Super Bowl LIII: an early scouting report on N.E. Patriots/L.A. Rams
The New England Patriots will take on the Los Angeles Rams during Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, Georgia, on Sunday February 3, at approximately 6:30 pm EST.
For the third straight year and the fourth time in five seasons, the New England Patriots are headed back to the NFL championship game.
There they will face a young, hungry Los Angeles Rams team led by head coach Sean McVay and quarterback Jared Goff. The Rams and Patriots have done battle 13 times in the history of both clubs, with New England holding an 8-5 overall edge in the series.
The most notable win, of course, was the one game that came in the postseason: Super Bowl XXXVI. That matchup occurred way back in February 2002, nearly 17 years ago, when a baby-faced second-year quarterback named Tom Brady marched his underdog Patriots down the field for the game-winning field goal, and upset the heavily-favored Rams.
Since that win, the Rams have lost all four of their successive games against the Patriots by a cumulative score of 134-55. Most recently, the teams matched up in New England during the 2016 season, in a game the Patriots won 26-10.
This is a Rams team that more closely resembles “The Greatest Show on Turf,” though, than the mediocre Jeff Fisher-led squads of recent years.
Much like Brady did back in 2002, McVay now heads to the Super Bowl in just his second season on the job as head coach of Los Angeles. Under his guidance (and the defensive oversight of veteran coordinator Wade Phillips), the Rams have undergone a monumental culture change, becoming one of the preeminent powers in the NFL almost overnight.
Former No. 1 overall draft pick Jared Goff was considered in some circles a bona fide bust after just one season in the league. Then McVay arrived on the scene in 2017, and suddenly Goff was a Pro Bowl quarterback balling out in the playoffs. Now in his third season, the talented passer out of Cal is headed to the game’s greatest stage, where he has a real chance to knock off the G.O.A.T. en route to eternal glory as a world champion.
17 years later, the script has changed for these two franchises. New England is now the accomplished favorite, led by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady – two icons who most casual sports fans begrudgingly respect, but love to hate on for their ridiculously long and prolific careers. Los Angeles, on the other hand, is the plucky underdog with all the up-and-coming names at the game’s most important positions.
Consider: Belichick is a whopping 34 years older than McVay, while Brady is 17 years older than Goff. It’s the largest pair of age gaps between starting quarterbacks and head coaches in Super Bowl history.
Should the Rams emerge victorious in Atlanta, it would represent so much more than just the franchise’s second Super Bowl championship, and its first since returning to Los Angeles in the 2016 season. An L.A. win could truly symbolize a passing of the torch from two of the greatest to ever do it to a new pair of power-brokers in a league designed for parity.
Patriots/Rams also ushers in yet another exciting chapter in the continuing saga of rivalry between Boston and Los Angeles, two of America’s greatest cities for professional sports.
Last year, the Boston Red Sox defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in a highly-watched World Series. Two weeks ago, the Patriots decimated the Los Angeles Chargers in a divisional round matchup that again pitted West Coast versus East Coast. And then of course there’s Celtics/Lakers, the two winningest franchises in NBA history, who have combined to account for 33 of the 72 championships won in professional basketball.
With regards to the Rams and Patriots, Super Bowl LIII will pair up two of the most efficient and productive offenses in the NFL this year.
Los Angeles finished the regular season as the No. 2 scoring offense in the league, averaging just under 33 points per game; New England wasn’t far behind at No. 4 with 27.3 points per game. In terms of overall yardage accumulated, the Rams again ranked No. 2 in the league with 6,738 total yards; the Patriots were No. 5 with 6,295 total yards.
The Rams had the fifth-best passing offense in the league, while the Patriots had the eighth-best. As far as rushing offense, L.A. was No. 3, while New England was No. 5.
Clearly, fans of offensive fireworks and points are chomping at the bit to see these two teams light up the scoreboards on Super Bowl Sunday. Much was made of the fact that the NFL’s “final four” contestants in the conference championships ranked first-through-fourth in total offense during the regular season, so it’s fair to speculate on whether the age-old saying that “defense wins championships” still applies.
If it does, then it’s worth examining where both of these teams stack up defensively.
The Rams finished the regular season as the 20th-ranked scoring defense in the league after allowing an average of 24 points a game, which pegs them squarely in the middle-of-the-pack nationally. The Patriots did quite a bit better, finishing No. 7 of 32 teams while giving up just a tic over 20 points per game.
That’s not a huge gap between the two team in terms of actual points averages, but three or four points could be the difference between winning a Super Bowl and losing it – especially if this year’s edition is anything like some of the previous championship games the Pats have played in. In New England’s eight Super Bowl appearances under Belichick and Brady, the Patriots’ average margin for victory or defeat has been exactly 4.25 points.
Los Angeles and New England were fairly similar in giving up roughly the same amount of total yards over the 2018 regular season, with totals of 5,737 and 5,746, respectively. Those two numbers were the 14th and 12th worst totals amongst all teams this year, which could mean we’ll see a lot of chunk plays in Atlanta.
The Rams ranked No. 14 against the pass while the Patriots ranked No. 22; against the run, the Rams were No. 23 and the Patriots were No. 11.
Still, both teams have played consistently stronger defense of late than their regular season statistics show.
L.A. has been buoyed by the return of shutdown cornerback Aqib Talib in the secondary, and has also enjoyed a dominant season from defensive terrors Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh in the center of their line. If these three key cogs in Phillips’ defense can continue their sparkling postseason runs, the sledding might get tougher for Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in the next round.
For New England, All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore has effectively neutralized opposing teams’ top receivers, with the help of solid secondary play by contributors like Devin McCourty, his twin brother Jason McCourty, and rookie standout J.C. Jackson. And then up front, Trey Flowers, Kyle Van Noy, and Deatrich Wise Jr. have brought a tremendous amount of pressure thus far on quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes and Philip Rivers in New England’s last two playoff games.
We’ll dive more into specific matchups as we continue our coverage of Super Bowl LIII over the next two weeks, but for now, fans of both teams (and fans of football in general) should be eagerly counting down the days between now and February 3rd.