Super Bowl LIII is a battle between a franchise used to success and a franchise that is just on the cusp. Who will emerge victorious?
The Los Angeles Rams will play in their first Super Bowl since 2001 against the New England Patriots on Sunday, Feb. 3.
The Rams earned a 26-23 overtime win against the New Orleans Saints with a 57-yard field goal, propelling them into the Super Bowl. What appeared to be a slow and disappointing start for the Rams flipped on its head during the second quarter when punter Johnny Hekker completed a 12-yard pass to cornerback Sam Shields on fourth down. This unconventional play took the Rams, who were trailing behind the Saints by 13, and gave them the confidence needed to come out on top.
The Patriots also made went to overtime against the Kansas City Chiefs during the AFC Championship game. On second and goal, Rex Burkhead won the game with a run that ended in the end zone. What commentators speculated would be a two score game at the end of the second quarter, turned into an action-heavy fourth quarter.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, threw an unsuccessful end zone pass to Travis Kelce, but a flag was thrown on Patriots’ Jerald Jackson for pass interference. Now at first and goal, the Chiefs scored a touchdown, making the score 17-14.
The Chief’s momentum continued to soar when Daniel Sorensen intercepted a play-action pass on fourth down. On the next play, the Chiefs scored scored another touchdown. However, the Patriots came back with a hand-off to Sony Michel with four minutes left on the clock, before the Chiefs tied up the score 31-31 with a 39-yard field goal.
In overtime, the Patriots secured the win launching them into the Super Bowl for the third straight year.
Both the Rams and the Patriots’ performances were admirable during the playoffs. Each proved that they deserved a shot at the Lombardi Trophy. This isn’t the first time these two teams have faced off in the Super Bowl. They played in Super Bowl XXXVI back in 2001, when the New England Patriots pulled a win out from under the rug against the heavily favored Rams 20-17.
Since then, the Patriots have maintained steady NFL success — five total Super Bowls with three consecutive appearances over the past three seasons. The four Super Bowl appearances made by the Rams is greatly overshadowed by the Patriots’ 11 (who stand to tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers in number of wins if they succeed during Sunday’s game).
Despite their unlucky championship past, I think this year the Los Angeles Rams may give the Patriots a run for their money, perhaps even claiming the Lombardi Trophy for themselves.
Clearly the Patriots have an admirable history as an organization. Quarterback Tom Brady lead the Patriots to all five of their rings. There is no doubt that Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. However, he and the Patriots will be put to the test against the Rams.
The Rams have elevated their performance this season under second year head coach Sean McVay. Their record this season of 13-3 shows significant improvement from last season’s record of 11-5, and even more so from 2016, when their record was an embarrassing 4-12. This turnaround can only be attributed to Sean McVay’s coaching strategy and a new (and very expensive) roster, including pro-bowl caliber players Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters and Brandin Cooks.
This season the Rams took on an aggressive mode of trading and signing. Because quarterback Jared Goff is still on his rookie contract, the Rams have a small window to use that extra money to trade for players like Suh, Talib, and Peters and give big time deals to players like Cooks and Aaron Donald.
Fox Sports personality Shannon Sharpe commented, while this method is unsustainable, “this is how you can get good in a hurry,” and that is exactly what the Rams did.
The Rams have loaded up on the defensive side of the ball. Suh, Talib, Peters and Dante Fowler were all taken in the first 14 picks of the first round of the NFL Draft. Each have proven to be powerful assets. If you look at Goff as a first overall pick, Gurley as a 10th overall pick and Cooks as a first round pick, the offense and defense are solid and have a great shot at defeating Belichick and Brady.
Not to discount the core leadership of Brady, McCourty and Hightower with the Patriots, but their stagnant roster may not have what it takes to defeat the Rams.
The run game has been key for LA, so a big factor will be their top running back, Gurley. He rushed for a NFL-leading 17 touchdowns with 1,251 yards on a 4.9 yards-per-carry average. Gurley has more touchdowns than both of the Patriots’ top running backs combined.
“They’re good, they’re a young team. The only way they win this game is if they can carry the ball and run the ball effectively, which I think they can do. They’re going to need to be able to get to Tom Brady. If you don’t sack him or put pressure on him, he’ll kill you. That’s what happened against the Kansas City Chiefs,” said Pierre Hernandez, a lifelong Rams supporter.
One big question is if the Patriots’ experience will give them an advantage in the Super Bowl. The Rams do have a young coach and a young quarterback, but as former NFL wide receiver Greg Jennings commented, “It is not a huge disadvantage. Sometimes the hunger that you have, playing without having that experience… puts you over the top.”
During the NFC Championship the Rams went into New Orleans, an extremely loud environment. Jared Goff went so far as to put tape over the ear holes of his helmet just to be able to hear his teammates.
“My confidence lies in the fact that we were able to win in New Orleans against a team that scored 45 against us in the early season and beat them and hold them to 23,” said Hernandez.
I believe this hunger will drive the Rams to dig deep and follow through with a win. The underdogs will rise from the ashes and give the Patriots a run for their money. With their strong roster and eager coach, it may just be possible that the Rams put the Patriots’ streak to an end.