Written by: Joe Carlino
Previous Matchup: The last time the Super Bowl featured the Rams and the Patriots, a young man by the name of Tom Brady led his squad to an upset victory over the “Greatest Show on Turf” in Super Bowl XXXVI. Robert Kraft famously said in the postgame celebration, “We are all Patriots and tonight the Patriots are world champions,” which was a reference to the tragedy that befell our great nation only five months prior. Fast forward 17 years, and while the Rams had to endure some struggles after losing this game, the Patriots exploded into potentially the greatest dynasty any of us will ever experience. And now we’re getting the rematch between both squads, and even more shocking, it falls on the same date the Pats dynasty began (February 3rd) in an NFC South stadium that is sponsored by Mercedes Benz. Sunday night at 6:30 is going to be a must-watch event, and it remains to be seen if the Rams can right the ship or if the dynasty will come full circle against the team it started against.
Offense: For the past two seasons, the Rams offense has been one of the most explosive units in the NFL, consistently finding ways to confound their opponents while simultaneously snatching their souls. Averaging 32.9 PPG this year (2nd best) and converting 57.5% of their trips in the red zone, it starts with the quarterback/running back duo of Jared Goff and Todd Gurley. Once thought to be a bust under former Rams coach Jeff Fisher, Goff’s career has been revitalized under this new regime, and is now in position to win his first Super Bowl title. Of course, nothing is without a good running game, and Gurley has proven to many why he’s the best #1 back in the league. When he went down in December with a knee injury, signs would’ve pointed to an early exit for the Rams. Instead, they went out and signed former Super Bowl champion CJ Anderson, and his experience has proven wonders in Gurley’s absence. Also, the receiving corps is still dominant despite the loss of Cooper Kupp with an ACL injury, as Brandin Cooks continues to be the speed demon he is, while Robert Woods and Tyler Higbee have utilized their targets wisely.
The Patriots offense, despite lacking in the notable name department, quietly had a prolific season. The squad finished 4th-best in the league in scoring at 27.3 PPG and have scored 78 points in their two playoff games. When talking of the Patriots offense, though, one cannot start without first addressing Thomas Edward Patrick Brady. Since entering the league in 2001, the 41-year-old signal-caller has constantly produced in the AFC East division, which enables him to usually play in January with a week’s rest. And that week off generally does wonders for his teammates, as evidenced by the team being notably healthy in all aspects going into the big game. Sure, tight end Rob Gronkowski isn’t catching as many passes as fans would want, but he’s doing his job to the “Patriot Way”, and it’s working for the organization. Allowing James White, Sony Michel, and Rex Burkhead to run the football is beneficial when a 6’7” TE is leading the way, but too much commitment to the run is a risky situation. And on the outside, Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan have to come out ready to perform, because it’s possible one of them might be in position to catch the game-winning score.
Both teams can make a case here for why their offenses are great, but when it comes to advantages, on paper the Rams are the safer bet. Brady doesn’t have many weapons in the aerial attack, which may prove costly against such an explosive opponent. Then again, we’ve been saying that for years and he still finds a way to make the most out of what he’s got. That said, because this league is so offensively driven, teams are always looking to become the next flashy offense, and currently the Rams are the NFC’s version. If the Chiefs were in this game, this game would be even on offense. Rams have the advantage here, but very slightly thanks to #12.
Advantage: Los Angeles
Defense: The Rams come into this game with the 20th-best defense in the league, which is right around the middle of the pack. Surrendering only 24 PPG, the team’s bend-but-don’t-break mantra is beneficial at times. Up front, they have two of the best interior linemen in the league, with Ndamukong Suh providing his best performances and Aaron Donald continuing to demonstrate why he’s the best defensive player in the entire league. Finishing with 24.5 sacks combined between the two means the Pats’ O-line must be up to a major task. The linebacking corps is still suspect, but they do have three individuals in the secondary who are Top-15 at their respective positions: Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, and Lamarcus Joyner. If these three can prevent Edelman and Hogan from beating them, it might be tough for the Patriots to move the football.
The Patriots had the seventh-best scoring defense in the NFL this year, allowing only 20.3 PPG for their opponents. In recent years, this part of the team has the argument of being the most efficient after the month of September passes. Once the first couple weeks of the season pass, the team adapts to their surroundings and becomes a well-oiled machine, confounding the opposing offense. Linebacker Kyle van Noy is a good force in the middle of the field, and Trey Flowers has slowly come into his laurels as a pass rusher. In the secondary, the McCourty brothers are always a dangerous duo, and Stephon Gilmore has been one of the best corners in the league all year.
New England has the advantage here because they consistently figure out how to shut down their opponents’ deadliest weapons on offense. In the past two Super Bowl wins, their defense held the Seahawks and Falcons offenses to 0 points in the fourth quarter, which allowed Brady to work his magic and lead ferocious comebacks. There are four guys on the Rams that are considered elite: Donald, Suh, Talib, and Peters, and I won’t deny that the Rams D-line is the most ferocious in the league. But if Belichick can take away Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh, who do the Rams have that can legitimately put pressure on Brady? The answer is nobody.
Advantage: New England
Special Teams: Both teams have quality kicking departments which, when called upon, almost always will deliver, especially at long distances. Stephen Gostkowski has been the answer since Adam Vinatieri left New England, while Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein just kicked LA to the Superbowl with the longest game-winning postseason field goal in NFL history. However, he might be playing with an injury to his plant foot, which could come back to haunt the Rams if he’s not 100% at kickoff. If both were fully healthy, I’m taking Zuerlein all day. Because of this, his level of consistency pars with Gostkowski. Both squads are even in the special teams department.
Coaching: Teams today are constantly trying to find “the next Sean McVay”, so that should be telling about how good the 33-year old is. However, on the other side of the field, we have arguably the greatest coach in NFL history in Bill Belichick, and like his quarterback, it’s tough to bet against the man. His ability to successfully implement any changes to the game plan is unlike anything we’ve ever seen, as evidenced by adding EIGHT new plays in the team hotel at 11AM before they played the Chiefs. I’m taking New England here just because of that merit; adjustments are critical, and Belichick is the master.
Advantage: New England
Prediction: Like I said, there are two people in sports you don’t bet against: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. This is their third Super Bowl in a row, and ninth overall since they were paired up in 2001. Vegas seems to favor New England, as the books opened at LA -3, but went in favor of the Patriots in less than 20 minutes. This game feels like destiny because not only are the Patriots playing the Rams, but it falls on the exact same date the dynasty began (February 3rd) and the Super Bowl is being held in a stadium sponsored by Mercedes-Benz. I’d like to see the Rams get their first title since the relocation, but it’s not going to happen. Brady and Belichick will help the Patriots tie Pittsburgh for most Super Bowls in NFL history.
New England Patriots 30, Los Angeles Rams 26