Most of our stories today have been about the big game tomorrow, and there’s a reason for that.
That reason is that there’s, literally, nothing going on with the Minnesota Vikings right now and the entire football world is focused on the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams as they prepare for the final game of the 2018-19 NFL season tomorrow afternoon. So, we’ll stick with that for the next day or two, and in keeping with that it’s time for everyone to finally make their picks.
After opening as a one-point favorite. . .for entertainment purposes only, of course. . .the line has swelled a bit to make the Patriots a three-point favorite. Being a neutral site game, there’s no real “home field advantage” to speak of, but I think we all fully expect the crowd in Atlanta on Sunday to be fairly pro-Rams.
When the Patriots have the ball
The key for every team that faces the Patriots is how much pressure they can get on Tom Brady. If Brady is allowed to sit back and get comfortable, he will rip any defense apart. To their credit, the Patriots’ offensive line has been outstanding in their two postseason contests. In the Patriots’ victories over the Los Angeles Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs, Brady has dropped back to pass 90 times and has been sacked exactly zero times. Those two teams combined for 90 sacks during the regular season, including a league-high 52 for the Chiefs.
As good as the Chiefs and the Chargers are up front, however, neither of them have what the Rams have. That, of course, is the single-most destructive defensive force in the game, soon-to-be Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. The Patriots’ offensive line has been doing a great job thus far in the playoffs, but they should still probably have two guys on Donald as soon as he gets off the bus. Of course, they still have to account for Ndamukong Suh and Dante Fowler, who has had a significant resurgence since the Rams dealt for him at the trade deadline.
If Brady gets time, however, he’s going to have a chance at some big plays. Aqib Talib is an outstanding defensive back, but the rest of the Rams’ secondary is just sort of. . .meh. I certainly think that the Rams are going to have difficulty dealing with the Patriots’ running backs out of the backfield, as well as with the biggest X-factor of all, tight end Rob Gronkowski. In fact, I’ll put this part of my predictions in here now. . .Rob Gronkowski will be your Super Bowl LIII Most Valuable Player.
(Probably gives away my prediction a bit. Oh, well.)
But, again, it all centers around whether or not the Rams can put Tom Brady on his backside. If they can, they’ll have a great chance of winning this one. If they can’t. . .well, it’s going to be a long evening for Los Angeles.
When the Rams have the ball
Here’s my advice for the Rams. If you win the coin toss, don’t defer. Take the ball. And if you take the ball, you have to go down and score immediately. I like the Rams’ chances much better if they’re playing with a lead than I do if they’re trying to play catch-up all game.
The Rams are going to need to be balanced on offense to give themselves the best chance in this one. While C.J. Anderson has been outstanding in the limited period of time he’s been with the Rams, the real question is what Todd Gurley’s status is going to be. Gurley saw a very limited number of snaps in the NFC Championship Game, and whether it was because of injury issues or the fact that he had a key drop early in that one, it’s curious that Sean McVay went with Anderson for most of the game. Gurley has had two weeks to heal up, if injuries were the issue, and he’s superior to Anderson in pretty much every way.
If the Patriots can slow down the Rams’ running game and make Jared Goff beat them, their chances of winning will be greatly enhanced. The Rams might have the best offensive line in the NFL, so I think they can neutralize Trey Flowers and the rest of the Patriots’ front seven. However, the Patriots secondary is very good, owing to the presence of the McCourty twins and Stephon Gilmore, who doesn’t get as much credit as he should. Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods will make their share of plays, but I have a feeling that Goff is going to really miss Cooper Kupp’s presence in this one.
The coaching matchup in this one is going to be one to watch. On one side, there’s Bill Belichick, who is probably the greatest head coach in the history of the NFL. This is his ninth Super Bowl as a head coach, and there’s nothing he hasn’t seen at this point. On the other side, you’ve got Das Wunderkind, Sean McVay, the guy that all the teams that are looking for head coaches are trying to emulate. Can the young guy wrestle the throne away from the old master?
Maybe someday. . .but not this Sunday. It’s just damn near impossible for me to pick against the Patriots in this one. I think it’s going to be an outstanding, close game, because for all the Patriots’ greatness, they don’t blow anybody out in these situations. Their five Super Bowl victories in the Brady/Belichick era have come by a combined total of 19 points. But, as old as the cliche is, I’ve got to go with the team that’s been there and done it before.
New England Patriots 34, Los Angeles Rams 31
So, let’s hear it from you, folks. WHO YA GOT!?
When the smoke clears and the dust settles on Sunday night, who will be the winner of Super Bowl LIII?
This poll is closed
Patriots by 10+ points
Patriots by 7-9 points
Patriots by 4-6 points
Patriots by 1-3 points
Rams by 1-3 points
Rams by 4-6 points
Rams by 7-9 points
Rams by 10+ points
This poll will remain open until kickoff tomorrow, so you’ve got a little more than 24 hours to call your shot. Have at it, ladies and gentlemen!