Patriot Games

Our handicapper has stubbornly refused to buy into New England all season. Will that finally change in Super Bowl XLIX?

Tom Brady didn’t have much to celebrate in his last two Super Bowl appearances. Will this one be different? | Photo by Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports

Tom Brady didn’t have much to celebrate in his last two Super Bowl appearances. Will this one be different? | Photo by Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports

In my five years as this publication’s resident/alleged sports-betting guru, I’ve made more than my fair share of horrific predictions—starting with the very first one: In our inaugural issue, I advised readers to take the favored Colts over the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV. (To my credit, that’s the last time I recommended betting on Peyton Manning in a playoff game!)

Of those many egregious predictions that could’ve (should’ve) gotten me fired, the one that stands out above all didn’t even directly relate to an actual wagering recommendation. Back in early October, I penned a column suggesting—OK, insisting—that Tom Brady and the New England Patriots were finished following a 41-14 Monday night debacle in Kansas City that left them at 2-2. While watching Brady throw two interceptions, pass for a measly 159 yards and get yanked for his rookie backup, I giddily fired off “It’s over for the Golden Boy and the Hoodie!!!” texts.

Days later, my well-reasoned (or so I thought) column fileting Brady and the Pats hit the streets, accompanied by this headline: How the Mighty Have Fallen, and this subhead: A certain Hall of Fame quarterback is in a downward spiral—as is his once-dominant team. I wrote both—again, giddily.

You know the rest of the story: Brady and his team immediately ripped off a seven-game winning streak that was part of a 12-2 run that has landed New England back in the Super Bowl for a record-tying eighth time—the sixth in the Brady-Belichick era.

Of course, as the Patriots’ victories and spread-covers mounted—they enter the Big Game on a 9-5 ATS run—I remained mostly defiant, going against them several times, most recently in their 45-7 AFC title game rout of the Colts. So now I’m faced with this quandary: Do I risk looking like a fool once again and fade New England, a one-point favorite against Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX? Or do I finally hop on the Brady-Bill Belichick bandwagon (and pray that they didn’t deflate the tires too much)?


Let’s begin the handicapping with this disclaimer: If this Patriots-Seahawks matchup were taking place in early November instead of the first day of February, I would be avoiding it like Belichick avoids the truth. After all, Seattle and New England traveled nearly identical paths to Arizona: Both struggled to start the season; both enter this game with 14-4 records (playoffs included); and both went 9-1 at home and 5-3 on the road. Hell, even their Vegas results are similar: The Patriots are 10-8 ATS (6-4 at home; 4-4 on the road), while the Seahawks are 10-7-1 ATS (6-3-1 at home, 4-4 on the road).

Unlike last year, when I felt strongly that the Seahawks were superior to Denver and that the wrong team was favored, this is a dead-even matchup on paper with little to no betting value on either side. In other words, I wouldn’t be rushing to take out a second mortgage and wager it on either of these teams.

Then again, this being the Super Bowl, you’re going to wager something, so let’s see how we can get a return on that something.

Starting with New England, as much as Brady looked like his old self after seemingly flatlining in Kansas City, it’s the defense that really carried the day. During their 12-2 run, the Patriots have given up more than 26 points just once (in their 35-31 come-from-behind playoff victory over Baltimore), allowing 20 points or fewer eight times.

As strong as New England’s defense has been, though, Seattle’s has been stronger. Not only did the Seahawks lead the league in every meaningful defensive statistic except rushing defense (where they finished third), but they’ve been suffocating opposing offenses, giving up a total of just 78 points during their ongoing eight-game winning streak. Not since a 24-20 loss at Kansas City on November 16 has Seattle yielded three touchdowns in a game.

Of course, that defense needed to be dominant, as the offense has sputtered at times, even during the winning streak (for the most recent example, see the first three quarters of the NFC title game against Green Bay). Conversely, New England has scored at least 27 points in 10 of its last 14 games (including a meaningless 17-9 loss to Buffalo in the regular-season finale), producing 34 points or more eight times.

So if the Patriots have the offensive edge, and Seattle gets the nod on defense, where will this game be won? Where it almost always is: in the trenches. And this is where we do find a decided advantage. Paced by the thunder-and-lightning duo of tailback Marshawn Lynch and QB Russell Wilson, Seattle had the NFL’s top rushing offense, piling up 172.6 yards per game—a whopping 25.5 ypg more than second-place Dallas (and 64.7 ypg more than 18th-ranked New England).

True, the Patriots’ defense was solid against the run in the regular season, allowing just 104.3 ypg (which ranked ninth). But through 18 games, New England has only defeated three opponents that ranked in the top 10 in rushing offense: the Jets (3rd), Bengals (6th) and Ravens (8th). More to the point, while they crushed Cincinnati, they beat the Jets twice by a total of three points (the Jets!!), and needed a miracle to escape Baltimore.

Speaking of that miracle against the Ravens: Over the past 10 days, many have been quick to point out that the Seahawks are incredibly lucky to be here, and they certainly are; the Packers absolutely choked. Yet many have already forgotten that the Patriots are equally as fortunate. The bottom line is, whether it was because of mind-boggling coaching incompetence (I’m looking right at you, Mike McCarthy) or deflated footballs, both teams found a way to get to Arizona.

All that matters now is which is better suited to be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy come Sunday night. To me, because of their definitive rushing advantage and their slight-but-significant defensive advantage, that team is the Seahawks. Now, before you disregard that pick as a byproduct of my irrational disdain for the Patriots, note this: New England is thisclose to being 0-7 in Super Bowls (each of its three victories was by a field goal); I need to get this game correct to finish the football season with a winning record; and since that terrible play on the Colts five years ago, I’ve nailed four consecutive Super Bowls.

Here comes No. 5 … Seahawks 24, Patriots 17

NFL Playoff record: 4-2 (0-2 in conference championship games)

Season Record: 64-64-1 (33-34-1 NFL; 31-30 college; 6-10-1 Best Bets)

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