip Dorsett 25-to-1
Dorsett caught three touchdowns all year, becoming the forgotten receiver during Josh Gordon’s time with the team, but he’s been the recipient of Brady’s only two touchdown passes this postseason. Might as well see if that can keep on rolling.
The prop: Will any scoring drive take less time than it takes Gladys Knight to sing the National Anthem?
The pick: Yes +150
I don’t know which team will have a lightning fast scoring drive, but at least one of them will. It’s 2019 in the NFL. Are you serious?
The prop: Will Rob Gronkowski have a hand on his heart during the national Anthem?
The pick: Yes -300
I did some intense researching for this one. I Googled “Rob Gronkowski national anthem.” Hand on the heart. Boom. Easy money.
The props: Will Belichick and McVay age gap be mentioned during the game broadcast?/Will Brady and Goff age gap be mentioned during the game broadcast?
The pick: Yes -200
Let me tell you a little secret about sports media: we ain’t creative, bubs. You give us a little carrot like a big age gap, and whoa mama, we devour that thing ’till it’s gone. These will be mentioned by the end of the first quarter.
The prop: Over/under on number of times Tony Romo says “Here we go!”
The pick: Over +150
As I went to make this pick, I sat down and said to nobody in particular, “Ooohhhhhhhhhh Jiiiiimmmmmmm I dunnoooooooo …. did … it …. no OK it’s the over.”
The prop: Opening coin toss — heads or tails?
The pick: Heads -105
Tails never fails. Except for 50 percent of the time. That’s what I always say.
OK, enough nonsense. Let’s get to the football sports game now.
The spread: New England (-2.5)
Let’s tackle this in the traditional method of which team has the advantage in each area of the game.
When the Rams run …
Provided Todd Gurley snaps out of whatever it was that plagued him in the NFC title game, this could be the Rams’ best avenue. The Patriots have been stellar in the postseason, but they had plenty of problems stopping the run this season.
This one really comes down to whether or not the Rams are playing from ahead or behind. If the Patriots don’t get out to an early lead, and if the Rams can focus on moving the ball patiently on the ground, the Rams will be in good shape. That remains a big if.
When the Patriots run …
Please. No contest. The Patriots’ offensive line, plus James Develin, plus Dwayne Allen, plus Rob Gronkowski? Those folks could push glaciers around at this point.
When the Rams pass …
It’s funny how much can change over the course of a season. In late October, Jared Goff was being discussed as an MVP candidate. Now? Not so much.
He ended the year completing just 59 percent of his passes over the final five weeks of the season, averaging 228 yards per game with six touchdowns and six interceptions. Meh.
And for the first time since the first run of Patriots Super Bowls, the New England secondary is actually a legitimate strength. Stephon Gilmore-Devin McCourty-Patrick Chung-J.C. Jackson-Jason McCourty is a formidable group, with Duron Harmon always a potential to be lurking for a pick.
When the Patriots pass …
Who’s going to cover James White?
I’ve read 1,000 stories this week. I’ve written 1,000 stories this week. I’ve yet to see who’s really going to cover James White. That’s probably because nobody can.
James White caught 87 passes this year. Eighty-seven. He had 751 yards and seven touchdowns through the air, and he kept defenses honest with 425 rushing yards and five touchdowns, too. He randomly was asked to be a between-the-tackles third-and-4 runner last week in Kansas City, and he did that with relative ease.
James White is a nuisance. This is going to be a James White game.
Watching Josh McDaniels’ offense in the post-Josh Gordon era has been remarkable. He’s so good at designing motions that lead to mismatches and/or create huge pockets of space for receivers to get open and rack up the YAC. It really is crazy. And of course, having a 41-year-old Tom Brady with a wealth of football knowledge driving the ship, it’s all working in symphony.
In his last three games, Brady has completed 71.5 percent of his passes for 314 yards per game with six touchdowns and two picks. The man is 41 years old but he has gotten better in months four and five of his football season.
So long as he doesn’t throw the ball mid-nipple on a linebacker in the end zone, the old man is poised for another spectacular showing.
If you can spring Julian Edelman wide open on not one but two third-and-10’s in overtime of a championship game, you can do anything. This passing offense is not quite the explosive downfield system that folks love to see, but it is nevertheless as lethal as ever.
On special teams …
The Patriots are more than solid here, but there’s just no competing with Greg Zuerlein and Johnny Hekker. Zuerlein kicked the ball about 98 yards to get the Rams to this game. Hekker is Belichick’s worst nightmare. Mama mia. If those guys are kicking, you better keep your peepers peeled. Something magical is about to happen.
Sean McVay is great. He’s going to design some plays that work perfectly on Sunday night. There’s no doubt about that.
But these games always require more than that. And while we’ll never forget Bill Belichick’s slightly curious decision last year to keep a very good defensive back on the sideline in order to throw Jordan Richards and Johnson Bademosi in the deep end without first teaching them how to swim, we cannot underestimate the experience factor.
Consider that in Super Bowl LI, the Patriots ran 99 offensive plays. It wasn’t a masterpiece from start to finish, but the work only got better and sharper as the game went on. Dan Quinn got worse as the game went on, as did his and Kyle Shanahan’s decision-making. This disparity not a coincidence.
Consider that in Super Bowl XLIX, Pete Carroll appeared to have been a worthy match for Belichick. Right up until the end. Bill — as well as Matt Patricia and all of the positional coaches — were prepared for the Seahawks to throw that football. The Patriots practiced it during the week, even with Malcolm Butler on defense, despite Butler not being a part of the initial game plan. Was luck involved? Sure. But luck goes lost if you’re not prepared to capitalize. The Patriots always are.
And this goes beyond Belichick. As mentioned earlier, McDaniels and Brady are functioning on a separate plane of existence right now. Go back and watch every passing play vs. the Chargers, and you’ll see that the brainpower of the McDaniels/Brady duo made that the easiest game you’ll ever see. That’s what they and this team are capable of.
Ultimately, that’s why I believe the Patriots will — for the first time ever in their extensive Super Bowl history — come out of the gates with their business in order. They will have an excellent first drive planned, and the Rams won’t know what to expect. It could be Sony Michel-heavy, like it was in K.C. It could be James White-heavy, as it was vs the Chargers. It could be an Edelman drive. It could be a Gronkowski drive.
When you play the Patriots, you really can’t ever know. And for as much as the Rams present plenty of problems with Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods and the Gurley/Anderson duo, the Patriots can match the threats and have the coaching/preparation/game plan advantage. (I’m not putting too much stock in the work Wade Phillips’ Denver defense did vs. the Patriots in the 2015 AFC title game. That was a matter of personnel; namely, it was the employment of two elite pass rushers teeing off on an O-line that couldn’t get off on the snap.)
I think it’s finally going to happen. I think the Patriots are going to hit the field and not look like chickens with their heads cut off. I think Brady will be careful to not commit intentional grounding while standing in the end zone in front of John Parry. I think Brian Flores’ defense will not allow the opponent to start the game with a clock-sucking, life-draining drive.
And I think as the game goes on, the Patriots will get better. I can’t say I know that or believe that about the Rams.
THE PICK: Patriots 37, Rams 31
Championship Weekend: 1-1
Regular season: 134-113-9