The Patriots are going to the Super Bowl! In other words, it’s a day ending in y.
I shouldn’t be gloating, especially because my original predictions for the NFL playoffs turned out pretty poor. However, in my defense, if that pass interference call at the end of the NFC title game wasn’t missed, I would’ve likely been correct about the Super Bowl matchup.
Anyway, in preparation for Super Bowl Sunday next week, I wanted to look over both teams, recap their journeys to the Super Bowl, what are the keys to this game, and ultimately, who is going to leave Atlanta with the Lombardi Trophy.
The Patriots finished the year 11-5, which was actually their worst season since 2009. Statistically, they finished 5th in the league in yards per game (8th in passing, 5th in rushing), and 5th in points per game. Defensively, they were 20th in the league in yards allowed per game, but 7th in points allowed and 7th in turnovers.
The Rams finished 13-3, which was their best season since 2001, when they lost Super Bowl XXXVI to some rookie named Tom Brady. However they started the season off 11-1, and finished by losing 2 of their last 4. Statistically, they were second in both yards per game (third in rushing and fifth in passing) and points scored per game. Their defense was mediocre in terms of yards and points allowed, but they did generate the league’s third most turnovers.
To get to the Super Bowl, the Patriots had to get through the best from the west, beating the Chargers soundly at home and eking out a tight one in Kansas City. Against the Chargers, they pounded the run, outrushing LA 155 yards to 19, and controlled the ball two thirds of the game. They quickly got out to an early lead, up 35-7 at the half, and rode that to the AFC title game.
Against Kansas City, the formula was similar. They outrushed Kansas City 176-41, and controlled the football 44 out of 65 minutes. In addition, the Patriots were lights out on third down, completing 13 attempts, especially in the late quarters. They also played stellar defense. It took the Chiefs, the league’s best offense, 23 minutes to record a yard. Like a single one. Patrick Mahomes was under pressure all game, and the Patriots held the Chiefs to 290 yards, their lowest total all season. Honesty, the Patriots should’ve won this game handily – if not for that red zone interception and Rex Burkhead getting stuffed on 4th and 1, the Patriots could’ve entered halftime up 24-0 and coasted to an easy victory.
The Rams had to conquer the South, drumming the Cowboys and winning a comeback victory against the Saints in New Orleans. Against Dallas, the formula was simple, pound the run. They outran Dallas 273 yards to 50, not easy when you’re up against Ezekiel Elliot, who averaged just 2.3 yards a carry on the game. It wasn’t even that Dallas played poorly, they were just outmatched by a superior team, and that game was never close, even if it was decided by just 8 points.
Looking at the stats, the Rams Saints game was the most evenly matched contest of the playoffs. Both teams had 19 first downs, they each converted six 3rd downs, each team threw one interception, and they both controlled the ball for about 30 minutes. The yardage totals were largely subpar for both teams, and the difference was fairly insignificant. From the statistics, there’s nothing that reveals what the Rams did to win the day. It was one of those games where the outcome was determined by a missed call and a timely interception.
Knowing this, there are three questions I believe will define Super Bowl LIII, all of them involving the Rams.
First, what about Todd Gurley? Potentially the league’s best running back only carried the ball 4 times for 10 yards in the conference championship. CJ Anderson took the lead, but he’s not the back you’re going to ride to a Super Bowl victory. If the Rams want to win, they need to compete with the Patriots on the ground, and that means they need Todd Gurley.
Second, is Jared Goff good enough to win a Super Bowl? He threw for 4600 yards and 32 touchdowns on the year, but his play since that shootout with Kansas City in week 11 has been lackluster. He was serviceable in the divisional game, and managed to outperform Drew Brees down the stretch to win the conference championship, but a passer rating around 80 is not going to be good enough. He’s up against Tom Brady, the guy whose got a reserved spot in the conference championship game. He is the level 100 boss. When you’re up against a superstar, you need to play like a superstar.
Last question is whether the Rams defense can stop the Patriots offense. Will they be able to stop the run? How will they manage the stop Julian Edelman, who’s been the Patriots go-to guy whenever they need a big catch or someone to not touch a punt? Can they generate the key turnover, like the Eagles did against the Patriots last year or like the Rams did against the Saints? Will they be able to stop the Patriots offense in the first half?
And I’m sorry if there are any Rams fans reading this, but I believe the answer to all of those questions is no. The Patriots offense has been able to move the ball at will this entire postseason (first in points and yards), and I see no reason why the Rams will be the ones to change that. And as good as the Rams offense is, they aren’t as good as they were at the start of the season, and if the Patriots could lock down the Chiefs for three quarters, Jared Goff and company just don’t have the firepower. This is not the best team the Patriots have ever put on the field, but they do know how to win, and they’re about to claim Super Bowl number 6.
Final Prediction: Patriots 35, Rams 27