Culminating a 2018-19 NFL season that featured a lot more offense than defense is a New England Patriots / Los Angeles Rams Super Bowl matchup that features about the same.
Both the Pats and Rams have top-five offenses but both their defenses are ranked within one notch of 20th, so the experts are expecting this to be a high-scoring, warm weather shoot-out.
This Big Game is a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVI, which was GOAT quarterback Tom Brady’s first Super Bowl win ever and was the Rams’ second failed attempt to take the Lombardi trophy (they had succeeded once in ‘99).
Head coach Belichik’s Patriots are slightly favored in this one, but nobody doubts that the NFL’s youngest head coach Sean McVay will figure out a game plan that gives his Rams a decent chance to win.
The 11-5 (2-0) New England Patriots:
When quarterback Tom Brady was intercepted in the end zone at the start of the second quarter during the AFC Conference Championship game against the high scoring Kansas City Chiefs, it felt like the Pats were about to lose their 7-0 lead to the high-scoring Chiefs.
But somehow the 11-5 (2-0) New England Patriots’ bottom tier defense stood firm and got the ball right back on a third-and-one and continued to do so all game for a Patriots win, final score 37-31, and much to the dismay of everyone who’s not a Patriots fan, New England finds itself in the Super Bowl for the eleventh time, their fourth in the last five seasons.
New England doesn’t do well on the road – they were just 3-5 away from Foxborough during the regular season – but this is the Super Bowl, in which the Patriots have done very well, repeatedly.
The 13-3 (2-0) Los Angeles Rams:
Many Saints fans (and most other non-Rams fans) believe that because of a blatantly blown call by the refs at the end of the NFC Conference Championship game, it should be the New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl instead of the 13-2 (2-0) Los Angeles Rams.
[To read about that frustrating situation, check out WSN’s take on it: Did Refs’ Big No-Call Cost New Orleans Saints the Super Bowl?]
Despite the ongoing controversy (including several “Saints Got Robbed” billboards being rented around Atlanta), Jared Goff’s Rams represent the NFC in the Super Bowl and their high-powered offense will face a Patriots defense that has been playing better than predicted in the postseason.
Los Angeles was 6-2 on the road in the regular season and their travel distance is greater than New England’s, but those things only matter in the regular season, and in Atlanta, the Rams will have to figure out how to shut Tom Brady down as effectively as the Philadelphia Eagles did a year ago.
Anticipated 1:1 Matchup:
New England center David Andrews vs. Los Angeles All-Pro defensive end Aaron Donald.
If Andrews wins this matchup, Brady stays protected and the Patriots’ deadly rushing attack remains effective.
But if Donald dominates this matchup, he has the ability to single-handedly ruin New England’s air and ground attacks while making Andrews’ Super Bowl evening a horrible one.
What’s at stake:
These two teams have met 13 times (including 1 postseason game, Super Bowl XXXVI), with Los Angeles winning 5 games and New England winning 8 games.
The Patriots have won the last five times these two teams have played, the first of those games being played in 2002 in Super Bowl XXXVI, which the Patriots won, 20-17.
Whoever wins this matchup receives the coveted Lombardi Trophy and then goes to Disney World as the 2018-19 NFL Champions.
The loser gets to spend the entire offseason dealing with the fact that they came up just a win short of the biggest honor in professional football.
Questions to answer…
Who’s favored to win this Patriots-Rams Super Bowl matchup?
Which team has a better offense? Defense? Special teams?
Which team’s quarterback is more likely to lead his team to victory?
We’re going to compare the Patriots and the Rams and attempt to answer those questions and more.
The 2018 Patriots offense ranked 5th in the NFL
New England’s offense was effective during the regular season, averaging 393.4 total yards and 27.2 points per game, though in four out of their five losses, Brady’s squad was kept to just 10, 10, 10 and 20 points.
Against the Chiefs in the Conference Championship game, Brady completed 30-of-46 for 348 yards and a touchdown, but uncharacteristically threw 2 interceptions.
Brady’s main targets in that game dominated the mid-field – slot receiver Julian Edelman, who caught 7 balls for 96 yards and tight end Rob Gronkowski, who caught 6 balls for 79 yards.
Patriots’ rushing attack ranked 5th overall
Rookie Sony Michel aced his postseason debut, running 29 times for 113 yards and 2 touchdowns, though his 3.9 yards per carry was below his regular season average of 4.5.
Running back James White did more catching than running in this one, grabbing four passes for 49 yards and averaging 12.2 yards per catch.
New England offensive Injuries
Currently no Patriots offensive players are listed as questionable for the Super Bowl.
The 2018 Rams offense ranked 2nd overall
The Rams’ offense put up an average of 32.9 points and moved the ball 421.1 yards per game in the regular season, both second best in the league.
Some experts felt quarterback Jared Goff outplayed Saints veteran quarterback Drew Brees for the final three quarters of their game, completing 25-of-40 overall for 297 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Receivers Brandin Cooks and Josh Reynolds stepped up against the Saints, with Cooks catching 7 balls for 107 yards and Reynolds snagging 4 balls for 74 yards.
Los Angeles’s run game 3rd in the league
The biggest surprise for the Rams’ offense was running back Todd Gurley, who, despite denying he was hurt, had the season’s poorest performance running the ball just 4 times for 10 yards and a touchdown.
Once again stepping up in Gurley’s absence was late season pickup C.J. Anderson, who had another solid game with 16 carries for 44 yards while catching a pass for five yards.
Los Angeles offensive Injuries
Listed as questionable for the Super Bowl: kicker Greg Zuerlein (foot).
Patriots Defense ranks 21st in the league
Teams who played New England in the regular season scored an average of 20.3 points and moved the ball 359.1 total yards per game, their rushing defense ranked 11th and their passing defense ranked 22nd.
The Patriots were tied for the third most interceptions (18) in the regular season, but only one team had less sacks than New England (30).
Patriots Defensive Players to watch:
Middle linebacker Kyle Van Noy is being his usual big, bad self in the postseason, so far with 14 tackles, 2.0 sacks and a forced fumble.
Defensive end Trey Flowers already has 2.0 sacks in the postseason, along with 3 tackles.
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore patrols the Patriots’ secondary and so far he’s had a postseason interception and 3 passes defended.
Patriots defensive injuries
Currently no Patriots defensive players are listed as questionable for the Super Bowl.
Rams Defense is 19th overall
The Rams allowed opponents to score an average of 24 points and move the ball 358.6 total yards per game in 2018, ranked 14th against the pass but 23rd against the run.
Los Angeles was tied for third most interceptions in the regular season (18) but their sack total (41) put them right in the middle of the league at 15th overall.
Rams Defensive Players to watch:
Rams inside linebacker Cory Littleton, the NFL’s tenth best tackler in the regular season, is up to it again in the postseason, so far with 19 tackles (one for loss) and a pass defended.
Leading the Rams in postseason sacks are linebacker Dante Fowler and nose tackle Ndamukong Suh, who each have 1.5 sacks along with 8 tackles apiece.
Strong safety John Johnson has been, well, strong in the postseason with an interception, 3 passes defended and 11 combined tackles so far.
Rams Defensive Injuries
Listed as questionable for the Super Bowl: safety Blake Countess (foot)
Special Teams Stats Comparison
New England’s punter, Ryan Allen, has been a Patriot all six of his NFL years and punted 64 times in the regular season for a net average of 39.5 yards per punt, ranked 20th in the NFL.
In the postseason, Allen has punted 6 times for a net average of 36.5 yards per punt.
Los Angeles’ veteran All-Pro punter, Johnny Hekker, was First-team All-Pro last season and punted 43 times this regular season for a net average of 43.0 yards per punt, ranked 2nd in the NFL.
In the postseason, Hekker has punted 5 times for a net average of 42.4 yards per punt.
New England’s veteran placekicker, Stephen Gostkowski, who has spent all 13 of his NFL seasons as a Patriot, was 27-for-32 in the regular season, his longest a 52-yarder.
Gostkowski missed one extra point attempt (49/50), which happened in Week 14 in the first quarter of the team’s one-point loss to the Dolphins, followed by a missed field goal later in the game.
In the postseason, Gostkowski has gone 3-for-3, his longest a 47-yarder and has missed no extra point attempts (9/9).
Los Angeles’ placekicker, Greg Zuerlin, was First-team All-Pro last season but due to a groin injury, he missed five games this season.
In the regular season Zuerlin was 27-for-31, his longest a 56-yarder, and he missed one extra point attempt (35/36).
In the postseason, Zuerlin has gone 7-for-8, his longest a 57-yarder against the Saints to send the Rams to the Super Bowl and he has missed no extra point attempts (5/5).
Zuerlin’s injured foot has him listed as questionable for the Super Bowl.
New England’s punt returner, wide receiver Julian Edelman, is ranked 36th in the league in return average this regular season.
Edelman returned 20 punts for 154 yards, averaging 7.7 yards per return, his longest for 25 yards.
In the postseason, Edelman has returned 8 punts for 75 yards.
Los Angeles’ punt returner, wide receiver JoJo Natson, was ranked 19th in the league in return average this regular season.
Natson returned 26 punts for 280 yards, averaging 10.8 yards per return, his longest for 60 yards.
In the postseason, Natson has returned 3 punts for 12 yards, averaging 4.0 yards per carry.
Patriots–Rams prediction and odds
The odds makers have the Patriots favored over the Rams by 2.5 with an over/under of 57.5.