At the end of the Superbowl every year, I immediately shut off my football brain. Even after an amazing game like the one, we saw last year (even more amazing if you were on the right side of the betting), I want nothing to do with the NFL for a few months. You see, it used to be that the league would go quiet until the draft, but these days the discussion starts immediately after the game about which players are on the move, ranking the upcoming draftees, and on and on. It is an endless loop of information, and given that I pick winners for a living, I just need the time to rest my brain and enjoy the other great sports taking place.
So, now that regular season NFL starts this week, it’s time for me to turn my attention back to the NFL and start to get ready for another incredible betting season. The first thing I like to do is read other “experts” picks for the big game. Typically, this gives me an idea of where everyone’s thoughts are and which teams are garnering the most attention. Then, I start to do my own research and see if I can come up with the same conclusions.
Let me tell you this – I am getting tired of people who just go chalk on these picks. You can tell how little effort someone puts into a set of picks when the same two teams end up in the Superbowl as the year before. That just never happens (it’s not like the current NBA). So, when I see a prediction (and I saw many) of New England and Philadelphia facing off in Atlanta next February, it started to anger me. However, perhaps I was getting overly emotional about this – maybe these experts did a ton of research and determined that these were still the best two teams out there. But a repeat of last year? I think people are just hoping for a revenge game from Brady and Belichick.
Ok. Enough of this blabber. Let’s get to my picks.
First off, let me tell you that I am firmly in the camp of people that like to see dynasties in sports. So many people claim that it is bad for one team to win all the time, but in most cases, it is people whose teams never win making this argument. For me, its pretty simple – I like to debate with folks about the best players and teams in sports, and you can’t do that unless you can narrow the field to a manageable number. The Patriots are in that category, and deservedly so – 8 appearances in the Superbowl, 5 wins since 2001, and all with the same QB and Head Coach.
So, if I love dynasties, why won’t I pick the Patriots to make it back again this year? Again, let me put this in perspective – I want the Pats back in the Superbowl. It’s an amazing story that Brady continues to put up these numbers and never seems to get injured. However, this is about who I think will get there, not who I want to be in the game. Yes, the Patriots have made all these Superbowl appearances while re-tooling their roster over and over, and this has to put Belichek near the top of the list of best coaches in all of sports. Sadly, each year there seem to be more positions that need to be addressed, and this season is no different. There are too many question marks surrounding the team on both sides of the ball, and while the Pats are totally comfortable making moves during the season, I think this season may prove too challenging. Add in a 4-game suspension to Julian Edelman, and the team will now have to rely more than ever on the brittle Rob Gronkowski. The ageless superstar quarterback can carry the team to another division win (the AFC East is a pushover), but the Patriots will get stopped in the playoffs this year.
Let’s face it, the Eagles were an amazing story last year. A team with a lot of promise going into the season only to see its heart ripped out when their breakout QB went down with a knee injury. This left the team with an underperforming backup to run the offense while ost bettors ran for the hills trying to hedge any bets they had made.
The Eagles, to their credit, went right into “sports movie underdog” mode, with all the clichés that come along with it. While they stumbled a bit down the stretch in the regular season, they ended up persevering in the playoffs, and when it mattered most, they were up to the challenge, taking down the Pats in a true David vs. Goliath moment.
Upon further examination, however, was this all about the Eagles or a series of very fortunate events? I don’t want to take away anything from what the team accomplished, but along the way, they definitely caught more than a few breaks. I won’t go into all the gory details, but lets put it this way: the team was one hail-mary pass away from playing the New Orleans Saints instead of the Minnesota Vikings, and that alone would have been fortunate enough if the Eagles themselves hadn’t just found themselves beating a team that seemed to have forgotten how to play offense after leading the league in scoring just one year previous. The team should have lost to the Falcons in the Divisional round, but Atlanta was clearly still reeling from the choke of the century in Superbowl 51. Throw in some other key injuries, and the path to the Superbowl was lit up like the Yellow Brick Road.
This year? No way all these events break in the Eagles favor. I think they are an excellent team and have retained the core of the group that won the Superbowl, but there are still questions about the health of Carson Wentz, and I am not certain that Nick Foles can do what he did for an entire season.
This offseason, there seemed to be more transactions from a free agency and trade department than I have ever seen. This seems to be the case in all sports in an era where teams need to make news to stay relevant. NFL contracts are not fully guaranteed, so it makes it easier for a team to part ways with a bad decision without taking a massive hit. Even still, there just seemed to be a lot of movement, and that was before the draft. Add in some interesting draft picks, and teams are now in a position where I can make some decisions about who will face off in Atlanta in February 2019.
Now, the sexy picks this year aside from going chalk are the Falcons and the Jaguars. Jacksonville shed their perennial losers moniker last year and almost knocked out the defending champs on their home field. While this was all lovely and made for a great story, I fail to understand how Blake Bortles is a starting QB in the NFL and Colin Kaepernick still can’t get a job. The Jaguars defense is still sensational, and that will continue to propel them this year, but it is hard to see the team repeating that magic for a full season.
The Falcons, of course, present the most interesting situation for making the Superbowl. The team was in the big game two years ago, with a juggernaut of an offense. After blowing a 28-3 lead to lose spectacularly, the team seems out of sorts all last year. The core of the team is still in place, although with Julio Jones still not reporting to camp, there is some cause for concern. Still, if the team can find that spark again, they could make a deep run. No team has ever played in the Superbowl in their home stadium, and while this is always an intriguing pick, I don’t think the Falcons will get all the way to…well, Atlanta.
Now that you know who I am not picking let’s get to the good stuff – Betting News’ picks for the Superbowl. From the NFC, I am going with the Los Angeles Rams. This is a team that blossomed last year after ending the horrible Jeff Fisher era. Seriously, if that guy gets a coaching job in the NFL again, bet the house against that team! The Rams had a lot of the right pieces last year but fell victim to injuries to key players down the stretch. Dropping out of the two seeds meant playing a Wild Card game, and they ran into Atlanta who was just too strong for them.
You know how players seemed to just end up on the Patriots and for less money than they could get elsewhere? Well, this year it seems to be the Rams who are the team that players want to gravitate towards. Between signings and trades, the team has picked up superstars in Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Sam Shields, and Ndamukong Suh. Head Coach Sean McDermott has been given the roster to go get a championship for a city that is desperate for a win, and for me, this unit is the one that we will see representing their conference in the big game.
From the AFC, I am selecting a team that everyone thought was the sexy pick last year only to see them crash and burn. I am going with the Oakland Raiders. Not only does the team have a healthy Derek Carr coming back at quarterback, but they may have made the biggest offseason splash by convincing Jon Gruden to leave the booth and come back to the coaching ranks. Now, the 10 million a year that the team is paying Gruden may also have factored into that decision, but I can’t see him taking the job unless he thought he had a legitimate shot and improving is legacy as a coach. The team is also prepping to move to Las Vegas, and while the faithful fans in Oakland will travel with the team, the Raiders owe it to the city to put up a serious effort before leaving town.
The team has been very busy with on-field transactions as well, adding big names like Jordy Nelson, Doug Martin and Martavis Bryant (assuming he isn’t suspended) and retaining Marshawn Lynch. The Raiders definitely have the offensive chops to make a run, and this year I think the addition of a coach that has spent the last decade analyzing the entire league will put them over the top, beating the Patriots and the rest of the AFC along the way.
So there you have it – an all-California Superbowl! Yes, the East Coast is going to be pissed about this, but it is such an intriguing matchup from Head Coaches all the way down. Add in that the Raiders were once in LA themselves, and it has all the makings of a rating bonanza.
Oh, who will win the game? The Rams, going away, 34-20. The team looks too strong to fade against Chucky and the Raider Nation.