Patriots players, with nothing more to conquer, have taken up lying to themselves and everyone else about being disrespected underdogs. It worked for them nearly two decades earlier, during their first Super Bowl win, so why not bring it back? No one believes in us!
While New England would be much more enjoyable if it just embraced being the Evil Empire and stopped pretending it’s anything other than a top contender every single year, let’s find the receipts.
The media believed in the Patriots in the preseason.
Anyone who thinks New England wasn’t universally considered a title contender: Google is still free. Let’s use it to look back through some predictions panels.
- SB Nation’s preseason predictions roundup had the Pats as one of six potential Super Bowl champions (Sarah Hardy even explained her Minnesota pick by writing, “they’re not the Patriots, who will probably end up here anyway”).
- Five of six Ringer staffers had New England in the Super Bowl.
- Most of Football Outsiders’ writers agreed with the math and picked the Pats to win the Super Bowl.
- SI had the Pats in the AFC Championship.
- CBS had them as the AFC’s No. 1 seed.
- USA Today’s panel named them one of five Super Bowl champs.
- Half of Pro Football Talk’s panel had the Pats in the Super Bowl.
- Numbers too! ESPN’s FPI had the Patriots as the likeliest team to win the Super Bowl.
- Every human on Earth picked New England to win the AFC East, of course.
The media believed in the Patriots all season long, even as the Patriots themselves tried to create doubt by losing games they shouldn’t have.
More or less, the Pats won twice as a slight media underdog, but lost five times as a pretty heavy media favorite. If anything, the media overrated New England on a weekly basis.
Let’s use a combination of ESPN’s and SB Nation’s weekly picks posts. Here were the total numbers of combined NFL media people at just these two outlets who picked New England to win each week (I’m guessing the numbers would be pretty similar if we expanded to include more outlets, but I ain’t trying to do all that math):
- Week 1 vs. Texans: Patriots picked by 15 of 17
- Week 2 vs. Jaguars: Patriots picked by 10 of 17 (and lost)
- Week 3 vs. Lions: Patriots picked by 17 of 17 (and lost)
- Week 4 vs. Dolphins: Patriots picked by 17 of 17
- Week 5 vs. Colts: Patriots picked by 17 of 17
- Week 6 vs. Chiefs: Chiefs picked by 10 of 17
- Week 7 vs. Bears: Patriots picked by 15 of 17
- Week 8 vs. Bills: Patriots picked by 17 of 17
- Week 9 vs. Packers: Patriots picked by 16 of 17
- Patriots disrespected by national media, which does not pick New England to record a win against Bye Week
- Week 12 vs. Jets: Patriots picked by 17 of 17
- Week 13 vs. Vikings: Patriots picked by 15 of 17
- Week 14 vs. Dolphins: Patriots picked by 15 of 17 (and lost)
- Week 15 vs. Steelers: Patriots picked by 12 of 17 (and lost)
- Week 16 vs. Bills: Patriots picked by 17 of 17
- Week 17 vs. Jets: Patriots picked by 17 of 17
- Patriots disrespected by national media, which doesn’t think New England will win any wild card games
- Playoffs vs. Chargers: Patriots picked by 9 of 15
- AFC Championship: Chiefs picked by 10 of 15
- Super Bowl: The average ESPN picker has the Patriots winning and covering.
So twice all year, a somewhat representative portion of the NFL media picked a team to beat New England. Both times, the panelists were still quite split. Both times, Kansas City had the better record and computer ratings. And both games came down to New England barely winning.
lol the Pats were the most popular choice to come out of the AFC *by far* back in September https://t.co/ySkWWhINyv— Mina Kimes (@minakimes) January 27, 2019
Some media members did wonder if the Patriots — who had a 9-5 record at one point — were a step below their usual level. Guess what? So did people with all kinds of jobs, including plenty of Pats fans.
Given how long Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have been doing this, some commentators wondered whether the dynasty was at or nearing its end, sure. Many commentators also assumed New England would turn it around in time to make the Super Bowl again.
No one could predict the future or predict the Chiefs would lose an overtime coin toss, but New England enjoyed FAR more public faith than any other 9-5 team would’ve.
The sportsbooks believe in New England enough to take their own computer projections with a grain of salt.
Based partly on computer models and partly on gut instinct about how bettors might pick the Super Bowl, many sportsbooks opened with the three-loss Rams as very slight favorites over the five-loss Patriots. A great story by David Purdum shows how oddsmakers consciously applied a Patriots Tax before revealing their lines:
The staff at BetCris also was somewhat divided. One oddsmaker had the Rams as the favorite; the other had the Patriots. Nash, a professional oddsmaker since 1978, said he has the Rams power-rated 3.5 points higher than the Patriots but knew that was too high of a number to post, so he settled at L.A. -1.5.
Even with a line set below what the raw rankings would’ve dictated, big early bets showed bettors had far more confidence in the Patriots than expected. Oddsmakers reacted immediately:
At 10:15 p.m. ET, just minutes after the AFC Championship Game ended, BetCris opened the Los Angeles Rams as 1.5-point favorites over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.
By 10:32 p.m., the Patriots had gone from underdogs to 2.5-point favorites.
Vegas planned to give New England at least a couple more points than the computers said New England deserved, but then went along with the public to offer a line nearly opposite what computer formulas would’ve recommended. This is Universal Belief In The Patriots put into cold, hard action.
The sportsbooks have long believed in the Patriots.
Per OddsShark’s database, New England has been an actual underdog just 2.1 times per season in the last decade, only once since 2016. They haven’t been double-digit underdogs in any game since 2001. They’ve been favored by 10 or more points in five different games for three years in a row.
The public at large OVERWHELMINGLY believes in the Patriots.
Per Jon Campbell at OddsShark, here’s one look at how bettors have invested in each side all total, which includes bets placed back when the Rams were favored:
OddsShark consensus: 58 percent Pats spread
BetOnline: 78 percent Pats spread, 78 percent Pats moneyline
This changes from book to book (and there is a good bit of late money on the Rams covering the spread), but people have proved far, far, far more comfortable in betting on the Patriots than on the Rams, happily giving up points to the team with the superior record on the field.
It's officially Super Bowl Sunday!— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) February 3, 2019
73.7k bets have been placed on the game so far
74% of tickets on NE, 71% of the $
56% of tickets on the Over, 51% of $ on the Under
The bottom line is this:
Any “nobody believes in us” whining requires obsessing with some rogue talking head’s opinions and ignoring people who have skin in the game.
You can always find one media person who believes anything. We have media people who believe the government is conspiring to make frogs gay. Anyone can contort any video package into DISRESPECT FUEL, given enough motivation.
And as is often the case, using a couple minutes of media rants as evidence for a grand point about society at large is not a good way to connect with reality.