ATLANTA — Moments after the New England Patriots beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game, cameras captured star quarterback Tom Brady hugging receiver Chris Hogan and sharing a chuckle about all the naysayers who doubted them.
“I’m too old. You’re too slow,” Brady told him. “We’ve got no skill players. We’ve got no defense. We’ve got nothing.”
More than a week later, Brady and the Pats are still embracing the underdog role as they prepare for Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Los Angeles Rams. We get it. Players need motivation, and they’re trying to psyche themselves up.
But c’mon, it’s a brazenly ridiculous claim. It’s like Jeff Bezos saying he needs food stamps.
“The idea that the Patriots are an underdog was true once upon a time,” says Neil Paine, senior sportswriter at FiveThirtyEight, the news site that focuses on statistical analysis. “Trouble is, that was when George W. Bush was president… his first term.”
OK, so they were upset last year by the Philadelphia Eagles, But they’ve won five of them.
Since Brady and coach Bill Belichick won their first Super Bowl in 2002, the Patriots have never had a losing season. They’ve won their division the last 10 years in a row. By any standard — but especially in the fickle NFL — that’s an unparalleled record of sustained success.
Is it possible the Pats have only found true respect now, in the playoffs? No.
Back in early September, Las Vegas bookmakers made them the preseason favorite to win it all. Numero uno.
Their success during the season
In fact, the Pats have been favorites throughout pretty much the entire 2018-2019 season.
“The Patriots have a well-balanced team,” Paine says. “According to ESPN’s Expected Points Added metric, they rank in the top 10 on both offense and defense. That’s very unusual for them. Most Patriot teams in recent years have only been good at offense.”
According to FiveThirtyEight, the only game in which they were underdogs was against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 15. Even then, the Pats were given a 49% chance of winning.
FiveThirtyEight’s Elo ratings, a system which evaluates teams based on head-to-head results, makes the Patriots a one-point favorite over the Rams.
Bookies in Vegas are more generous, favoring them by 2 and a half points.
The Pats aren’t favored by as much as they were in last year’s Super Bowl, or the one before that against the Atlanta Falcons. But still — NOT underdogs.
Well, the Vegas line is one thing. Maybe sportswriters see things differently?
Not so much. NFL Pickwatch, which aggregates game predictions by more than 75 experts from ESPN, the NFL Network and other outlets, shows a heavy consensus for the Patriots.
It’s hard to count out Brady, arguably the best quarterback ever, and Belichick, the grumpy genius. Just ask the Falcons.
The bottom line
To be fair to the Patriots, they were underdogs in one playoff game: the AFC championship. But they weren’t disrespected. The hometown Chiefs were favored by 3 points, which means the Patriots would have actually been favored had the game been played in New England.
The Rams, meanwhile, were actually a bigger underdog heading into the NFC championship game. So if anything, Jared Goff and the Rams are the ones who have been disrespected.
If the Patriots win Sunday, it won’t be the culmination of an amazing underdog story.
It will simply be the rich getting richer.