Charlie Riedel / AP
Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019 | 2 a.m.
To maximize Super Bowl gambling opportunities, it helps for sports bettors to piece together exactly how they see the action playing out. Visualizing the game can pare down the hundreds of proposition wagers available at every local sports book to a handful worth betting. Here’s one view of how this year’s game between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams on February 3 in Atlanta will play out in several categories, and how to hopefully turn it into a profit.
Lines come from Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook and William Hill sports books, with the odds at minus-110 (risking $1.10 to win $1) unless otherwise noted.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Rams coach Sean McVay have a reputation for being aggressive, but they haven’t lived up to it during the second half of the season into the playoffs—especially not at the start of games. Expect both teams to proceed cautiously on their first few possessions, not wanting to make a mistake while feeling out the opposition and deciding how to adjust. Bet: under 11 first-quarter points.
Patriots offense vs. Rams defense
Quarterback Tom Brady dominates the conversation, but the Patriots have leaned heavily on their run game this year. They rank seventh in the NFL by rushing on 45 percent of their plays. That number typically increases against teams with mediocre rush defenses, and the Rams fit the bill. LA is 27th in the NFL in giving up 4.8 yards per rush. The Rams are much better against the pass—especially defending tight ends—and won’t surrender easy passing scores to Brady. Bets: Sony Michel over 17.5 rushing attempts; Rob Gronkowski under 56.5 receiving yards; Julian Edelman won’t score a touchdown at minus-140.
Rams offense vs. Patriots defense
Stock couldn’t be lower on Rams quarterback Jared Goff, as a perceived massive disadvantage to Brady has all the money flowing in on the Patriots. It’s true that Goff isn’t one of the elite passers in the NFL, but McVay and the Rams have developed an offense that plays to the third-year pro’s strengths. They’ll put him in a position to succeed. Goff’s favorite target typically changes every game, but don’t be surprised if it’s former Patriot Brandin Cooks in the Super Bowl. Cooks is the Rams’ de facto No. 1 receiver, and No. 1 receivers are the only pass-catchers that have given the Patriots problems this year, according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings. Bets: Jared Goff to throw a touchdown before Tom Brady, Brandin Cooks over 75.5 yards.
DVOA indicates this is the closest Super Bowl matchup of all time. Bettors might conflate that into thinking the game will be tight throughout with neither team ever building a big lead. It rarely plays out that way. In 17 of the past 25 Super Bowls, one team has gone on a run in which it has managed three unanswered scores. It’s easy to see that happening again this year given how deadly both offenses have looked once they get into a rhythm. The Rams and Patriots figure to employ quick-passing games once they open up the playbooks, which should further diminish both teams’ inconsistent pass rushes. Bets: One team will score three unanswered times at minus-160; under 3.5 sacks at plus-120.
Officiating is a hot topic after a slew of controversial calls in the conference championship games, but the referees can rest easy knowing the Super Bowl features two teams that rarely commit infractions. The Rams and Patriots are both among the NFL’s top 10 in fewest flags. In a game as big as the Super Bowl, the officials also might be cognizant of not deciding the outcome—especially given recent events. Bet: under 10.5 penalties at plus-130.
Here’s yet another area where both teams are technically sound. They’re in the NFL’s top five in turnover margin, with evidence that it’s not a fluke given consistent strong standing in the category under the current coaching staffs. They combine to average less than two fumbles per game. This should be a relatively clean game. Bet: under 1.5 fumbles lost at minus-160.
Advanced metrics rate the Patriots and Rams as average on special teams. They aren’t explosive on kick or punt returns, but make up for it by limiting opponents’ success. Bettors are often seduced by high payouts on things such as return touchdowns in Super Bowls, but the truth is, they’re often not priced highly enough. That looks to be especially true when it comes to these two teams. Bets: No defensive or special teams touchdowns at minus-200.
One team will likely be down by at least 14 points in the second or third quarter, but the sides are too evenly matched for that margin to last. Let’s say it’s the Patriots who fall into the early hole and another miraculous Tom Brady comeback ensues, before falling just short. The Rams graded as the better team for the majority of the year, and it feels shortsighted for the Patriots to suddenly lay three points solely off of a pair of impressive playoff performances. Rams 27, Patriots 24. Bets: Rams plus-3; under 57 points; margin of victory is exactly three points at plus-375.
This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.