Super Bowl 53 Preview

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Image Credit: Sports Illustrated 

The Details:

Where: Mercedes-Bentz Stadium – Atlanta, Ga.

When: Sunday, February 3 – 6:30 pm

TV Network: CBS

Commentators: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson, Evan Washburn

NFL: AFC Championship-New England Patriots at Denver Broncos

Image Credit: Patriots Wire 

JakeAnother year, another Super Bowl with the Patriots representing the AFC. It’s become the norm and New England’s 11th Super Bowl appearance this weekend is an NFL record. They’ve been in the championship picture so often since the new millennium. In fact, Super Bowl 53 will be Tom Brady‘s 40th start in the playoffs, which is more playoff appearances than 18 NFL teams. Brady and Bill Belichick will appear in their ninth Super Bowl together, playing to a 5-3 record on the biggest stage in professional sports. 

The Los Angeles Rams won the NFC West for the second year in a row and made the Super Bowl for the first time since 2002, when the Patriots beat the then-St. Louis Rams 20-17 in Super Bowl 36. That was Brady’s first of five Super Bowl championships. At the time, Rams quarterback Jared Goff was seven-years old, and head coach Sean McVay was 16. Crazy. 

Let’s take a look at the matchups. The Patriots finished the regular season with the fifth-ranked offense in the NFL, while the Rams ranked 19th in defense. So far this postseason New England running back Sony Michel has rushed for 247 yards and five touchdowns.

The Rams boast one of the best defensive lines in the league, led by projected defensive player of the year Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. However, Suh and Donald have been pretty quiet in the postseason so far, combining for 12 tackles. Donald finished the regular season with an NFL-high 20.5 sacks, but thus far in the playoffs Suh has been in opposing backfield more.

In the Patriots passing game, expect Brady to rely heavily on veterans Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. In New England’s two playoff games, Edelman has 16 receptions for 247 yards. He will be fired up after missing last year’s Super Bowl while recovering from a torn ACL. Gronkowski has lost a step but he continues to bail Brady out on third down when it matters the most. 

The Rams ended the 2018 season with the second-ranked offense in the NFL, and the Patriots defense finished 21st overall. When the Rams have possession, it will be interesting to see how Todd Gurley responds from a terrible NFC Championship performance where he carried the ball for just 10 yards on four carries. Gurley dealt with a knee injury late in the season and has been limited to 48 yards or less in three of his last four games. Luckily, C.J. Anderson, signed in December, has picked up the slack for Gurley as of late. The two weeks in-between games should help Gurley out, but knee injuries for a running back are always a difficult hurdle to overcome. I don’t expect Gurley to be 100% come Sunday. 

A key for the Rams is to avoid turnovers. In their three losses this season, Goff three touchdowns and six interceptions. Even with their 21st-overall ranking on defense, the Patriots tied for fifth in turnovers with 18 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries. Both Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks racked up over 1,200 receiving yards this season. They have the ability to get past a New England secondary that led the league in man coverage this year. If Goff steps up and places his throws correctly, the Rams will score often. If not, expect a lot of punts with the Patriots slowly pulling away. 

I picked against the Patriots twice this postseason, and I’m not making that mistake again. The Rams have more talent on-paper, but I don’t see their running game doing enough to take the pressure off Goff. The Patriots will capitalize on the opportunities presented and build a decent lead. Los Angeles will make up for the damage in the fourth quarter and make it a close game, but Brady and Belichick will win their sixth Lombardi Trophy to tie the Steelers for the most Super Bowl wins in NFL history. 

Score: Patriots 30, Rams 26

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Image Credit: For The Win 

NolanAnother year goes by and we are still stuck watching the Patriots play in the Super Bowl. It hasn’t been as frequent as their trips to the AFC championship game but the New England fatigue is as big as ever right now. Nonetheless, the self-proclaimed underdogs took care of business in Kansas City and earned their right to be here.

Unlike last year, I will have no trouble deciding who to root for. The Rams should be America’s team this week and the only reason anyone outside of New England should be pulling for the Patriots is if they have money on the game. It’s a good thing I don’t bet on sports, because if I did I would have to be pulling for the Patriots.

The Rams defense absolutely poses a bigger threat to Tom Brady and his offense than the Chiefs did. If the game turns into a shootout I think Wade Phillips is capable of rallying his troops and putting together a stop. However, I think the Patriots have a counter for most of the Rams defensive strengths. Aaron Donald led the league in sacks this season but the Patriots offensive line has not allowed a sack so far in the playoffs and just two in their last four games. If the Rams can’t get to Brady and force him into making mistakes, they are just leaving themselves open to get picked apart through the air. Unless they play lock-down man coverage, Brady will find an open receiver pretty much every time he drops back.

If the Rams are going to win I think their offense will have to execute a run-heavy game plan like the one that led them to a win over the Cowboys a few weeks ago. Wearing down the Patriots defense while keeping Brady on the sideline will be their best bet and they certainly have the personnel to accomplish it with Todd Gurley and CJ Anderson. While this will give them a good shot to win, I can’t count out Brady until the last second ticks off the clock. We all know what happened two years ago when the Pats beat the Falcons. Even after making a late game mistake in last year’s Super Bowl, the game still came down to the final play when Brady chucked up a hail-mary to Rob Gronkowski as time expired.

Score: Patriots 29 Rams 23

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Image Credit: Pats Pulpit

IanThis game comes down to Sean McVay and Jared Goff vs Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

On one hand you have the young guns in McVay and Goff. McVay is the hot-shot Rams head coach who for some reason already is developing a coaching tree despite being in just his second season. He is an offensive genius who helped build Goff into a budding franchise quarterback.  

Goff is coming off his best season, throwing for 4,688 yards and 32 touchdowns. He has been solid but not spectacular in the playoffs so far, throwing for 483 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He helped lead the Rams past the Cowboys 30-22 in the divisional round before stealing the NFC championship last week with a 26-23 overtime win in New Orleans.

You have probably heard of Belichick and Brady’s credentials. In case you live under a rock the Patriots have now reached the Super Bowl nine times since the 2001 season. They are 5-3 in their first eight appearances. They are the greatest coach/quarterback of all-time.

They have gotten to the Super Bowl in four of the last five seasons. This year, they did so by defeating the Los Angeles Chargers 41-28 in the Divisional Round before escaping in the AFC title game with a 37-31 win over the Chiefs.

There’s not a ton of factors that differentiate these two teams from a numbers perspective which makes the game much easier for me to pick.

Consider the stats below:

Rams

Total Offense: 5th – 393.4 ypgTotal Defense: 21st – 359.1 ypg
Rushing Offense: 5th  -127.3 ypgRushing Defense:  11th – 112.7 ypg
Passing Offense: 8th – 266.1 ypgPassing Defense: 22nd –  246.4 ypg
3rd Down Offense: 13th – 40.8%3rd down Defense-: 16th- 38.6%
PPG Scored: 4th – 27.3 ppgPPG Allowed: 13th – 24 ppg
Sacks allowed: 3rd – 21Sacks: 30th- 30

Patriots

Total Offense: 5th – 393.4 ypgTotal Defense: 21st – 359.1 ypg
Rushing Offense: 5th  -127.3 ypgRushing Defense:  11th  – 112.7 ypg
Passing Offense: 8th – 266.1 ypgPassing Defense: 22nd –  246.4 ypg
3rd Down Offense: 13th – 40.8%3rd down Defense-: 16th– 38.6%
PPG Scored: 4th – 27.3 ppgPPG Allowed: 13th – 24 ppg
Sacks allowed: 3rd – 21Sacks: 30th– 30

On paper, the two teams are relatively equal. So I end how I started with this: This game comes down to McVay & Goff vs Belichick & Brady.

Give me Lord Belichick and Lady Brady in this one.

Score: Patriots 30 Rams 26

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Image Credit: The Score 

 

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