It’s Super Bowl week as the playoffs conclude NFL season comes to an end, with a champion soon to be determined in Super Bowl LIII. This year’s title game pits the two No. 2 seeds against each other. That means the Patriots are representing the AFC and the Rams are the NFC representatives at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. This is the Patriots’ third straight Super Bowl appearance, and they have gone 1-1 in their last two. It is the ninth Super Bowl in total for the combo of head coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady. The Patriots are going for their sixth championship total, which would tie them with the Steelers for the most all-time. The Rams’ last appearance was in Super Bowl XXXVI, when the then-St. Louis Rams lost to the Patriots in Brady and Belichick’s first Super Bowl. This is the Rams’ fourth Super Bowl appearance; they are 1-2 to date, with their win coming in Super Bowl XXXIV.
The Patriots jumped out to an early 14-0 lead against the Chiefs in the AFC Championship, but the Chiefs came back to tie the game and force overtime. The Patriots ended up winning the game 37-31 when RB Rex Burkhead had a two-yard rushing touchdown after a nearly five-minute drive to open the overtime period after the Patriots won the coin toss. Brady threw for 348 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. RB Sony Michel ran for 113 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries. WR Julian Edelman was Brady’s top receiver, catching seven of his 10 targets for 96 yards, while TE Rob Gronkowski had 79 yards on six receptions, and WR Phillip Dorsett was the recipient of Brady’s only touchdown pass; it was Dorsett’s only reception of the game, a 29-yard catch. RB James White, who usually has a lot of receptions was targeted just six times, catching four of those balls. The defense had four sacks — two from LB Kyle Van Noy — and a forced fumble, also by Van Noy, but no interceptions.
The Rams also needed overtime in the NFC Championship to get past the Saints, but unlike the Patriots they were in a hole early in the game and had to come from behind to pull it out. The Saints had a 13-0 lead after the first quarter, which the Rams cut to 13-10 at halftime. The score was 23-23 at the end of regulation — thanks in part to an uncalled pass interference that is one of the most controversial plays in recent memory — and K Greg Zuerlein won the game for the Rams with a 57-yard field goal — his fourth of the game — on the team’s first offensive drive of the extra period. Goff threw for 297 yards with a touchdown and an interception. RB Todd Gurley only touched the ball five times, accounting for 13 total yards and a touchdown, and backup RB C.J. Anderson had 16 carries for 44 yards. WR Brandin Cooks led the team with seven receptions for 107 yards and TE Tyler Higbee caught the only touchdown pass from Goff and caught all four of his targets, but he had just 25 yards receiving. WR Gerald Everett had two catches for 50 yards, including a 39-yarder. The defense had two sacks — 1.5 from DT Ndamukong Suh — and a forced fumble with an interception. The INT was a big one, as S John Johnson picked off Drew Brees in overtime to give the Rams the ball for what became the game-winning drive.
The Patriots are favored by 2.5 points after the game opened as a pick ’em, with an over/under of 56.5, a point lower than where it opened.
With an over/under that high, you know that this is expected to be a shootout. A key to the game for the Rams will be Gurley’s health. He didn’t play much in the conference championship game, which was thought to be related to the knee injury he was dealing with late in the regular season, but he was not on the team’s initial injury report for Sunday so he appears to be healthy and ready to go. If that is the case,you can expect him to get significantly more than the five touches he had last time out. For the Patriots, Gronkowski was dealing with injuries for much of the season, but he had his best outing in more than a month in the AFC title game so he may be healthier than he has been in a while. Both teams have good offenses and kickers, with Stephen Gostkowski on the Patriots and the Rams’ Zuerlein. So the X factor in the game may be the defenses. Defensive players to watch for for potential gamemaking plays include Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore and the Rams’ Suh and DT Aaron Donald.
On the sidelines, it’s hard to go against Belichick, who may be the best head coach in NFL history, but Rams head coach Sean McVay is among the best young coaches in the league. When it comes down to it, I think the Rams have the more talented roster, but it’s hard to go against Brady and Belichick, especially given Belichick’s tendency to be able to successfully take away the opponent’s best offensive weapon. The Rams were my pick to win the Super Bowl in the preseason, and I’ll stick with that. It should be a close game, but I’ll take the 2.5 points and go with the Rams to win the game outright, 31-27, which would go over the 56.5
Rams (+2.5), over 56.5
(Spread and over/under from Vegas Insider)