Jul. 30, 2019
Super Bowl LIII Preview
The first eight games of this NFL playoff were rather dull. This postseason seemed to be destined for greatness, but it looked as though it would fall flat. The first halves of the conference championships were more of the same. However, the electric offenses of Kansas City and L.A. were resurrected, and they worked comebacks that finally ignited the playoff fire. For the first time in NFL history, both conference championships would require extra time. Unfortunately, that Sunday will likely be remembered for more angering reasons. That is because, in both games, the men in stripes stole the spotlight.
It started with the egregious non-call in the crucial moments of the NFC Championship. Robey Coleman committed what was the most blatant pass interference that my eyes have ever seen, yet no flag was thrown. If the correct call were made, the Saints would almost certainly walked away with a win. Later that day, the Patriots also benefited from questionable officiating throughout the game, including a roughing the passer call on Chris Jones in which he quite literally just laid a hand on Tom Brady. These types of calls are a massive problem in the modern NFL. It's bad for everyone if we are talking about yellow flags, or the lack there of, the following days. It ruins the joy of the sport, and it needs to be addressed.
That being said, it's also important that we don't let this issue diminish the outcome of the games. The losing teams should be blaming themselves for their own failures, while also crediting their opposition for their successes. Yes, the refs messed up, but that is just part of sports. The Rams and Patriots are in the Super Bowl. No amount of complaints will change that. It's time for us to move on and admire what's right in front of us. That's what we will do today. Before we get into the big game itself, let's take a look at each team individually. What's their story? How did they get here? I'll start with our NFC Champs.
The Los Angeles Rams
In 2017, the L.A. Rams were one of the league's biggest surprises. The first season of L.A. football in over two decades was a great one. The team was packed with young talent, including their brilliant 30-year-old head coach, Sean McVay. The Rams could have done very little in the off-season and still expected to be back even better than before. However, that did not appeal to them. They showed that they were willing to go all out right now to make this team something to be feared. They went out and acquired Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib, and Marcus Peters. Other teams were unwilling to go for these players that have been branded as trouble-makers. The Rams weren't. They got great deals on some of the most talented defensive players in the game. This made them one of the favorites to go all the way before the season's start. And look where they are now.
As I look at this year's Rams, they remind me of two other teams. The first team I see is the 2001 Rams. Seventeen years ago, this franchise was led by an offensive genius in his 2nd year, Mike Martz, and his team was littered with stars, including a versatile RB, Marshall Faulk, as the cornerstone. This doesn't sound all to different from McVay and his group, led by superstar Todd Gurley. Of course, that 2001 team was the first team to fall to New England Patriots on the biggest stage.
The other team they remind me of, oddly enough, is the 2001 Patriots. This comparison is a little harder to see, but it's worth mentioning. The biggest factor is the QB-HC relationship budding in Goff and McVay. Out of all the duos out there in the league today, this is the one I could see replacing Brady and Belichick at the top, although I'm sure their success will be more limited. I also find similarities in their playoff path. Many still mention how lucky New England was to get to the big game the first time around. If it weren't for the infamous Tuck Rule, they would have never made it there. The Rams are getting that same reputation from uncalled interference. The 2001 Patriots had to face an NFL giant in the "Greatest Show on Turf". The Rams now have to play greatest team of all time. So the question is, can the 2018 Rams do what the 2001 Rams couldn't, or will they suffer the same fate.
The New England Patriots
I have to say, as a writer, it's hard telling the same story over and over again. That's what the Patriots are making me do. Each of the last few seasons, it's the same narrative. They start off slow. They lose some games that you wouldn't expect them to, and they look bad doing so. Then the fans and media see this and start speculating. Is this the end of the dynasty? Is Brady on his last legs? Then, as winter approaches, New England hits their stride. Both offense and defense are always in peak form when it really counts, and they feel almost unbeatable. There is one difference this year. Somehow, the Patriots are convinced that nobody believes in them. The whole team as well as the fanbase surrounding them is building up this underdog story for the most dominant team in NFL history. This team was scary enough. The last thing the rest of the league needed was for them to get a chip on their shoulder.
If it wasn't clear enough that this is the greatest dynasty the game has seen, the Patriots can really eliminate any possible discussion with one more win. A sixth ring would tie New England with Pittsburgh for the most Super Bowl wins by a franchise. The Steelers won those championships over the span of 31 years with three different coaches and two different QB's. The Patriots could do it in an 18-year span with the same coach and QB winning all six. This win would also put Bill Belichick ahead of the legendary Vince Lombardi for the most Championships as a head coach. Brady would do the exact same thing at his position in passing Lombardi's QB, Bart Starr. So I guess you could say this win would be a pretty big deal. Although I'm sure Brady and Belichick, being the competitors that they are, would tell you that they aren't thinking about those records, it's definitely in the back of their mind somewhere.
Super Bowl LIII
NFL games, especially in the playoffs, are quite the challenge to predict. I have found that out first-hand. Any given Sunday, any team can beat any team, and each game can unfold in any way imaginable and more. However, I think I have a pretty good idea of how this game is going to go.
The defenses will be the stars of the show right out of the gate. Both sides have had strong defensive play as of late, which I expect to continue into this game. The Rams have allowed 21 points per game in their last seven games, including holding down the Saints to just 23 in the SuperDome. The Patriots have been even better. New England allowed under 15 points per game in their last six regular season games, and they also held the Chargers and Chiefs to a combined 7 points in the first halves of their two playoff games. However, I think the Rams offense will put a little more on the board than the Patriots early. I believe the Rams are faster, stronger, and overall more athletic on both sides of the ball, and McVay will have enough tricks in his bag to get the most out of them early in the game. I see L.A. exiting the first half with a decent lead in a low-scoring half.
The 3rd quarter will tell a much different story. Belichick will do what he does best. He will find a way to scheme around L.A.'s top playmakers, specifically Todd Gurley, and the Rams will be forced to play uncomfortably. This could spell serious trouble for the Rams. I could see them getting shutout in this quarter. Meanwhile, Brady will do what he always does in these games, and New England will quickly take control of the game.
The final quarter is where this game will get fun. As it often happens, the offenses will steal the show late. Defense will get more conservative, and that will lead to more efficient offensive drives. The lead could go back and forth a few times. But ultimately, the Patriots will come out on top. New England is a well-oil machine. The Patriots aren't held back in any aspect of the game. They don't have clear weaknesses. And if you make mistakes, they capitalize. That's how they've won football games for the last seventeen years, and that's how they still do it today. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have the most clutch QB of all time on your side in these big games either. The Rams have been great this year, but they are far from flawless. The Patriots will find every flaw in their game, and they will attack them profusely. By the end of the day, it will be clear who deserves to be the Champion.
Patriots win, 30-27