Over the last five seasons, no team who has made the Super Bowl has had to win a playoff road game. This year both the Patriots and Rams won on the road in the conference championship, however, not without controversy.
The Chiefs and Saints fanbases are still crying foul over a week after Conference Championship weekend. The AFC controversy was a weak roughing the passer call when Tom Brady’s facemask was grazed. Yes, his facemask was touched but that level of contact shouldn’t warrant the 15-yard flag. The NFC controversy was much larger – a Rams cornerback ran into Tommylee Lewis before he had a chance to make a play on a very catchable ball. Analysts are billing the play as the worst non-call in NFL history, and frankly that might not be much of an exaggeration. New Orleans would have had over a 90% chance of winning if the call had been made, and there was also a no-call on a clear pass interference on Michael Thomas on Drew Brees’s overtime interception. Saints-Chiefs probably would have been the most exciting possible SB matchup, but a Patriots-Rams 2001 rematch contains many compelling storylines.
Conference Championship Weekend: 1-1
Playoff Record: 6-3-1
Patriots vs Rams
Super Bowl 53 is a captivating matchup with several intriguing storylines, let’s explore a couple.
Young vs Old
We frequently see matchups where the elder statesman welcomes the young upstart into the league and essentially passes the crown. We saw this with Jordan and Kobe, Kobe and LeBron, Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers (yes I know this was inter-team), and many more. Do we see Belichick to McVay here? Bill Belichick has long-been considered the best head coach in the league, and is now on the short list for best head coach ever, but he is facing 33 year old Sean McVay. With McVay’s storied run since taking the Rams Head Coach job at age 32, he has set the league ablaze with his offensive scheme wizardry. He’s been so good that every team with a young QB now wants to find “the next McVay”. Jokingly, one major network listed “close friend with Sean McVay” as a positive when evaluating Kliff Kingsbury following his agreement to lead Arizona’s staff. Bill Belichick, however, is not to be underestimated. With a win he would claim his sixth Lombardi Trophy [as a Head Coach] which may elevate him into the Mount Rushmore of Head Coaches along with Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach, John Wooden, Geno Auiremma, Coach K, and others. We also have the 24 year old Jared Goff vs the 41 year old Tom Brady. This isn’t much of a discussion yet other than to point out the 17 year difference as well as gush over Brady’s career achievements.
Boston vs LA
Boston and LA have been sports rivals since 1962 when the Celtics beat the Lakers in the NBA finals. The Celtics went on to beat LA in the NBA finals six times in the 1960s, and the bad blood is still with us today.
Things have been more even since the 60s, but since 2000 Boston is 1-0 vs LA in the Super Bowl, 1-1 in the NBA Finals, and 1-0 in the World Series. This matchup, however, is very tight with the Rams starting as the favorite before the public pushed the betting line towards the Patriots.
Matchup to watch
The key matchup to watch will be Tom Brady vs Aaron Donald. Aaron Donald, fresh off a $135m contract extension (with $87m guaranteed), absolutely dominated this year. Donald was the best defensive tackle in the game this year and the difference between him and the 2nd best player at his position was larger than the difference between numbers one and two at any other position. Donald led the league in sacks at 20.5 while 2nd place JJ Watt finished with 16. If Donald can get to Tom Brady then the Rams will very likely hoist the Lombardi Trophy Sunday night.
Aaron Donald pressure, however, is not a given. Tom Brady is fifth in the league in average time-to-throw at 2.61 seconds, is fourth if you exclude Jeff Driskel’s small sample size. The Patriots are also averaging 41 carries for 165.5 yards per game in the postseason. With Brady getting the ball out quickly and the Patriots pounding the rock, Aaron Donald’s impact on the game should be minimized.
The last Super Bowl to be decided by fewer than 3 points was the Giants 1991 win over the Bills. That essentially makes this game a pick ‘em. Give me the Patriots with their storied postseason experience:
Stats from ESPN