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The Patriots want to be Super Bowl underdogs, because that’s when they’re at their best

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New England is 8-1 as a betting underdog since 2014.

The Patriots were a slight underdog in Super Bowl 53. For about an hour.

That’s how long it took for bets to start flooding in on New England, pushing the Pats’ from a +1 dog to a -2.5-point favorite as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick prepare for their ninth shot at the NFL title. The swing is ruining the narrative the Patriots have foisted onto themselves as a motivational tool to keep their fourth AFC title in five years from feeling routine; that no one believes in the Patriots.

It’s been a familiar refrain from the New England locker room. After dispatching the Chargers after being a mere 4-point favorite in the Divisional Round, Brady started his preview of the AFC title game with “I know everyone thinks we suck and, you know, can’t win any games.”

Julian Edelman even screamed the doubt into Tom Brady’s face after taking a 14-0 lead in the AFC Championship Game. It was a weird flex, sure, but it worked.

It’s a narrative that made sense when the Pats were a 3-point underdog on the road against the Chiefs. It’s tougher to justify when hordes of gamblers have rushed to bet on New England in its fourth Super Bowl in five years.

“The line initially opened with the Rams as a 1-point favorite,” Sports Book Brand Manager Dave Mason told SB Nation’s David Fucillo on Monday. “However, the initial amount of action on the Pats is unprecedented at well over 80 percent, and the line has flipped to -2 in favor of the Pats. The total is one of the highest ever at 58 with 60 percent on the over, and 75 percent on Pats to win money-line. It looks like we will be massive Rams fans come Super Bowl Sunday.”

When Fucillo asked where those bets were coming from, Mason suggested a massive influx of public bets on the Patriots were responsible for moving the line.

“Normally we will move more off sharper or smart money, but the public is pounding them so we had to move it. Over 80 percent of the action is on the Patriots, and the volume isn’t even 24 hours. We have to still balance our risk.”

But the Patriots feed off doubt, especially after their last three Super Bowls

New England’s recent history in the Super Bowl has produced plenty of drama — and the Pats’ best performances came with their backs against the wall. Brady trailed the Seahawks by double digits with eight minutes to play in Super Bowl 49, then rose up to upset Seattle and its 84 percent fourth-quarter win probability behind a pair of passing touchdowns and Malcolm Butler’s game-sealing end zone interception. He trailed 28-3 against the Falcons and had roughly a 0.04 percent shot at victory before leading the most epic comeback in Super Bowl history in 2017.

That magic ran out in Super Bowl 52 when Brady’s fourth-quarter rally was derailed by a Brandon Graham strip sack, but that adversity has become the stronger drug of choice for success addicts like Brady and Belichick. The Patriots struggle to muster up their best performances when they’re obvious favorites. The 2018 regular season gave some ammunition to this theory: three of the team’s five losses this fall came after being favored by 4.5 points or more.

But when bettors flock to New England’s opponents? That’s when Brady and Belichick shine. Here’s how the Patriots have done in their last five games when they haven’t been a betting favorite. All lines are courtesy of OddsShark.

Patriots (+3) 37, Chiefs 31, 2019 AFC Championship Game

The Pats gave up a 14-0 halftime lead and trailed twice in the fourth quarter, but Brady eventually outdueled Patrick Mahomes to earn an overtime win in Kansas City. For more details, please see the aforementioned clip of Julian Edelman telling his quarterback he’s “TOO F—-ING OLD!”

Patriots* (+9.5) 23, Cardinals 21, Week 1 of 2016

This game earns an asterisk since Brady sat this one out as part of his four-game Deflategate suspension. New England had few believers with Jimmy Garoppolo behind center to start 2016, especially for a road trip against a Cardinals team that had won 13 games the year before. But the Eastern Illinois prospect stepped up to lead the Patriots to a victory, and the Patriots defense held a team that had scored 30.5 points per game in 2015 to just 21 in its season debut.

Patriots (+1) 40, Bills 32, Week 2 of 2015

This line wavered between a slight edge for the Pats and one for the home team after Buffalo began its 2015 season with a blowout win over the Colts. Rex Ryan’s rivalry with Belichick was turned up to full pitch, leading to some doubt as to whether the defending NFL champions could handle an AFC East rival that hadn’t been to the playoffs in 15 years.

The Bills opened up a brief 7-0 lead, then trailed 37-13 heading into the fourth quarter before a furious comeback made things look more respectable in Orchard Park, NY.

Patriots (+1) 28, Seahawks 24, Super Bowl 49

Seattle’s Legion of Boom defense had fueled a blowout Super Bowl win over Denver the year prior, and New England had some questions to answer after needing some trickery to get past the Ravens in the Divisional Round weeks earlier.

That line looked prescient after the Seahawks took a 24-14 lead into the fourth quarter, but Brady led his team back and set the stage for Butler to rise from undrafted free agent to Super Bowl hero. With an assist from Pete Carroll and his decision to throw the ball at the goal line with an NFL title on the line.

Patriots (+1.5) 21, Packers 26, Week 13 of 2014

Finally, we get to the first game in five seasons New England has lost as an underdog. The 8-3 Packers welcomed Brady and his 9-2 Patriots in front of a fervent crowd at Lambeau Field, then ran out to a 13-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. The Pats battled back, but Aaron Rodgers snuffed out any chance of a Brady comeback with a clutch third-down conversion that gave the home team the latitude to run out the clock and secure its biggest win of the season.

New England also won four other games in 2014 where Belichick’s team wasn’t the betting favorite. In the past five seasons, the Patriots have gone 8-1 as underdogs.

No one has thrived under the scrutiny of bettors’ doubts than Tom Brady. Thriving as an underdog is the role that propelled him to stardom 17 years ago, coincidentally against the same Rams team he’ll face in Super Bowl 53. The then-24-year-old took a Patriots team that was a 14-point ‘dog and led them to a thrilling, buzzer-beating win against one of the league’s most powerful offenses.

It’s no wonder the Patriots are trying to relive the narrative that’s been so good to them, even if the numbers don’t back up that idea. New England isn’t the underdog at Super Bowl 53, but that’s not what you’ll hear inside the club’s locker room as it gears up for its fourth Super Bowl in five years.