The last time the Patriots played the Rams, Bill Belichick’s squad got the better of Sean McVay in a 13-3 chess match to win Super Bowl LIII. Now, a little under two years later, the Rams (8-4) have the opportunity to destroy the 2020 playoff hopes of the Patriots (6-6) at SoFi Stadium to kick off Week 14. Los Angeles has been listed as a five-point home favorite (-250 ML), and the over/under currently sits at 44.5 total points.
Coming off a huge 38-28 victory over the division-rival Cardinals, L.A. will be trying for its fourth win in five games and its first victory over New England since 2001. The Patriots, who also recently beat Arizona and pounded the Chargers 45-0 in this same stadium last week, look to notch their fifth win in six games and inch their way closer to a wild card spot in a tightly-contested AFC race.
WEEK 14 PICKS ADVICE: Pick ’em/Surivor Pools
As always, you can visit BetQL 24/7 for all updated lines, odds, spreads, and expert picks for this and every NFL game of the 2020 season. We can tell you right now that the BetQL NFL Best Bet Model likes the Rams to win, giving LA’s moneyline a two-star rating. Keep reading for BetQL’s comprehensive betting preview, our Model’s complete projections, and our full set of predictions for this Thursday Night showdown between familiar foes.
To say that Bill Belichick’s Patriots have been winning unconventionally since the departure of Tom Brady would be an extreme understatement. Hell, one could make the argument that in the absence of the three-time MVP, who won six Super Bowl titles quarterbacking New England, the franchise has flipped its offensive strategy completely on its head and commanded an approach that resembles football from a bygone era.
Indeed, the presence of Cam Newton — and both Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ usage of the 2015 MVP — has been a vastly different style for Pats fans to watch. But as of the last month, that style has paid off handsomely, to the tune of four wins in five weeks.
Newton has 106 rushing attempts, on pace to break his personal record of 139. He has scored on the ground 11 times in 11 games, just three touchdowns shy of his career single-season best set way back in his 2011 rookie season. He has thrown the ball 19 or fewer times in five different games this season, including New England’s past two, and the Patriots have won four of those five games.
Last week, the Pats traveled to SoFi Stadium for their first of two-consecutive LA jaunts. Newton completed just 12 passes for 69 yards, but New England shut out the Chargers 45-0. One week prior, the Pats bewildered the Cardinals 20-17 despite Newton connecting on just nine-of-18 passes, throwing two interceptions, and registering a 23.6 QB rating.
No, Belichick hasn’t developed some kind of spell or opened up some ancient curse (although who would put it past him?). His team has just been playing old-fashioned, ground-and-pound football and letting its supremely disciplined defense and special teams preserve leads. And why buck the trend? New England has lost the two games in which Newton has eclipsed 275 passing yards.
At 6-5, 245 pounds, Newton remains one of the most difficult runners to get to the ground. He lowers his shoulder near the end zone, and more often than not, it’s as effective a strategy as any red-zone pass you could draw up. Bruising second-year back Damien Harris has helped between the 20s. The Alabama product and former Derrick Henry teammate has channeled the aggressive running style of his old pal and churned out 641 yards in just 126 attempts (5.1 yards per carry). If defenses sell out to stop the run by stacking the box, Newton can dunk down to pass-catching back James White or find one of his three young wideouts in Jakobi Meyers, Damiere Byrd, or N’Keal Harry. None have reached 40 catches (or even three TDs), but they have each shown competence when needed.
Of course, the true driving force of this iteration of the historic Patriots franchise has been Belichick’s defense and special teams. The Mad Genius of New England Sports has done it again — he’s turned relatively obscure names into difference-making local legends. Safety Adrian Phillips, known as a special teams guy for the Chargers before signing with the Pats in March, leads the team with 84 combined tackles, 56 solo tackles, and five tackles for loss. Linebacker Ja-Whaun Bentley sits right behind him with 70 tackles (40 solo). J.C. Jackson ranks second in the NFL with seven interceptions, and he’s tied for fourth in the AFC with 12 passes defensed. There is a handful of guys you’ve never heard of with multiple sacks.
Then there’s Gunner. Move over, Matthew Slater, as there’s a new special teams wizard on the team, and he has golden locks. Gunner Olszewski, who makes $630,882 in his second year out of Bemidji State, has returned five punts for 212 yards and a touchdown in New England’s past two games. He caught a 38-yard touchdown against the Chargers, too. So, there’s that.
Undoubtedly, there will be critics of New England’s seemingly-archaic playing style. There will be skeptics who insist the Patriots lack the depth, experience, and downright talent to keep winning without throwing the ball. But you can’t argue with the numbers. And bettors can definitely not argue with the fact that New England has covered in four of the six games in which it has been declared an underdog (outright winning three). Make fun of it all you want, America, but don’t be surprised if Bill Belichick once again comes away with the last laugh.
There are hard-working, disciplined defenses like New England’s, and then there are ultra-talented defenses like the Rams. Despite head coach Sean McVay losing legendary defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to retirement in the offseason, his team has not skipped a beat under Brandon Staley. This unit ranks in the top five in a dozen statistical categories, and it unquestionably instills fear in the hearts of offenses.
Los Angeles has allowed the second-fewest total yards on the season and forced the third-most turnovers. Led by Aaron Donald, the best defensive player in football and a perennial leader in sacks (he has 11 to date this season), the Rams average three sacks per game. Their trio of stifling cornerbacks, consisting of Jalen Ramsey, Darious Williams, and Troy Hill, join standout safety John Johnson to comprise the stingiest secondary in football. They allow the fewest passing yards and the fewest passing touchdowns in the pros.
More important in this game, LA’s D also ranks third in rushing yards, and second in third-down conversion percentage. That may leave the Patriots, who have rushed for 19 of their 27 offensive touchdowns, between a rock and a hard place.
Regardless of their dominant defense, the Rams will still have to put offensive points on the board against a Pats team they haven’t defeated in nearly 20 years. Jared Goff should not expect to put up another 351 passing yards like he did last week against an unfocused Cardinals defense. This Patriots team executes game plans to perfection and forces average to below-average QBs to make mistakes. Nobody would be surprised if Goff fails to throw a TD for the fourth time this season or throws multiple picks for the fourth time in six weeks.
Receivers Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods may have something to say about that. Kupp caught eight-of-nine targets for 73 yards last week, and he leads the team in both receptions (73) and yards (836). Woods has 29 catches on 38 targets over the course of L.A.’s past three games, and he leads the Rams with five touchdown grabs this season. This veteran tandem will have to be on their game tonight, as the backfield trio of Darrell Henderson, Malcolm Brown, and Cam Akers will be up against a defense that just held Austin Ekeler and the Chargers to 70 rushing yards.
Still, the Rams have proved themselves capable of beating good teams, and their 5-4 record as favorites against the spread supports that. Their 4-1 straight up record at home (3-2 ATS) speaks volumes about how well McVay prepares his squad for big games. And there’s no doubt in anybody’s mind that this date has been circled on McVay’s calendar all year.
It’s easy to hype up a New England squad that has been winning games it has no business even competing in, but this Rams team poses far too many threats on both sides of the ball. Newton has 16 total touchdowns on the season, and 11 of them have come via the ground. The Rams only allow 1.2 passing touchdowns per game (tied for best in the NFL), and they’ve fared well against mobile QBs this season. Despite playing a schedule that has included meetings with Kyler Murray, Dak Prescott, Josh Allen, Russell Wilson, Tua Tagovailoa, and Daniel Jones, LA has allowed QBs to sneak into the end zone via the ground just three times this season. The fact that the Rams have forced multiple turnovers in six consecutive games just solidifies our choice.
The BetQL Best Bet Model agrees that the Rams -250 is the moneyline bet to make, giving it a two-star confidence rating. But the Model and I both agree that the Patriots can and most likely will make things interesting, therefore we put a two-star rating on New England covering +5. As an underdog, the Pats have gone 4-2 against the spread this season, and they’ve covered as undies in two different away games. The Model also puts a three-star rating on New England +3 at halftime. Simply put, don’t bet the favorites ATS versus Belichick’s Patriots, especially in a prime-time game. The Rams will likely get the win, but they won’t pound New England to the ground like 61 percent of sharp bettors seem to think. Give us the Rams and the UNDER in a 24-20 slugfest.
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