It’s the old guard vs. the new kids, the young guns taking a shot at the GOAT. Breakout Live breaks down the Super Bowl 53 matchup between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams.
Patriots vs. Rams
Well, here we are folks. The two best teams in the NFL battling it out in Hotlanta for the hottest trophy in pro sports. Regardless of how these two teams got here, you’d be lying to yourself if you said the Rams and Patriots aren’t the two best teams. They are. The Rams have proven that bingeing on high-profile free agents and merging them with an uber-talented young core can, in fact, result in success. This is great news for any UFA’s this offseason, as GMs will look to copy the Rams’ blueprint which will likely create bidding wars for players and result in outrageous contracts. But that’s a column for another day.
The Patriots, on the other hand, have simply proven that they’re the smartest organization in all of sports. Think about it: in a league with so much roster and coaching staff turnover year-over-year, so much unpredictability with injuries and so much relying on 53 dudes and countless others (coaches, training staffs, front office, etc.) all pulling in the same direction, it’s a near-impossibility that one team can be so successful for the better part of 2 decades. Not only that, it’s the one team who refuses to sign high-priced free agents, routinely waives bye-bye to some of their best players when they either get too expensive or too big for their britches, and truly believes their system is more important than any player or coach. It’s absolutely remarkable.
And while the infamous P.I./helmet-to-helmet no-call and the outcry over OT rules have been beaten to a pulp by everyone, I can’t not address those two things here. I won’t go into Chiefs-Pats because it was an incredible game and the OT rules are fine. My only question is how much money did UFA Dee Ford cost himself by lining up offside on the most crucial play of the game (my guess: a little, but when you’re talking in millions, it could be A LOT).
Now, Rams-Saints. Was the “play” by Nickell Robey-Coleman one of if not THE worst call in NFL history given the magnitude of the situation? Probably. But that’s not why you lost, Saints fan. No, you lost because your defense couldn’t keep the Rams from driving down the field with 1:41 left and kicking the game-tying FG, because your O-line couldn’t protect Drew Brees in OT, forcing him to toss a lob-shot INT, and because your D then couldn’t keep the Rams out of FG range after the INT.
I get it – it’s one of the most gut-wrenching losses ever, especially on the back of how last season ended with the Minneapolis Miracle. But don’t tell me that one non-call cost you your shot at the Lombardi. And definitely don’t tell me Roger Goodell needs to apologize and replay the game. Stop it. Goodell may be whack, but he doesn’t owe anyone an apology and thinking he’d step in and force a re-play is asinine. The loss was brutal. And stomach churning. And downright BS. But it’s still a loss. Pick yourselves back up and get after it next season.
As for the game itself, I don’t love it all that much as a fan. I’m a Niners guy, so seeing a division rival saunter their way to the Super Bowl always stings. But even more than that, I just would have preferred to see Brady v. Brees as one last hoorah for the old guard. Boo-hoo, I know. And the Pats, well, I’m just tired of them. I have a ton of respect for the way they’ve sustained greatness, but it would be nice not to have those silver, red and blue lids haunting my dreams from September-February every year. Plus, as a lover of the long ball, seeing Mahomes on the big stage in his first year as a starter would’ve been awesome. Again, who cares, so let’s move on.
With such an even matchup and so few specific things to point out that could turn this game in favor of one team, you have to sift through some minutiae to key-on what’s really going to decide Super Bowl LIII. I’m looking at three things, specifically:
Sony Michel vs. LA’s run D
Sony Michel is the real deal, y’all. For a team like the Pats that always seems to have 3-4 or even 5 RBs rotating in and out, looking for (and riding) the hot hand, Michel is the first guy in forever who you can really call New England’s feature back. And Belichick has been using the rookie like it, too: in New England’s two playoff wins, Michel has rushed 53 times for 242 yards and 5 TDs. Get some, rook! That’s incredible, and I expect more of the same Sunday.
For all the stars on LA’s D, they were atrocious against the run this year (28th). That’s kinda weird isn’t it? But it’s kinda awesome for the Pats and their O-line, who are probably licking their chops to tangle with Donald, Suh & Co. and run at them 40 times. I know Tom Brady gets rid of the ball as quickly as anyone, but with the potential of Donald or Suh getting to him and laying their weight down (potentially causing an injury to #12 which would completely kill the Pats), why even bother when you can feed Michel all day long and watch him run roughshod?
The old Hoodie would already be acutely aware of this and counter by throwing 100 times. The new Hoodie knows where his bread is buttered – by handing the rock to Michel as many times as possible and letting Brady do his thing when needed. Michel is in line for a big ‘ol game.
Stephon Gilmore vs. Robert Woods (& maybe Brandin Cooks)
I wrote it earlier in our Breakout Live Super Bowl predictions column, but I’ve got Gilmore as my runner-up for MVP if Brady somehow doesn’t take it home. I just have this feeling Gilmore is going to turn this game on its head with a late INT. He’s an absolute monster and I don’t think he gets nearly the kind of credit he deserves as a top-tier corner. Some of that is a function of playing for the Pats, where you can’t say or do anything that screams “me first” instead of “team first.” But before that he was playing in Buffalo, and no one outside of Northern NY cares about the Bills.
According to Pro Football Focus (which stat nerds like me absolutely love), Gilmore is the #1 CB in the entire NFL. When you’ve got guys like Patrick Peterson, Jalen Ramsey and Chris Harris, Jr. and even fellow Patriot Jason McCourty at the same position, that’s a pretty sweet accomplishment. Belichick loves Gilmore and almost always has him shadow the opposing team’s best WR (likely Woods on Sunday). How have those #1 WRs fared in those matchups? Not well at all: 3.2 catches and 35.8 yards/game. That’s nuts. Call me crazy, but I can see Gilmore with 5+ tackles, 2-3 PD, and 1-2 INTs – the last of which being a game-changer or game-sealer. It’s gonna happen. And if it doesn’t, you didn’t hear it from me, okay?
Todd Gurley vs. himself
Did you see Gurley two weeks ago against the Saints? Neither did I. He played only 32 snaps (C.J. Anderson played 35), the lowest snap total in his two years with Sean McVay, and logged just 5 touches (4 carries, 10 yds; 1 rec, 3 yds). That can’t happen to your star ever, let alone the biggest game of the year to that point. The Rams claimed that there was nothing wrong with Gurley’s health, and Gurley claimed he played so little because he was “sorry as hell.” Yeah, sorry as hell that your team is hanging you out to dry saying you’re healthy when you’re clearly not.
Look, Gurley at 60-70% is better than most RBs at 100%, but don’t tell me he’s not injured. He’s clearly hurt, it’s clearly in his head, and if he’s not right on Sunday to help take some pressure off Jared Goff, the Rams are going to be in big trouble.
On talent alone, the Rams are the better team here. But the Pats have proven time and again that they just can’t be killed. And I’ll take immortality over talent in Super Bowl LIII.