Super Bowl LIII is coming up this weekend featuring the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams. It will be a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVI, which saw Tom Brady win his first title as a young 24-year-old. It is the Rams’ third season in Los Angeles, and first Super Bowl berth, while it is the ninth Super Bowl berth for Tom Brady and the Patriots this century. Here’s how both teams got to the Super Bowl in a crazy conference championship weekend.
The Championship games last weekend were two great football games. Both went into overtime, which was the first time in NFL history that there were multiple overtime games in the same postseason day.
The first game was the New Orleans Saints against the Rams. The Saints started out hot and looked like the favorite to win for most of the game. Rams quarterback Jared Goff looked shaky to begin, but calmed down to throw some dots.
Tied at 20, the Saints drove down to the red zone on a 43-yard bomb from Drew Brees to Ted Ginn. Then on third and 10, a Brees pass to Tommylee Lewis was broken up by Rams corner Nickell Robey-Coleman, who hit Lewis helmet-to-helmet before the ball was even close to being caught. The referees didn’t call this blatant pass interference, and the Saints had to kick a field goal. This cost them the game because a first down would have virtually ended things. The Rams then kicked a field goal, sending the game to overtime, where Drew Brees threw a pick on the first drive, leading to a Rams field goal to send them to the Super Bowl.
The non-pass interference call was one of the worst calls I have ever seen, and if it was correctly called, then the Saints would be headed to the Super Bowl. They deserved to win that game. But, the Saints could have also stopped the Rams on defense and converted in overtime to win. They had their chances after this terrible call, so not all blame can go towards one of the worst calls in NFL history.
If the NFC game wasn’t crazy enough, the Patriots-Chiefs game was even more fun to watch. It was Brady vs. Mahomes, a quarterback duel. This game got interesting in the fourth quarter. The Patriots controlled the game up until this point. Then, the Chiefs started to fire back. It all started with a punt being received by Julian Edelman, where it appeared he touched the ball but, upon review, in fact did not. The Chiefs, though, picked off Brady and marched down to score, taking the lead. In what was a turning point for the Patriots on third and 8, Chris Hogan made an unbelievable one-handed grab to keep them alive. A fourth down touchdown by Sony Michel gave the Patriots the lead back. A big play by Sammy Watkins lead to another Chiefs score, but left Tom Brady with two minutes to take it back.
The greatest quarterback of all time, who always performs in the clutch (12 game winning drives in the playoffs), led the Pats down the field on 3 huge third down conversions and a Rex Burkhead touchdown. This game was an exciting back and forth bout, but it wasn’t done yet. In typical Patriots fashion, they let up a field goal that sent the game to OT. But, the Patriots won the coin toss, drove down the field and scored, securing them their fourth Super Bowl appearance in five years. “America’s worst nightmare is back,” is how Patriots radio announcer Scott Zolak put it.
Let’s dive into some of the storylines for this weekend’s Super Bowl matchup. The first is about major age differences. First, let’s look at the head coaches. Bill Belichick is 66 years old and in his 44th year in the NFL, while Sean McVay, the new offensive minded genius in the NFL is just 33. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is 41 years old, while Jared Goff of the Rams is a youthful 24. The age gaps between the quarterbacks and coaches are the biggest in Super Bowl history. It is young vs old, and although Goff and McVay are the young guns in the league, experience favors the Patriots, who have many players who have already played in the Super Bowl in previous seasons.
Another storyline is the two high flying offenses. The Patriots and the Rams have two of the best offenses in the NFL. The Rams are second in the league in both points per game and yards per game, and the Patriots come in just behind them at fourth in PPG and fifth in YPG. It will be interesting to see how both defenses will combat the opposing offense who both have a very balanced attack.
One of the keys this week for the Rams is the run game. Last week against the Saints, they rushed for only 77 yards as a team. The week before, they ran for a whopping 273 against the Cowboys, a game they dominated from beginning to end. Todd Gurley, their star running back, looks a little hobbled, but expect him to show up in the biggest game of his career. Another key is disrupting quarterback Tom Brady’s rhythm. A mixture of defensive schemes will be needed to throw him off, as well as different pass rushing and blitz packages, and a mix of man and zone to keep Brady on his toes.
A key for the Patriots is winning the battle up front on the offensive line.
Their offensive line has played great the past two weeks, limiting sacks and letting Brady get hit only eight times. If the offensive line can stop the elite defensive line of Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, and Dante Fowler, Brady will get into a rhythm and there will be no stopping him. Another key is 3rd down conversions. This has killed the Patriots in the past, but against the Chiefs they were unbelievable, going 13-19, and 61 percent in two postseason games vs 41 percent in the regular season.
I don’t think the Patriots can be stopped right now. They have so much more experience than the Rams, and the feel inside the locker room is that everyone is doubting them (notably Max Kellerman), which adds to the will to win. Brady will capture his sixth, and the trophy is coming back to New England.
Prediction: Pats 34, Rams 28.
Contact Cam Cobey at [email protected]