By: Brady Gardner
Here we are, football fans. The teams are settled, the stage is set.
The Super Bowl is upon us.
In just a matter of days, we will know who will be crowned the champion of the NFL for 2018. Will it be the battle-tested veteran masterminds from New England, or the explosive young game-changers from Los Angeles? In this article, I will prepare you with every crucial detail and juicy storyline going into Patriots vs. Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
The Patriots offense has experienced uncharacteristic inconsistency this season, but Tom Brady and his self-proclaimed island of misfit toys seem to be hitting their stride at just the right time. Julian Edelman was a warrior against Kansas City in the AFC Championship game, and Rob Gronkowski appears reenergized in what could be the final postseason run of his career. As for the 41-year old quarterback, Brady demonstrated his continued ability to lead late drives and make key throws under pressure in the latter stages of the victory over the Chiefs.
Unsurprisingly, the Patriots offense has improved just as their running game and offensive line have. The backfield group has finally found their ideal balance between Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead picking up hard-fought ground yards, and James White serving as a security blanket for short passes. The Pats’ O-line has been rock-solid in the playoffs, shutting down the likes of Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and Justin Houston among others to protect their star quarterback and open holes for the backs.
The Rams offense looked like a shell of themselves in the early stages of the NFC Championship game in New Orleans, but from the second quarter on, Los Angeles displayed just why they are one of the most dangerous attacks in the league. In fact, it could be said that the LA offense was still short of its full potential against the Saints, with Todd Gurley receiving only four carries in the contest. Whether he was silenced due to injury or a coaching decision, the Rams could become even more fearsome with Gurley back in the game plan.
In Gurley’s absence, CJ Anderson has powered his way to some very strong playoff performances. Through the air, Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods are trustworthy targets for Jared Goff, who has done everything asked of him. Of course, while LA’s attacking talent is evident, the offense would not be nearly as dangerous without the unmatched offensive mind of head coach Sean McVay. Time and time again, the 33-year old has solved elite opposing defenses, and adding the weapons the Rams have only make McVay’s schemes that much more effective.
The Patriots defense wasn’t flawless against Kansas City, but they did enough to get the win. The trademark “amoeba defense” has continued to be a menace for opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks, as Patrick Mahomes was constantly forced to adjust during plays due to the pressure applied by the Patriots’ defensive front. The run defense has still struggled at times, but in what has become a very pass-heavy league, prioritizing air defense has paid off thus far for New England.
In the secondary, Stephon Gilmore hasn’t skipped a beat since receiving the All-Pro nod at cornerback, but it was the play of his fellow cornerbacks who stole the headlines against the Chiefs. A platoon of Jonathan Jones and Keion Crossen held receiving nightmare Tyreek Hill to only one catch, an extremely impressive feat considering Hill tallied the three touchdowns against the Patriots in Week 6. Also, while he may have hinted towards retirement within the past week, Devin McCourty has still proven to be a reliable deep safety to limit long plays conceded.
In any discussion of the Rams defense, the conversation must start with the big men. Aaron Donald has separated himself as the best defensive lineman in the NFL, with the size of a defensive tackle, but the speed of a defensive end. Donald will command a lot of attention, which could open holes for fellow pass rusher Ndamukong Suh. A move to LA has reignited the career of the former Dolphin and Lion, who has reclaimed the reputation as a borderline-unstoppable force in the trenches, especially against the ground game.
Further downfield for Los Angeles, Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters make up one of the better cornerback duos in the league. Talib will come into the matchup against New England with a chip on his shoulder, presented with the opportunity to win a Super Bowl against one of his former teams. On the topic of playing with an extra incentive, Marcus Peters will be looking to avenge the fall of his former Chiefs teammates – the 26-year old played in Kansas City for the first three years of his career before being traded LA less than a year ago.
Patriots Special Teams:
Cordarelle Patterson has been kept in check in the return game late in the season, but one short kick could allow the return specialist to make his mark on the game. Ryan Allen has quietly had a very strong year, and playing in an indoor stadium will only help the left-footed punter pin the Rams deep in their own territory. Similarly, Stephen Gostkowski has been perfect as of late in tricky outdoor conditions, so the long-time Patriots’ placekicker should have no problem in the wind-free, climate-controlled Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Rams Special Teams:
Between Greg Zuerlein and Johnny Hekker, the Rams’ kicking staff might just collectively possess the strongest legs in the NFL. Zuerlein split the uprights on two long kicks in the clutch against New Orleans, including a game-winner. Meanwhile, Hekker remains one of the best punters in the game, and even threw for a first down on a fake punt in the NFC Championship. After losing skilled return men in Cooper Kupp and Pharoh Cooper this season, an undiscovered Rams returner could make a name for themselves here in the Super Bowl.
I’m just going to come out and say it.
I think the Patriots will take this one.
New England is coming into their third consecutive Super Bowl, and their ninth in 18 years. The core of the team has played on this stage multiple times, and know what it takes to win on the biggest stage in American sports. On the other side, the Rams’ franchise hasn’t been to a Super Bowl since a loss in 2001 to the Patriots – the first ring that began the dynasty. This is uncharted territory for the majority of LA’s players and coaches, and I think that discrepancy in experience compared to New England will come into play on Sunday.
Okay, so what if we take distant history out of the equation? The Patriots still have the advantage. Having shocked many by beating two legitimate Super Bowl contenders on the way to Atlanta, New England has embraced the underdog role, and come into Super Bowl LIII quietly confident while still remaining focused. Individually, Belichick and Brady are both fighting for their legacies, and there seems to be a certain sense of urgency with this Patriots team, knowing that the nucleus of this team may not have many more years left together.
Sure, the Rams are good, and they’ll have their day eventually. But when the Patriots machine is running the way it is right now, nothing can get in its way. The way they lost last year, the way they were criticized in the offseason, the way they were doubted throughout this season – it all just fuels the Patriots with bulletin-board material to set up for an in-your-face Super Bowl win.
With the mantra “we’re still here” echoing in their helmets, the Patriots will come into this game with a fire in their eyes, and I think they will get the job done and win their sixth title.
Brady’s pick: 31-21.
Now that you have my pick, let’s check out who WTBU is picking to win the Super Bowl
Matt Doherty: Patriots 34, Rams 32
Patrick Donnelly: Patriots 35, Rams 28
Alexandra Evans: Rams 42, Patriots 38
Ethan Fuller: Patriots 34, Rams 27
Denny Hackett: Patriots 31, Rams 28
Greg Levinsky: Patriots 28, Rams 14
Jacob Lintner: Patriots 27, Rams 24
Brian Lombardo: Rams 24, Patriots 23
Andrew Mason: Rams 34, Patriots 31
Daniel Multz: Patriots 34, Rams 21
Brian Quigley: Rams 33, Patriots 31
Akshai Wadhwani: Rams 31, Patriots 14
Ethan Zakarin: Rams 38, Patriots 35
Liam O’Brien: Patriots 24, Rams 21
By the numbers, we have eight writers in favor of New England, and six for Los Angeles. 10 of the 16 of us have the score difference being ten points or less.
Whether you’re a fact-focused fanatic or or an eye-test extraordinaire, the message is simple – it’s going to be a good game. It’s the last game of the year: enjoy it!