You know the story by now, it’s the Patriots and the Rams in Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta next Sunday. Some would say the two squads got here aided by the officials that were working on Championship Sunday, but that’s beside the point.
Lawsuits from New Orleans fans to replay the final 1:39 of the NFC title game after a blown no-call PI have been denied, and the big game will in fact be kicked off on time.
The storylines for this game are flat out wild, and almost all of them include mentioning the age of Tom Brady, the wizardry of Bill Belichick, and the youth and genius of Sean McVay and Jared Goff. McVay just turned 33 this past week, and wouldn’t it be some kind of birthday present to win the Super Bowl? That’s as good as it gets.
However, Tom Brady and the Patriots aren’t in a celebrating mood. This team has been on a mission ever since the analysts came out of hiding after New England’s loss to Pittsburgh and proclaimed the dynasty to be officially over.
Brady’s too old. Belichick is being exposed. The defense is soft. The receivers are too slow. They don’t have a superstar. They said it all, and how did the Patriots respond? By running over the Bills and Jets to end the regular season, dismantling the Chargers at Gillette in the Divisional Round, and then halting the Chiefs and Pat Mahomes dead in their tracks on the way to a ninth Super Bowl appearance since 2001, and their third consecutive.
Which by the way, Brady now has more Super Bowl appearances than every single NFL franchise, besides obviously the Patriots themselves. Think about that. This man has played in 17% of all the Super Bowl’s in history.
But just how good would a sixth ring feel for Brady? The popular opinion among many in New England at least, is that the Super Bowl LI win over the Falcons was the sweetest; Robert Kraft even said it himself. But this time around, if you take all the criticism he took into consideration, it would appear as though Brady would relish this one the most.
See, over the course of New England’s supreme reign, nobody has been better at blocking out what the haters and media say about them than New England. It’s something they’ve becomeaccustomed to, always playing with a big target on their backs, and having everyone gunning for them at the outset because they’ve been ‘too good’ for too long. Give someone else a shot, right?
Nah, sorry chief.
You could present the argument that a loss in this year’s game could hurt Brady’s legacy. Back to back losses in the Super Bowl never looks good on a resume, and certainly wouldn’t look good on Brady’s, who would be 5-4 with a loss. Patriots fans wouldn’t complain or have any love lost towards Brady, but the rest of America would. A win however, would catapult Brady straight into another universe, if he isn’t there already. 6-3 in the big game with 9 conference titles in 13 appearances? Sheesh.
But, let’s get back to the storylines of this game for a minute, shall we? Back in 2001, the Patriots played the Rams in the Super Bowl, who at the time were placed in St. Louis. Dawning the nickname “Greatest Show on Turf”, the Rams entered Super Bowl Sunday as the heavy favorites, projected to win by 2 touchdowns.
On the other side, was an unproven head coach, and a 24-year old quarterback, unknown to the world. Much similar to what was said about this year’s team, that Patriots squad didn’t have a true superstar like the Rams did with Marshall Faulk, or Aaron Donald today.
Funny enough, the Los Angeles Rams are now the ones that enter this upcoming Super Bowl with a coach who we think is the next top guy, and a young, unproven quarterback, who’s going up against the mighty powers of the NFL for the better part of 18 years.
The line right now has the Patriots as (-2.5) point favorites. That seems a little too close for comfort when you look at it with the naked eye, but when you dig a little deeper you might find some areas where the more experienced Patriots can exploit the young guns.
Bill Belichick is a pure football genius, and just might be the best to ever put on a headset. He’s known for his ability to deploy a defense that can take away whatever it is the opposing offense does best, but also a defense that has the ability to make adjustments on the fly. Just last week, he knew Mahomes had the ability to extend plays with his legs, so what did he do? He made sure that Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill were secured, and forced Mahomes to look elsewhere.
The Chiefs specialty was hitting the big play downfield, but what’s the Rams specialty? Upon first glance, you would usually point out Todd Gurley right away, but he hasn’t been himself lately. Regardless of what Gurley wants you to think about that left knee of his, he’s hurt. He knows it, and we all know it. Belichick surely knows it; however, the problem still lies on the Rams sideline, not on the field.
What makes McVay so special is his ability to think ‘outside the box’ if you will, and call the play that nobody is expecting in a moment when it seems most inappropriate. That’s what Belichick will need to prepare for. Trailing by 13 last weekendin new Orleans, McVay pulled a fake punt out of his back pocket on his own side of the 50-yard line and converted, igniting his offense on their way to a come-from-behind victory.
Another problem that could be in the face of Tom Brady(literally), is Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. It’s no secret, the way to beat the Patriots is to get pressure up the middle on Brady, and the Rams might have just the combination to be able to accomplish that task. Donald was on many people’s MVP radar for a good part of the season, and rightfully so, he’s a freak of nature. But New England’s offensive line has been spectacular all throughout the season. So much so, that Brady posted a picture of his jersey from the AFC Championship on Instagram with the caption “Not a single grass stain! Good work, fellas!”, and proceeded to tag the Patriot offensive line. Nobody has talked about just how good the men up front have been for the Patriots. Not only have they managed to keep Brady off his backside, but they’ve also cleared massive holes for running backs Sony Michel and James White to run through, thus keeping a balanced offense for Josh McDaniels, who obviously trusts the line as well.
In the AFC title game, McDaniels called multiple runs on 3rd and four situations when normally, fans would be sitting at home ripping their hair out for such a bone-headed decision.
But it works.
Something that’s new this year for the Patriots is having an established running attack, and one the opponent is forced to respect, which in turn, takes a lot of pressure off Tom Brady’s right shoulder, allowing him to do what he does best.
Hear me out on this, the X-factor in this game will be Rex Burkhead. Look, we know what the specialties of each running back for New England is, Michel is the power back and White is the receiving back, but what is Burkhead? Do we really know? Not really.
In the AFC Championship, he was stuffed on a 4th and one attempt that was doomed from the start, as Kansas City was expecting it. But, he picked up a huge first down on the drive in the final minute of regulation that put New England ahead, and he also punched it in twice for two scores, one of which sent the Patriots to Atlanta.
If Burkhead can get going early along with Michel on the ground, it could cause serious problems for the Rams defensively. Not only having to stop Michel, who’s not easy to wrap up, but also having to worry about Burkhead and White out of the backfield. Not to mention Brady’s weapons through the air with Edelman, who’s like Superman in the playoffs, Gronkowski who had his best game in months last week, and Dorsett after hauling in a touchdown last week? Look out. That’s a lot to handle.
Despite all the weapons New England has on offense, don’t get it twisted, this won’t be a blow out. The Rams have a dynamite offense of their own, with a much-improved Goff, Gurley, Brandin Cooks, who the Patriots know very well, and C.J Anderson. LA will score their fair share of points, too.
Like I mentioned before, the Patriots have been on a mission this year. The dynasty started against the Rams in ‘01, with New England winning two out of three Super Bowl’s at the start of Brady’s career, and a win this Sunday would once again be two out of three, ending against the Rams.
It should be a good one in the ATL next Sunday, and regardless of the outcome, history will be made, and legends will be born.
PREDICTION: New England wins. A true Hollywood ending.
-Brendan Howe is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @Brendan__Howe