Once again we reach the grandest stage of the football season… the Super Bowl. Once again we watched as the New England Patriots punched their ticket to the big dance for the third consecutive year (Not to mention the ninth appearance in the Brady/Belichick era.) This time, they're set to tango against an up and coming powerhouse in the Los Angeles Rams.
Let’s not forget that Brady won his first Lombardi trophy against the Rams organization while they were still the St. Louis Rams, however a lot more than just the city has changed for this Rams team. But before we review and indulge into the key focuses of the Superbowl, let’s give a nod to the rest of the factors that brought these teams here.
Both of these organizations management groups must be over the moon about the job their coaching staffs have done. Bill Belichick continues to prove that his “do your job” system is a driving force behind such an elite team, no matter who's name is on the back of the jersey. And Sean McVay is showing that even in his very early coaching career, he's capable of competing with and outplaying/outwitting some of the brightest coaching minds in the NFL.
Where these teams appear to match up evenly is in the receiving category, which may surprise some of you readers. The Rams boasted a top 5 receiving offence, while the Patriots cruised their way to top honours and have once again gone back to the well of Edelman and Gronk to help them get back to the Bowl. Even these teams secondaries have been some of the most impressive at times, considering there are new faces being asked to lead the charge. Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters both are fresh into the Rams stout defence, easily proving they were worth all the hype and the effort of bringing in. While on the other side of the field, the Patriots have shown even without long time mastermind Matt Patricia calling the plays, they're able to still get themselves into sound defensive positioning and force the offence into throwing errors.
But enough about what these teams have in common, what factored into them both making an appearance in the Superbowl? Let’s look at what I feel are going to be the areas where this game will essentially be won; the most important aspects and storylines of this game, that will crown the champion of the NFL.
Battle of the big boys (OL vs DL)
If you've paid even the littlest attention to the NFL this season, then the name Aaron Donald should send chills through your body (especially for those Quarterbacks out there). This man, cyborg, whatever it is they claim he is, was an absolute machine this season. He led the league by a landslide 20.5 sacks and proved himself as the heart of the talented group that makes up LA’s defence. Sure there was a little more help rushing the passer this season as the Rams brought in Ndamukong Suh to protect the interior line, and to strike fear into the other team that he might still have the ability to take over a game. Dante Fowler Jr. was brought in to provide a little more speed at linebacker position than what was there for prior seasons. All of that aside, nothing should be taken away from what Donald was able to showcase on a nightly basis. It was as if no name on the offensive line could slow him down.
Maybe that’s exactly what’s needed to bring Donald to halt. A bunch of no name, hard working big boys who understand the importance of protecting the quarterback and the opportunity it gives them to win the game when they do. As of late, the New England O-line has shown they're up to the task and have done a great job protecting Brady (even if he only needs a few seconds from snap to release). They've provided their running backs with enough space to find gaps, and break out into the green areas. Very rarely do you seem them commit harmful flags, and god forbid they ever did with the ball in scoring position (They may never see a position for the rest of the game.) Now I leave you, the reader, with the challenge of naming me 3 out of the 5 Patriots’ starting offensive lineman, and you'll understand what I mean when I say no name. But just because you don't know who they are, doesn't mean they're not capable of showing up in this big moment. In fact, they'd rather you not know them. Underestimate them, that’s where the Patriots always have the upper hand.
We all remember that excitement of walking up to the Merry-go-round; music chiming along, horses cutting through the wind as it spins over and over. Perhaps the most exciting part of it all though was the beginning selection of exactly what horse you'd pick for the ride. Picture that excitement every single time that New England enters a huddle for the play call. In typical Patriot fashion, they've found a way to yet again showcase all three of their running backs talents, plugging them into different, random moments of a game and allowing them to be the one to make the play. This year they've been able to find a lot of success for rookie Sony Michel, having him show off his quick running ability. The Pats continue to trust the hands of James White in passing scenarios, no matter if he’s seen the ball 2 or 12 times in the game. Throw in the addition of Rex Burkhead, who returned late in the season from injury, and you’ve employed a nice complimentary ground and pound/between the tackles option.
Even though the Rams essentially have one solidified option at tailback, that option is one of the best you could have across the league. Todd Gurley is without a doubt one of, if not the most, elite running backs in the game. Anytime the ball is in his hands something great happens. Wherever he is on the field, or whatever the play call is to get number 30 the ball, he will make something happen for the betterment of the team. His size allows him to overpower defenders when necessary, and his surprising agility assists when he needs to break away from the pack.
The merry-go-round analogy is however still fitting for the Rams, but obviously not in the same New England Patriots sense. This carousel ride is more of the concern as to whether or not Gurley is at full health. It appears over the last few weeks of the season, as well as into the playoffs the workload hasn't been the same. The Rams have instead given CJ Anderson a fairly surprising split of time on the field, especially when considering Gurley’s abilities. With McVay refusing to give a definitive answer as to the status of his star player, fans are sometimes found left with the nauseous, unsettling feeling in their stomachs
The G.O.A.T and the herder (MVP vs. MVP)
One of the storylines I find really intriguing about this Super Bowl is the battle that will take place between each team’s MVP. It’s very evident that the best player for New England is their golden boy, Tom Brady. It is almost just as evident for the Rams, as Aaron Donald should be the clear cut runaway… at least he is for me. Which is why I’m so excited to watch how this plays out as the game unfolds in front of us. In past Super Bowls a lot, if not all, of the attention has been on the battle of the Quarterbacks who will outwit, outshine, and outperform the other while never actually playing against one another on the field. But this time we will see exactly who's MVP card trumps who’s. The most talented defence vs. the most talented offence, lead by the fearless team leading MVP candidates.
If Aaron Donald is allowed anywhere near Brady, then Patriot fans will be in for a long, long night alongside their quarterback. Donald’s pressure could be enough to rush Brady’s decision making, while his speed to get into the back field could protect against the lethal play action. All you need is for one sack by Donald and the whole game could become his. Now I really shouldn’t, and I wouldn’t, downplay Tom Brady’s skill level. Especially while on the grandest stage of them all. He sees the game at a whole other level than anyone else on or off the field. With his heart always being shown on his sleeves, Tom refuses to say quit, and refuses to believe he's ever in a position to not win the game. He’s able to read schemes and find receivers in perfect spots, while also putting the ball into perfect locations. He gives his team multiple opportunities for successful drives and scores. His effectiveness to spread the ball around to each available player at his disposal is unparalleled in the league. It doesn't matter who you are, he’ll find you if he wants to. Sure, Aaron Donald seems to have had a lot of numbers this season, but it’s incredibly hard to disrupt number 12. It’s even harder to keep him from achieving another title.
I want everyone to understand that even though I'm a die hard Pats fan, this did not sway my decision in the slightest…..(can you sense the bullshit through the screen?). In all honesty, putting aside all hatred for Brady, or owner Robert Kraft, or even the organization as a whole for past corners cut (to put cheating lightly), this team is built from top to bottom with the perfect personel to prove they're ready to add yet another Lombardi to the organizations trophy case. The men of the gridiron dawning America's beloved red, white and blue look ready to prove why the third times the charm. More important, Tom Brady is "lazor focused", and ready to thrust his name into the greatest athlete in sports history conversation. My prediction... NE 30 LA 24