Bleacher Report's Expert Super Bowl LIII Picks and Predictions

NFL StaffContributor IJanuary 31, 2019

Bleacher Report's Expert Super Bowl LIII Picks and Predictions

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    If you only believe in betting on the 267 NFL games that matter every year—in other words, you skipped the preseason and the Pro Bowl—Sunday will represent your first opportunity to scratch that itch in a 14-day span. And enjoy it while you can, because Super Bowl LIII will be the last meaningful NFL contest before a seven-month hiatus. 

    We're here to help you avoid a 214-day stew. 

    Bleacher Report's NFL analysts posted a combined consensus record of 125-124-7 against the spread during the regular season, and Gary Davenport led the pack at 132-117-7. Not bad, considering how wild and wacky the 2018 campaign was. 

    But it's all hit the fan in these playoffs, with the crew posting a 2-7-1 record thanks to an 0-4 showing in the divisional round.

    An argument could be made that the law of averages will help, and at least Brent Sobleski is coming off a 2-0 performance on conference-championship Sunday (no word on if he had the AFC in the Pro Bowl).

    With the New England Patriots laying nearly a field goal in what is projected by oddsmakers to be one of the closest, highest-scoring games in Super Bowl history, here's where Davenport, Sobleski and Brad Gagnon are leaning for New England's heavily hyped Lombardi Trophy showdown with the young Los Angeles Rams.


    Where to Watch: NFL playoff games, studio shows and more are available through fuboTV.

The Details

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    When: Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET

    Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta 

    TV: CBS

    Referee: John Parry

    Per Talk of Fame Network's Rick Gosselin, the Rams are 7-0 in games worked by Parry since 2008, while the Patriots were penalized a season-high 14 times by Parry's crew in a Week 15 loss to Pittsburgh. 

    Line: New England -2.5 (opened at -1)

    Total: 56.5 (opened at 57.5)

    New England injuries: The Patriots have a healthy roster, but wide receiver Josh Gordon has been suspended indefinitely since December. Notable players on injured reserve include Eric Rowe (groin) and Jeremy Hill (torn ACL).  

    Los Angeles injuries: Three key special teamers—safety Blake Countess (foot), punter Johnny Hekker (illness) and kicker Greg Zuerlein (left foot)—all were out of practice last week but should be good to go Sunday. Notable players on injured reserve include Cooper Kupp (torn ACL) and Dominique Easley (knee).


    Odds based on consensuses at Odds Shark as of Wednesday.

The Pick

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    Despite New England's dominance this century, the Patriots' four Super Bowl victories have come by just 19 total points, and they've lost three Super Bowls despite being favored. So while all three of our panelists agreed the Pats would cover a 2.5-point spread Sunday, there was some trepidation. 

    Davenport said: 

    "It's quite possible I'm going to regret this. I made a similar pick a year ago, taking the Patriots to win a close Super Bowl in a game featuring evenly matched teams. We all know how that turned out. And given my against-the-spread (ATS) record in the postseason (2-7-1), you should absolutely bet the kids' college fund on the Rams. I'm kidding. Please don't do that."

    But Bleacher Report's regular-season pick king was willing to lay the points with New England, and he listed three reasons for that:

    "The first is New England's bend-but-don't-break defense. While the Rams and Patriots allowed almost an identical amount of yards per game, the Patriots were seventh in scoring defense (20.3 PPG). The Rams were 20th (24.0 PPG). I trust New England more to tighten up in the red zone.

    The second is L.A.'s struggles against the run at times in the regular season. The Rams allowed a league-high 5.1 yards per carry in 2018—that's bad heading into a matchup with a Patriots squad that's been cramming Sony Michel down opponents' throats in the postseason.

    The third is Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and New England's experience on this stage. This is all new to most of the Rams. For the Pats, it's just another (yawn) Super Bowl trip. New England's much better equipped to handle the mayhem of Super Bowl week, and you really can bet the kids' college fund that Darth Hoodie will have something up his sleeve for the Rams.

    Again, just leave the college fund alone. It's a figure of speech. I know that plenty of folks get a bit queasy at the idea that the Patriots will hoist yet another Lombardi Trophy. Well, buy some Pepto Bismol. It's gonna happen."

    Speaking of experience, Belichick is twice Sean McVay's age. He can become the oldest Super Bowl-winning head coach in NFL history, while the 33-year-old McVay would have to become the youngest. That wisdom advantage is a big reason Sobleski is taking the Pats. 

    "The Patriots' roster flexibility allows chameleon-like adaptive qualities to attack an opponent's weaknesses while taking away its strengths. Belichick and his standout staff put together a pair of near-flawless game plans during another run through the AFC's best competition. The Los Angeles Chargers couldn't handle a shifting, stunting defensive front. The Kansas Chiefs, on the other hand, didn't hold up against an old-school ground-and-pound approach. The Rams are a different challenge, but Belichick and Co. have two weeks to prepare.

    Usually, that proves to be fatal for the New England's opponents. Last year, the Philadelphia Eagles outcoached the Patriots in the Super Bowl. It won't happen again."

    Meanwhile, Gagnon had no second thoughts on his New England pick. He thinks the time has come for the Patriots to finally produce a laugher on the Super Bowl stage. 

    "In a perfect world, you grabbed the Pats when they were laying only a point, because they do tend to let opponents hang around in the Super Bowl. But I'm still confident oddsmakers initially misfired with this line. The betting public has pushed it quite a bit, but the Patriots should really be favored by a touchdown or more. 

    The Rams aren't ready. They're too young and too inexperienced, and they're lucky to be here after an uninspiring performance against the New Orleans Saints that might have only gone their way because of a now-infamous missed call. 

    Meanwhile, the Patriots have been possessed throughout the playoffs. Brady looks inspired, Rob Gronkowski has woken up and that newfound power running game could be a disaster for a Rams defense that is vulnerable on the ground. 

    This is simply a bad matchup for Los Angeles, which might not be able to control the game with Aaron Donald against Dante Scarnecchia's en fuego offensive line and a wise quarterback whose comically quick release now has to be measured in picoseconds. 

    We're due for a one-sided Super Bowl (14 of the last 15 have been relatively close), and this looks like the game for it to happen."

    Again, though, in case it wasn't clear: Don't touch that college fund. The Los Angeles offense is stacked, Donald is the best defensive player in the game and—for what it's worth—our analysts were a mere 64-64-5 when they unanimously agreed on their picks this year. 



    Davenport: Patriots 27, Rams 23

    Gagnon: Patriots 37, Rams 24

    Sobleski: Patriots 28, Rams 21

    Consensus: New England (-2.5)

The Over/Under Pick

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    The opening total of 57.5 was the highest in Super Bowl history. It remains wildly high at 56.5, and the majority of our experts aren't willing to roll with such a tall number. 

    "The NFL may have morphed into an offensive-driven, pass-happy league," Sobleski said, "but two of the best defensive minds in the sport's history—Belichick and Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips—are devising game plans to, at the very least, slow their opponents."

    Sobleski also pointed out that both defenses have plenty of talent, starting with Defensive Player of the Year front-runner Aaron Donald in Los Angeles and first-team All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore for New England. And don't overlook New England's Kyle Van Noy, J.C. Jackson and Devin and Jason McCourty, or L.A.'s Ndamukong Suh, Dante Fowler Jr., Mark Barron and John Johnson. All of those guys performed extremely well in January.

    Still, we're talking about two of the four highest-scoring teams in the league, which is partly why Davenport isn't overly confident in his decision to go under. 

    "Part of me wants to take the over here, as the last two Patriots Super Bowls have been shootout-city. Both have also been wildly exciting games, as high-scoring affairs tend to be. But in addition to a pair of the game's best defensive minds in Belichick and Phillips and plenty of talent on both teams on that side of the ball, it's a real possibility that both McVay and Belichick will try to use the run game to control tempo and keep the opposing offense on the sideline. This is going to be another exciting Super Bowl—just with fewer points than the last two."

    Those last two contained an average of 68 points, so you can't blame Gagnon from straying from the pack and picking the over. 

    "The New England offense looks unstoppable, and there's little reason to believe the vulnerable Los Angeles defense will slow it down. And we're still talking about a Rams offense that led the NFC in scoring and should have plenty of openings against a D that was embarrassed in last year's Super Bowl and couldn't put the Chiefs away two Sundays ago. The Rams will utilize speed advantages to score some points. And this'll be a blowout in favor of New England, which could lead to garbage-time scoring because nobody wants to go down easy on a stage like this." 

    Fair, but he's still in the minority. 



    Davenport: Under by 6.5 points

    Gagnon: Over by 4.5 points

    Sobleski: Under by 7.5 points

    Consensus: Under

The MVP Pick

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    The consensus is the MVP of Super Bowl LIII will be Brady. Davenport and Sobleski have Michel pegged as the runner-up to the majority pick, while Sobleski has the rookie running back edging out the veteran signal-caller. 

    Davenport said: 

    "I'm tempted to join the esteemed Mr. Sobleski in taking Michel. It's easy to envision a scenario where Michel plays a vital role in a Patriots victory. But if this game is as close as I expect it to be, then there are going to be multiple moments when The Golden Boy has to make a play. If Brady has any kind of big stat line, the MVP voters won't be able to resist giving him the trophy—whether he really deserves it or not. Quarterbacks are so annoying—bunch of glory hogs."

    That's part of Gagnon's rationale, too: 

    "The MVP in seven of the last nine Super Bowls was a quarterback, and a running back hasn't been Super Bowl MVP this century. Michel and James White are both strong candidates, but there's a chance one or the other stands out, and there's also a chance they steal votes from each other. I have the Patriots winning convincingly in a high-scoring game, so it wouldn't make sense to avoid taking the world-famous quarterback from the winning squad."

    But Sobleski is indeed is on Team Sony. He believes the 23-year-old Michel can beat Brady, White, Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and whoever else shines for New England, to become the youngest Super Bowl MVP in the last 34 years: 

    "The Patriots know where their strengths lie. They have the game's best offensive interior. Furthermore, the Rams' standout defensive tackles can be overaggressive. Instead of trying to avoid Donald or Suh, the Patriots could use their approach against them. Inside counters, traps and wham blocks will allow Donald and Suh to get upfield while creating running lanes for Michel, who has already carried the ball 53 times for 242 yards and five touchdowns in his first two playoff appearances."

    Those numbers are impressive. Still, it should be pointed out that Brady was nearly perfect in Week 17 against the New York Jets as well as in New England's first playoff game, and that he was nothing short of incredible with the AFC title on the line one week later in Kansas City. 



    Davenport: Tom Brady

    Gagnon: Tom Brady

    Sobleski: Sony Michel

    Consensus: Tom Brady