New England Patriots (4-3) “at” St. Louis Rams (3-4)
What’s wrong with the Patriots? That’s what people have been asking for 2 weeks. Last week, the answer to that question was nothing. Losing in Seattle to a tough Seahawks team is not an embarrassing loss or a huge upset as some were calling it. Green Bay and Dallas both lost there as well. However, after the Patriots struggled at home to put away the Jets, that question has some more merit. The Patriots didn’t deserve to win that game. If you win the turnover battle, get a safety, and get a special teams touchdown at home, you shouldn’t need overtime to beat the Jets. They should feel like they just lost because they pretty much did.
Patriots fans should be hoping they feel like they lost because Tom Brady is 26-14 ATS off a loss and Bill Belichick is 35-20 ATS. The good news is that they’re also equally good off of overtime, as Belichick is 9-2 ATS off overtime and Brady is 7-1 ATS. More good news: Tom Brady is very good after games where he doesn’t play well, regardless of outcome. After games in which he has 15 or more incompletions, Tom Brady is 23-13 ATS, including 13-5 ATS off a win. Off a win by 3 or fewer, Tom Brady is 14-9 ATS and Belichick is 16-10 ATS.
It’s hard to imagine the Patriots, given how consistently well they play, having another bad game this week off a loss and a near home loss. This is a huge game for them to shut up the media doubters, even after a win. They’ve played a tough schedule in their first 7 games. Their easy games were against the Bills and Titans, both of whom they blew out. The Jets were a only little bit harder last week, but other than that, they’ve played quality opponents. Seattle, Denver, and Baltimore could all easily be playoff teams and Baltimore was a legitimate Super Bowl contender before injuries struck. Arizona, meanwhile, looks like a much more explainable loss now than when it happened, especially since they lost Aaron Hernandez, a huge part of their offensive game plan, during that game and didn’t have time to adjust.
Now the schedule gets easier for the Patriots, starting with an admittedly underrated Rams team this week. After this, they get a bye (more on that later), they’re home for Buffalo and Indianapolis, go to the Jets and Miami, host Houston and San Francisco, then go to Jacksonville and host Miami. Only Houston and San Francisco are better than average teams and both of those games are in Foxboro. In 2010, they started 6-2 before ripping off a stretch of 8 straight wins before a playoff loss and last year they started 5-3 before ripping off a stretch of 10 straight wins before a playoff loss. We could see something similar happen this year.
Back to that bye, that’s another reason why the Patriots will be extra focused this week. Favorite of 7 or more going into a bye are 44-20 ATS since 2002. That makes sense. Good teams tend to be distraction free and take care of business going into a bye. The Patriots also have an advantage given that this game is in London. Having to travel that many time zones is an experience you simply can’t prepare for unless you’ve done so before and the Patriots have not only done so, playing in London in 2009, they blew out the Buccaneers 35-7. The Rams, meanwhile, have never played in London.
Playing in London is also comparable to playing on Thursday Night on short rest and favorites normally do well on Thursday Nights. That makes sense since favorites tend to be experienced, veteran, well coached teams and it makes sense that those types of teams would be better prepared on short rest. Favorites are 68-48 ATS on Thursday Nights. There’s not enough data to include if the same is true in international games, but the logic makes sense. The veteran, experienced, well coached team should have the edge and in this game, that’s the Patriots and that’s not even counting their past experience in London.
One injury note is that Aaron Hernandez did not make the trip for the Patriots and will not play. This doesn’t change my pick, however. In the 3 full games he missed, the Patriots averaged 37.3 points per game. If anything, they’ve been playing worse since he returned. I’m not saying Hernandez being healthy HURTS them, but Tom Brady has always been a next man up guy in the receiving corps and has never been affected by missing receivers, so long as the injury doesn’t happen during a game like the last time Hernandez got hurt.
They could also get Julian Edelman back this week, someone they didn’t gave the last time Hernandez was out, which would allow them to run more 3-wide receiver sets, or they may opt to run more often, which is what they did when Hernandez was out the last time. Brandon Bolden is also expected out, but Shane Vereen looked good in his absence last week.
Either way, I don’t expect the Hernandez injury to affect things much and I still like the Patriots, given the reasons I’ve mentioned and the fact that the favorite/dog disparity is eventually going to close. Dogs are 63-39 ATS this year and neither dogs nor favorites have finished more than 10 games above .500 over the course of a whole season in at least a decade. I like the Patriots for a significant play as long as the line doesn’t go over a touchdown.
Public lean: New England (new thing I’m adding, siding with the odds makers on bets is not a bad thing to do since they make so much money, so I’m listing this here to allow readers to “fade” the public, if they so choose, in this example, the odds makers win if St. Louis covers)
Sharps lean: STL 7 NE 5
Final update: Sharps seem hesitant to bet this game at all because it’s international. I get that, but I still think I have a strong feel on it.
New England Patriots 34 St. Louis Rams 17
Pick against spread: New England -7 (-110) 3 units