The previous time the Patriots and Rams met, it was in Atlanta for the NFL title. A whole lot has changed since.
Los Angeles responded to its loss in that Super Bowl with a mediocre 2019 season, failing to return to the playoffs. New England got there last year, lost in the wild-card round after a late-season slump and now is recognizing how much Tom Brady was responsible for that dynastic run.
This season, the Rams (8-4) are tied for the lead in the NFC West and the Patriots (6-6) have climbed to .500. When they face off Thursday night, the Rams, ranked sixth in the AP Pro32, will be five-point favourites over the No. 17 Patriots.
“What we do over the next 3½ days is going to be indicative of the position we put ourselves in to have success,” Rams coach Sean McVay says. “In December, all you can ask for is being involved in games that matter, and our guys have done a good enough job to put themselves in a position to be relevant right now, but it’s only about what we can do this Thursday.”
L.A.’s defence can do plenty of harm, and New England – despite 45 points against the woeful Chargers last Sunday in the same building, SoFi Stadium – tends to struggle with the ball, especially in the passing game.
“They’re obviously a very good defence,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick says. “They’re at the top of the league in almost every category. They’re hard to move the ball against. They make you earn everything. They don’t make many mistakes. There’s no easy plays.”
Knockout pool: The Dolphins did the job for us last week, and now it’s SEATTLE – yes, Pro Picks has ignored the Seahawks thus far.
No. 2 New Orleans (minus 7) at No. 27 Philadelphia
Jalen Hurts might give Philly a spark, but not enough against the NFC’s top squad.
Best bet: SAINTS, 27-15
No. 15 Arizona (minus 3) at No. 18 New York Giants
The Giants are rolling, the Cardinals are reeling.
Upset special: GIANTS, 20-17
No. 13 Baltimore (minus 1) at No. 7 Cleveland, Monday
We thought about this for Upset Special, too.
No. 3 Pittsburgh (plus 2 1/2) at No. 5 Buffalo
And this. But Buffalo could establish itself as a Super Bowl contender here.
No. 4 Green Bay (minus 7) at No. 25 Detroit
The Packers can clinch the NFC North, and should do so emphatically.
No. 1 Kansas City (minus 7) at No. 12 Miami
The Dolphins would take a huge step toward the postseason with a win. Sorry ...
No. 32 New York Jets (plus 13) at No. 8 Seattle
New York has learned that Cover Zero means zero coverage deep.
No. 16 Minnesota (plus 6 1/2) at No. 11 Tampa Bay
Tampa needs a bit of a turnaround and this is a good spot for it.
No. 20 San Francisco (minus 3) vs. No. 19 Washington at Glendale, Ariz.
Ron Rivera will keep Washington grounded after its huge upset at Pittsburgh.
No. 9 Tennessee (minus 7 1/2) at No. 31 Jacksonville
The Titans get the right tonic after their distressing performance against Cleveland.
No. 10 Indianapolis (minus 2 1/2) at No. 14 Las Vegas
After their lucky escape at the Meadowlands, how will the Raiders react?
No. 23 Atlanta (minus 2 1/2) at No. 28 Los Angeles Chargers
We can’t find anything good to say about the Chargers right now.
No. 29 Dallas (minus 3 1/2) at No. 30 Cincinnati
Nor can we find anything good to say about either of these teams.
No. 21 Houston (minus 1 1/2) at No. 26 Chicago
Nor these two highly disappointing squads.
No. 24 Denver (OFF) at No. 22 Carolina
The Panthers come off a bye while the Broncos come off a physical test against KC.
Last week: Straight up: 12-3. Against spread: 10-5
Season: Straight up: 129-62-1. Against spread: 98-81-4
Best bet: Straight up: 11-2. Against spread: 7-6
Upset special: Straight up: 6-7. Against spread: 6-5-2