MAX CURTIN and JOEY SEMEL — Moreso this year than ever before, the Patriots and the Rams truly are the last two teams standing.
Following a never-before-seen two overtime thrillers on championship weekend, football fans around the world were left wondering how these teams pulled off wins on the road in such hostile environments.
Saints fans certainly won’t forget an infamous no-call on a blatantly obvious defensive pass interference in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter that completely altered the game’s momentum in favor of the Rams.
The Kansas City faithful, meanwhile, were left wondering what could have been had their soon-to-be MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes gotten his hands on the ball in overtime.
Much to the dismay of the rest of the football world, Bill Belichick has the Patriots are headed back to yet another Super Bowl, their fourth appearance in five years.
33 year-old Sean McVay will stand opposite to Belichick as the head coach for the Rams. McVay has put the entire league on notice after leading his team to an impressive 24-8 regular season record during his first two years in charge.
Before you decide for yourself who is going to come out on top on Sunday, take a look at what we’re thinking.
Super Bowl LIII will be an extraordinary one for the neutral football fan, featuring superstars in all dimensions of the game, including on the sidelines. Like any great football matchup, this one is going to be a constant chess match between Belichick and McVay, whose football intellect is already being compared to that of Belichick.
The Patriots will look to take control of the clock from the opening whistle like they did so effectively against the Chargers and the Chiefs behind a dominant rushing attack featuring running back, Sony Michel. The rookie from Georgia has been phenomenal so far these playoffs, racking up 242 yards and five touchdowns in his first two career playoff games.
With that being said, the Patriots are not going to want to make a habit of running in the direction of the four-time All-Pro defensive tackle, Aaron Donald. If you have ever watched Tom Brady play quarterback, you know how quickly he is able to read a defense and get the ball out of his hands. Brady is going to need to be exceptional to keep New England ahead of the chains and out in front against Donald and company.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m taking the Patriots over the Rams. In order for this to come true, the Patriots are going to have to slow down a lethal L.A. rushing attack led by Todd Gurley.
After jumping out to early leads against the Chargers and Chiefs, the Patriots managed to hold both teams to a combined 60 rushing yards on 22 attempts over the two games. Once they take away the opposing rushing attack, they have shown a formidable pass rush. Just ask Patrick Mahomes who was sacked four times for a net-loss of 46 yards in the AFC Championship game.
Out of the previous eight Super Bowl appearances for Brady and Belichick, not a single one has been decided by more than eight points. Six of the eight have been a difference of four points or less.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say this one’s going to be close. I’m taking Brady and Belichick to capture number six in a 34-30 thriller.
There’s a recipe to beating Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, and the Rams have it.
Look at his three losses, against the Giants in 2008, and again in 2012, then last year against the Eagles. All three teams have something in common: really strong pass rushers.
In 2008, the Giants were led by one of the best pass rushers ever, Michael Strahan, in addition to Osi Umenyiora, who actually led the team in sacks that year. Those two were buoyed by an up-and-coming Justin Tuck.
In 2012, the defense was anchored by Tuck, who by that point had been on multiple All-Pro teams, and Jason Pierre-Paul, who was a first team All-Pro that season and finished with 16.5 sacks.
Finally, last year’s Eagles were led by Fletcher Cox, Chris Long, and Brandon Graham, who combined for over 20 sacks between the three of them.
This Rams’ pass rush might top the three impressive groups in the Patriots three previous losses. Led by First Team All-Pro Aaron Donald, who finished with 20.5 sacks this season, they are a group to be feared. Donald is joined by Ndamukong Suh, a three-time First Team All-Pro in his own right, and Cory Littleton, a Pro Bowl Linebacker from this season.
On the offensive side of the ball, Jared Goff will be playing in the biggest game of his life, but has looked rather unfazed during the playoffs, including leading a game-winning drive in overtime of the NFC Championship.
However, an interesting storyline to follow will be the health of running-back Todd Gurley. The NFL’s third-leading rusher has been out carried in the playoffs by late-season pick up CJ Anderson, and I have to figure it is for health reasons. Anderson has been great, but he isn’t in the same zip code as Gurley talent-wise, and it doesn’t take a football genius to see that.
Oddly enough, this could work in the Rams’ favor, as Belichick and the Patriots are known for picking one player and taking him out of the game defensively. If healthy, one would have to figure he would be the choice, but with the cloudiness surrounding his availability, the attention could turn towards wideouts Brandin Cooks or Robert Woods.
With all of that, the Patriots are still scary. Really scary. That whole team knows how to win, and it is tough to ignore that.
With the perfect recipe in place, I’ll go with the Rams topping the Pats 27-24 in a close one throughout.