On Super Bowl Sunday, those legally able to do so — and nobody else, of course! — will have a chance to bet on everything from the straight-up winner to the direction of the price of Bitcoin during the game.
Sometimes overlooked amid a sea of tongue-in-cheek prop bets and against-the-spread analysis is the good old over/under. In this case, the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams are pegged to combine for 56.5 points, which is half a point shy of Super Bowl LI’s record-breaking total for New England’s matchup with the Atlanta Falcons.
For what it’s worth, that game went over as a result of New England’s furious fourth-quarter comeback, and the over has hit on six of the eight playoff totals of 56 or higher in NFL history.
But trends like those don’t count for too much, especially when you consider the small sample and the fact the Pats’ comeback (or the Falcons’ collapse) was likely an aberration. Still, even with two offensive juggernauts battling and the public usually pushing the over (as it is prone to do), sportsbooks sometimes can’t inflate a total enough.
Is this one of those occasions?
It’s tricky, because the New England defense actually overperformed for much of the year. That unit was embarrassed in Super Bowl LII (a game that annihilated the total with an over before the third quarter was complete), but sentiment from that gongshow, a bounce-back season from Bill Belichick’s D and regression from an aging New England offense caused all but five of New England’s 16 regular-season games to fall short of the total.
Meanwhile, even though the Rams had one of the most lethal offenses in the league and a vulnerable defense, the over and the under split their regular season total with eight outcomes apiece in Rams games.
Despite that, the over looks like the bet on Sunday. Here’s why:
New England’s offense has its groove back: We had a clue they were finding that extra gear when they put up 38 points on the New York Jets in their season finale, but many of us ignored that because they did it against a weak opponent. But Tom Brady was nearly perfect that afternoon, and — aside from a few mistakes in Kansas City — he’s looked like a man on a mission ever since. The Pats have averaged 38.7 points per game since that beatdown over Gang Green.
The Rams aren’t well-equipped to slow down New England’s suddenly unstoppable power running game: It hasn’t just been Brady — rookie running back Sony Michel has probably been the team’s MVP these playoffs, and legendary offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia deserves plenty of credit too. Regardless, the Patriots offense has become a run-first unit that overwhelms defenses with a multitude of clever looks on the ground and then strikes with Brady and Co. in the passing game when the opposition has finally begun to bite. And they’ll likely bite often, because while the Rams run defense has performed well these playoffs, the larger regular-season sample had them ranked dead last in football with an opposing yards-per-attempt average of 5.1. Not only will that and Brady’s wildly quick release make it hard for Aaron Donald and the Los Angeles pass-rush to get through, but L.A.’s vulnerable cornerbacks could also find themselves in trouble as a result. That’s not good for Wade Phillips’ defense, especially with New England tight end Rob Gronkowski looking more spry than he has all year.
The Patriots never pull away: All of that could position the Patriots to run away with this one, in which case you’d still have a good shot at the over after the completion of garbage time. After all, nobody’s pulling starters in the Super Bowl regardless of the deficit and the remarkably talented Rams offense would likely put up some late scores against a prevent D. But the reality is the Pats never win big in the Super Bowl. They’ve been to 10 of these games, and their largest Super Bowl margin of victory was that six-point overtime win over Atlanta. The New England defense has also regressed a bit in January, which wouldn’t be a huge factor if the same thing hadn’t happened to that unit last year. Now, it’s fair to wonder if an already-slow defense loses too much gas this late in the year.
So this could go over the total because the Pats light up the scoreboard but can’t put an offensively-charged, highly-inspired opponent away (just like in the AFC championship game) or it could go over the total because the Pats light up the scoreboard and then give up a bunch of meaningless late points to an offensively-charged opponent that is trying to avoid embarrassment (just like in the divisional playoffs against the Los Angeles Chargers).
Either way, the over is your friend. It’s a lot more entertaining that way anyway.
Sure beats continually checking your Bitcoin wallet during commercial breaks.