TWO very different teams prepare for battle in Super Bowl LIII with the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams the last pair left standing in season 2018. On one side we have the ageless wonder Tom Brady, looking to record his sixth Super Bowl win with the Patriots alongside footballing Yoda Bill Belichick. The Rams are a little different, with their QB/head coach combo far less experienced looking for their first win together, potentially ready to form a dynasty of their own. There will be plenty of fireworks in Atlanta with the 53rd Super Bowl set to impact legacies for all players and coaches involved.
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RECIPE FOR SUCCESS: NEW ENGLAND
HERE we go. Again. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots have reached their 9th Super Bowl in the Brady-Belichick era and are preparing for their fourth trip to the big dance in five seasons. While they might believe that everyone doubts them and they’re the underdogs, no one else is buying. However, this Pats team hasn’t romped through the rest of the year like they have done in seasons past, with Tom Brady looking very much like a 41-year old quarterback at times.
IT hasn’t stopped him and New England from peaking at the right time, coming alive in the playoffs. The offensive line has excelled in their last two games allowing Brady to stay clean (0 sacks and just three hits allowed) and throw for nearly 700 yards at a 71.1 completion percentage. Their rushing attack has done most of the damage though led by first-round pick Sony Michel, as New England chalked up 331 yards on the ground throughout two playoff games to date.
THEY were a top-5 running team throughout the regular season, so it’s not a massive surprise to see them tearing up the track, but a large bulk of their touchdowns this postseason have been scored by their running game, bucking the trend they adopted in the regular season. Through the 2018 playoffs, New England has scored 80% of their TD’s via rushing attempts, while in the regular season, they only relied on the running game for 39% of their scores as Tom Brady helped steer the passing attack.
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SQUARING off against an imposing defensive line in Los Angeles means that not only will New England O-line have their work cut out for them, but the Pats’ key to success so far this playoffs could be nullified by the likes of Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. It is good news for the Patriots to learn that the Rams were the 23rd ranked defense against the run during the regular season, however, LA has held their two postseason opponents to just 98 rushing yards COMBINED. It might not matter as Tom Brady has shown on the biggest stage in the sport he can be relied upon to carry his team to victory regardless of the outside factors.
WITH so much experience under his belt, Brady has seen it all before and if his offensive line can continue to keep him upright, there’s no reason why he won’t pick apart the Rams defense methodically, leaning on his running backs when necessary. Don’t be surprised if a number of the Patriots backs play a role in the passing game too with James White putting forth the best pass-catching season by a New England RB ever this year. His 751 receiving yards, 123 targets, 87 receptions and seven touchdowns are all franchise records over a single season and I wouldn’t be surprised if the real Super Bowl LI MVP played a big role this weekend too.
On the other side of the ball, New England has got to slow down the Rams own running game after Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson have combined to form a dominant duo out of the backfield. The Patriots were respectable against rushing attacks this season, yet they allowed the 4th most rushing yards per attempt (4.9) which doesn’t bode well considering the two-headed beast they have to try and combat.
WHILE New England’s defensive front will be crucial in combatting LA, Kyle Van Noy could prove to be the difference maker after the best season of his career to date. The former Lion led all Patriots in tackles this season (92) and was arguably New England’s best player in the AFC Championship game against Kansas City recording 10 tackles, two sacks and forcing a fumble to end the first half. In what will likely be an offensively dominated contest the Patriots will lean on him to once again have an impact on defense.
RECIPE FOR SUCCESS: LOS ANGELES RAMS
IT’S obvious to say the L.A. Rams need to put Brady under pressure if they want to win Super Bowl LIII. The big questions is, how can they do it? Aaron Donald has been kept quiet in the postseason so far, however, with defenses focusing on double-teaming the best defensive player in the game, the likes of Ndamukong Suh and Dante Fowler, who landed in Los Angeles via a mid-season trade, are left to have a noteworthy impact of their own. Cliff Avril, Grady Jarrett and Brandon Graham are three defensive linemen who did an admirable job of swinging things in their teams’ favour the last three times New England appeared in a Super Bowl. If LA wants to nullify the quarterbacking Messiah on the other side then all three of the Rams lineman will need to play a role in pressuring Brady and forcing him to make decisions on the fly.
IF they can get to the quarterback and force him to panic (no easy feat), then the Rams cornerbacks can come into play. Splashy offseason moves in the past has helped Los Angeles land Pro Bowl CB’s Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib who can change a single game in one snap. 10 of Talib’s 35 career interceptions have been returned for pick-sixes, so if the ball is left there for the taking, expect the former Patriot to make a play. Talib is no stranger to the last game of the year, forming part of the Broncos infamous ‘No Fly Zone’ that helped to halt the Patriots in the 2015 AFC Championship Game and deliver Denver a Super Bowl 50 win.
FOR LA, Talib could prove to be their most important player, especially if you looking at his regular season numbers. The Rams hold their opponents to 18.3 points a game with him in the lineup, however, when Talib missed eight games in the middle of the season with an ankle injury, their foes scored 30.3 per game. You could argue that one player isn’t likely to have that great an impact, but we’ve seen the Rams cornerbacks make plenty of headlines this postseason.
TO compete with New England the Rams’ defense is only half of the equation with the other side of the ball having been fueled by their star halfback Todd Gurley all season. In the latter part of the 2018 campaign, Gurley hasn’t looked like the same player though, potentially nursing an injury going into this game. Regardless of his health, there’s no denying Gurley is a dynamic playmaker, able to influence the contest much like Brady on the other side of the ball. Since entering the NFL in 2015 through the 10th overall pick Gurley has accounted for more yards from scrimmage (6,430) than any other player in the NFL going at an average of 110 yards per game. There is a heavy expectation for him to be utilized in the passing game on Sunday and after recording over 700 receiving yards this season it’s easy to see why LA would lean on him to help make Jared Goff’s life easier.
SPEAKING of the former No. 1 overall pick, Goff is set to make the fastest trip to the Super Bowl in NFL history, taking just three seasons and 38 starts to reach the NFL pinnacle. By no means has the Rams quarterback starred this season and some could argue that he is LA’s Achilles heel going into this contest, with the young QB’s game-winning ability raising plenty of concern at times this season.
HOWEVER, when the game was up for grabs in New Orleans last weekend, Goff stepped up to the plate and excelled in overtime, proving a lot of doubters (myself included) wrong. Play-calling savant Sean McVay isn’t going to put his quarterback in a losing position, but Goff can’t afford to let the moment get to and must stay composed under center if LA wants to win the franchises second Super Bowl.
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NUMBERS THAT MATTER
3 – SOMEHOW both Jared Goff and Tom Brady have only combined to throw three touchdown passes through four games this postseason. After they joined forces to throw 61 TD’s in the regular season, the Rams and Patriots have utilised their running game in the playoffs, combining for 12 scores on the ground.
10 – PATRIOTS wideout Julian Edelman has been targeted 10 or more times in his last 11 playoff games, dating back to 2014. In those games, he averages eight catches and 101 receiving yards and will no doubt play a pivotal role again in Atlanta this weekend.
14.5 – OF the 20.5 sacks Defensive Player of the Year favourite Aaron Donald recorded this year, 14.5 of them came against opposing left guards. Patriots left guard Joe Thuney has played every offensive snap for the Pats this year, the only player on the team to do so. Talk about a matchup.
17 – WHEN Super Bowl LIII kicks off on Feb 3rd it will mark exactly 17 years to the day since the Rams/Pats faced each other in SuperBowl XXXVI. That game saw Tom Brady and Bill Belichick their first Super Bowl crown as Brady won his first of four Super Bowl MVP’s.
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33 – NOT only does did Rams coach Sean McVay turn 33 suring these playoffs, but that number also signifies the age difference between him and his foes in Sunday’s Super Bowl. At 66 years old, Bill Belichick and Sean McVay will set a record for the biggest age difference between two SB coaches this weekend.
52.9 – IN Tom Brady’s 17 pro seasons as New England’s starter (excluding the 2018 ACL tear season) he has made the Super Bowl nine times, good for 52.9% of the time in his career. To put that into perspective the chance of Brady making a Super Bowl is higher than MJ making a jumper (49.7%) or Tiger scoring under par at a major (48.1%). Yeah, nuts.
116.5 – SINCE joining the Rams in late December C.J. Anderson has been a FORCE! In four games for LA, Anderson has averaged 116.5 on the ground helping to fuel the Rams running game while Todd Gurley has gone at just 50.2 rushing yards per in his last four outings.
594 – COMBINING playoff and regular season stats Jared Goff has accumulated 10,323 career passing yards. That’s an impressive number, however, in his playoff career along Tom Brady has totalled more wins, passing TD’s and 594 more passing yards than Goff has in his entire career.
PREDICTION – NEW ENGLAND 34, LOS ANGELES 21
EVEN though New England failed to beat the Eagles last year, this matchup is a very different story and I’m sticking with Brady and Belichick. By this point of the season, each team is usually nursing plenty of injury problems, yet the Pats are reasonably healthy for the first time in years. Gronk’s peaking at the right time and if this is his swan song, expect him to be used a ton by Brady. You can also make the case Tom is getting better each time he makes a Super Bowl. In his eight appearances to date here’s what the G.O.A.T’s passing numbers look like on the big stage.
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SB XXXVI (W vs. Rams) – 16/27 completions, 145 yards, 1 TD/0 INT, MVP
SB XXXVIII (W vs. Panthers) – 32/48 completions, 354 yards, 3 TD/1 INT, MVP
SB XXXIX (W vs. Eagles) – 23/33 completions, 236 yards, 2 TD/0 INT
SB XLII (L vs. Giants) – 29/48 completions, 266 yards, 1 TD/0 INT
SB XLVI (L vs. Giants) – 27/41 completions, 276 yards, 2 TD/1 INT
SB XLIX (W vs. Seahawks) – 36/50 completions, 328 yards, 4 TD/ 2 INT, MVP
SB LI (W vs. Falcons) – 43/62 completions, 466 yards, 2 TD/1 INT, MVP
SB LII (L vs. Eagles) – 28/48 completions, 505 yards, 3 TD/1 INT
Like a fine wine, Brady’s Super Bowl performances seem to be getting better as he ages and I can’t bring myself to pick against him. I desperately want to side with the Rams, but I do worry about their offense. While New England doesn’t have an intimidating defense, if Gurley’s not 100% healthy and the Patriots can get after him then things will be tough for him on Sunday.
SEAN McVay vs. Bill Belichick is an amazing battle of two masterminds of the sport and I don’t think the result of this one has already been decided. Both head coaches will make adjustments in game to swing things in their favour and there will probably be a feeling out period to start this off, which could lead to a slow start to the game. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if New England took a strangle hold on this game and put multiple scores on the board in a row at some point. Don’t get me wrong, L.A. can win this game, but my gut tells me Brady will cruise to another MVP and the Patriots will record a double-digit win.
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