Jacob Hebda | Staff Writer
Jan. 31, 2019
Two weeks after one of the most controversial NFL Championship Sundays in recent memory, Super Bowl LIII is slated to take place on Feb. 3 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
The Los Angeles Rams, beneficiary of a crucial missed call late in the NFC Championship game, will be battling the New England Patriots.
Normally, the conference title matchups are a distant thought by the time the Super Bowl arrives, but not this year.
Poor calls are commonplace in all sports, but a blatant pass interference penalty that wasn’t called against Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman has continued to steal many of the pre-Super Bowl headlines.
Nevertheless, here we are, with the upstart Rams and dynastic Patriots ready to go to battle.
All controversy aside, these two groups are inarguably two of the best in football.
Despite what seems to be dearth of roster talent, the Patriots continue to win thanks to the play of quarterback Tom Brady and coaching of Bill Belichick.
At age 41, Brady remains the NFL’s most consistently great player. Even after a regular season that incited some doubts about the Patriots, Brady has the franchise right back to where we’re used to seeing them.
The duo of Brady and coach Bill Belichick will be making its ninth Super Bowl appearance. They have had more visits to the championship game than any franchise in the league, except for, of course, the New England Patriots.
Whereas the Patriots are a team greater than the sum of its parts, the Rams possess a roster crammed with stars. Defensive lineman Aaron Donald and running back Todd Gurley are 2018 First Team All-Pros, quarterback Jared Goff is a dark horse MVP candidate, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. With names like Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Ndamukong Suh, and Aqib Talib, Los Angeles has a deeply talented supporting cast.
The players aren’t the only stars of this showdown though, as Belichick and Rams coach Sean McVay are two of the league’s premier coaches.
With five Super Bowls, Belichick is among the most accomplished football coaches in history.
McVay, on the other hand, is just setting out on what should be a prosperous career. The innovative wunderkind has transformed the Rams from a perennial laughingstock into a true contender in just two seasons.
With a win, Belichick would be the oldest Super Bowl-winning head coach ever. If McVay and Los Angeles take the Lombardi, though, he would be the youngest to do so.
There is at least one crucial matchup that will play a significant role in determining which of those records is set — Tom Brady versus Aaron Donald.
The greatness of Brady is undeniable, but even he can struggle under defensive pressure.
One of the biggest reasons why Brady so frequently thrashes defenses is because said defenses are unable to get into the backfield and rattle him.
The Los Angeles Chargers registered no sacks against New England in the Divisional Round, a game in which the Patriots scored 41 points.
Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton was fired days after the team’s 37-31 loss to New England in the AFC Championship. What did the Chiefs defense have in common with the Chargers from the week before? No sacks.
All of this is to say Brady will pick apart a defense if he has the time to. Against the Rams though, that’s a big if.
With 20.5 sacks this season, Donald is poised for back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year honors. If the Rams win, it’ll almost certainly be because Donald had a big game.
The Patriots are the epitome of a team that doesn’t beat themselves. Los Angeles will need to exploit every possible advantage they may have, and it starts with rushing the quarterback.
This is the key matchup in a game full of them. Can renowned Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips concoct a plan to contain veteran Patriots pass catchers Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski? Will Goff be able to locate his receivers against a strong Patriots secondary? Is it Belichick or McVay that wins the battle of wits?
This will be a clash between some of the most skilled players and coaches in the NFL.
Plenty of NFL viewers are undoubtedly frustrated that New England is in another Super Bowl, but here’s some good news — in each of team’s eight previous Super Bowl appearances, all eight were decided by a single score. So, especially considering the quality of these two teams, it’s fair to think that Sunday’s game will be a thriller.
Perhaps against my better judgment, I’ll take the Rams. Donald and Suh are arguably the best pass-rushing duo New England has faced all year. The Patriots’ interior offensive line is solid, but I expect Donald and Suh to disrupt Brady’s offensive rhythm and give Los Angeles the upper hand for a 31-28 win.