Super Bowl LIII: How They Got Here

Welcome to my 1st of several Super Bowl LIII Preview articles.  The match-up is set, the teams are in Atlanta for Opening Night, and today I will be looking at how the Patriots and Rams got here and taking a first look at the match-up.  What can we expect from this year’s big game?  Keep reading to find out what I think.  You can also check out my entire Super Bowl LIII preview schedule below.  I will be posting preview articles throughout the week as festivities in Atlanta take place.

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Super Bowl LIII: Official Boston Sports Mania Preview Schedule

January 27 or 28: Super Bowl LIII: How They Got Here

January 28 or 29: The Case for the Patriots: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

January 29 or 30: The Case for the Rams: How They Can Win, Keys to the Game

January 30 or 31: Super Bowl LIII Fast Facts and Their Significance

January 31 or February 1: Super Bowl LIII: Final Prediction, Projected Stats & MVP

February 1 or 2: Super Bowl LIII Video Preview

February 2 or 3: The Final Countdown: Final Injury Report, Outlook Before the Game (Including iMovie Trailer)

February 3: Enjoy the game and stay tuned for my recap after the game!

How They Got Here

Patriots

The Patriots were off to a rough start this season, going 1-2 in their first three games without WR Julian Edelman.  However, they brought in WR Josh Gordon to add back WR depth they’d lost in the off-season.  Gordon thrived in his first game with the Pats, and when Edelman returned, they made for a dynamic duo that led the offense to dominate.

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Though they started 7-2, they lost their third game in Tennessee before the bye as TE Rob Gronkowski sat out an extra game after an injury.  After the bye, they did win a couple games, playing the Jets and Vikings.  But after that their road struggles continued as they lost in Miami and in Pittsburgh.  After 14 games, the Pats were 9-5, and they were at risk of missing out on a first round bye.  They had the tiebreaker over the Texans, but the Texans were 10-4 at this point.  The Pats needed to win one more game than Houston.

It wasn’t a good sign when WR Josh Gordon was suspended indefinitely once again for marijuana, but the Pats took care of the Bills and Jets easily in New England.  They nearly shut out the Jets in Week 17!  They did grab hold of the first round bye, but the question was, were these blowouts against the league’s worst a fluke, or were the Pats legitimate Super Bowl contenders?

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The fans’ doubts were silenced when the Patriots dominated their Divisional Round match-up, hosting the Chargers.  They would head to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs in the AFC title game.  This was bound to be a close one, especially because the Patriots lost the last time they had played on the road.  They were off to a strong start, but they began to fall behind late in the game.

With two minutes to go, it was 28-24 Chiefs.  The Pats had the ball in what was still a one possession game.  They marched down the field and Burkhead scored the TD, but they scored a little too fast.  They left enough time for the Chiefs to add a field goal to tie it up  at 31-31 and force overtime.

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After that the Patriots won the toss, and though it was a nail biter with many close calls and 3rd downs, the Pats made their way down the field for the TD, winning the game 37-31!  This was Brady’s third OT victory in a postseason game, making him the first player to do so.  This was also the first time two playoff games had gone into overtime in one day.

You can read more about the AFC Championship at the link below:

Back to their Roots: Pats Dynasty Continues after OT Thriller

The Patriots are now headed to their 4th Super Bowl in 5 years, as Brady looks to ‘Blitz for Six’ and Gronk looks to potentially end his career with a bang.  The best part is, as intriguing as a Brady vs. Drew Brees match-up would be, they’re playing the Los Angeles Rams, taking the Brady-Belichick dynasty back to their roots.  Back in 2001, Brady led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl victory over the QB Kurt Warner-led St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams.  You could also compare that victory to this year’s AFC Championship when Brady and co. took down QB Patrick Mahomes II and an explosive Chiefs offense after coming in as 3 point underdogs.

Rams

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The last time the Rams won the NFC was back in 2001, when QB Kurt Warner led an offense known as ‘The Greatest Show on Turf’ to their second Super Bowl in three years.  They would face QB Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.  Though they had won in 1999, they could not get past Brady and Belichick, who won their first championship together and started a legendary dynasty.  17 years later, the Rams will seek revenge.

After Warner left St. Louis, things were ugly for the Rams for much of the 2000s.  But in 2015, they began rebuilding, drafting star RB Todd Gurley in 2015, trading up in 2016 to draft the QB of their future: Jared Goff, firing head coach Jeff Fisher, and hiring the young Sean McVay to replace Fisher.  To top off their rebuild, they moved back to Los Angeles as they seeked a culture change heading in to the second half of the 2010s.

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In 2017, Goff, Gurley, and McVay led the team back to the playoffs with help from a star-studded defense led by DT Aaron Donald.  However, as the #3 seed, they lost on Wild Card Weekend.  The 2017-18 off-season was a busy one for the Rams.  The Rams made it clear they wanted to win now, exchanging WR Sammy Watkins, TE Lance Kendricks, DE Robert Quinn, OLB Alec Ogletree, and CB Trumaine Johnson for WR Brandin Cooks, DT Ndamukong Suh, CB Marcus Peters, CB Aqib Talib, and CB Sam Shields.  Later in the season, they added RB C.J. Anderson and pass rusher Dante Fowler Jr. as well.  They now had one of the best secondaries in the league, Gurley and Anderson made for a dominant RB duo, and WRs Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods broke out, giving Goff a WR trio for most of the season.  Kupp has since torn his ACL and ended his season, but the Rams dominated in all aspects for most of the season.

After starting 8-0, the Rams headed to New Orleans, where they lost their first game in a shootout.  The Rams lost WR Cooper Kupp the next game despite a win.  Without Kupp, they weren’t as dominant, going 4-2.  But they took care of business against the Cowboys, winning 30-22.  They would travel to New Orleans once again for the NFC Championship.

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They were trailing for most of the game as expected, but they came back to tie it up at 20.  The Saints were going for one last drive.  When QB Drew Brees threw it to WR Tommylee Lewis, he was hoping for a first down.  However, the pass was broken up on a hard hit by CB Nickell Robey-Coleman.  I am not alone in my belief that the play by Robey-Coleman was blatant pass interference.  But the refs didn’t call it.  The Saints made the field goal.  But the Rams had time to respond with a field goal of their own.

The game went to overtime, and New Orleans won the toss.  But after S John Johnson picked off QB Drew Brees, the Rams drove down the field, kicked another field goal, and won the game, 26-23.  Saints fans were heartbroken.  But the Rams were ecstatic – they had won the NFC for the first time in 17 years.  This was only their third Super Bowl appearance, the other two coming during the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ era.

Championship weekend and the weeks leading up to it were very exciting.  But moving on to the Super Bowl, the Rams will take on the Patriots in just 6 days.  Who will come out on top?  Keep reading to hear my initial take on the match-up.

First Look: Patriots vs. Rams

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This is definitely going to be close.  The Pats aren’t coming off a great season by Brady-Belichick standards.  They went 11-5 for the first time since 2009, and the first time since their run of seven straight AFC Championships (now eight) began.  But the Pats have dominated offensively in each of their last 4 games, and they have motivation going on as QB Tom Brady looks to win his sixth ring and TE Rob Gronkowski looks to potentially end his career with one more.  Until this year, Gronk had been spoiled year after year with records of 12-4 or higher.  Despite a rough regular season, the Pats will look to make up for it with another Super Bowl victory (which would be Gronk’s third).  To get past a difficult Rams defense, they’ll have to use a large variety of plays to try and fake them out.  If they are as strong offensively as they have been in the last 4 games, they should be capable of winning this.  But the Rams’ D might be the toughest New England has faced since their latest win streak.

Coming off a first round playoff exit and a busy off-season that got fans excited, the Rams went 13-3 and earned the #2 seed in the NFC behind only the New Orleans Saints (who they lost to).  After being ‘overthrown’ by Brady-Belichick dynasty in 2001, they will look to dethrone the Pats in their return to the Super Bowl.  In order to do so, not only will they need QB Jared Goff and the RB duo of Gurley and Anderson to step it up, they’ll need the entire offense around Goff and Gurley to thrive against a mediocre New England defense.

Who will win Super Bowl LIII?  What is the game plan for each team?  What Super Bowl and season-long stats will burden, encourage and/or influence each team?  Find out this week as I release more articles each day.

 

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2018 NFL Week 10 Picks & Previews: Contenders Arise in Unsurprising Outcomes

Welcome to my Week 10 NFL picks and previews.  Last week I went 8-5, putting my overall record at 76-56-2 (76-57-2 including TNF Week 10).  I’m still ahead of 2 ESPN experts and a CBS Sports expert. Don’t expect too many upsets this week.  I see this as a week where contenders will begin to rise after underwhelming starts.  This week will mark the beginning of the end of the surprise runs by teams like the Lions, Redskins, and Dolphins.  Meanwhile, expected contenders that have been struggling so far like the Eagles, Jaguars, and Packers will begin to rise. There will be a couple upsets, but who will pull them? Comment with your thoughts below, and keep reading to see my upset picks.  

Lock of the Week (SNF)

Look for QB Carson Wentz to start off the 2nd half of the season strong with a 3+ TD game.  The Eagles don’t have that difficult of a schedule remaining, which could provide an opportunity for Wentz to make a run for MVP with a big 2nd half.  Dallas should look alright on offense here, but Philly’s front seven will limit RB Ezekiel Elliott and overwhelm QB Dak Prescott. Philly will come out on top thanks to Wentz’s big game, as he connects with 7+ different receivers.  

Upset of the Week

Look for the TE duo of Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron to help the Colts offensively.  Jacksonville’s D will improve from the last couple of weeks, but I don’t see them holding Indy TD-less.  The Jaguars offensive rebound will make up for it. With RB Leonard Fournette healthy, this run game will thrive.  They suddenly have a lot of depth between Fournette, Carlos Hyde, and T.J. Yeldon. Look for QB Blake Bortles to improve as well.  He should have minimal issues against a rebuilding Colts defense that’s regarded as one of the NFL’s worst.  Indy will give up 30+ points in a loss here.

The Other Games

TNF (Posted to Twitter Thursday Night; Actual Score: 52-21 Steelers)

Carolina should struggle to contain QB Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers.  But they will shut down a Le’Veon Bell-less Steelers run game. At this point, Bell will likely miss the whole season.  The Panthers should also be strong on offense again, as QB Cam Newton and his receivers lead Carolina to victory up against a mediocre Steelers defense.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

With TE Rob Gronkowski out, the Pats offense will not be up to full speed.  But expect a New England win anyway, as the Pats step it up on D against the young Titans offensive core.  QB Marcus Mariota will struggle to find open men as the Patriots defense keeps him and his receivers pressured.  The lack of WR depth will hurt the Titans in a loss.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

 

The Bills are down to their fourth string QB with Nathan Peterman struggling regressively and Derek Anderson and Josh Allen hurt.  However, the Jets are also without their starter, Sam Darnold.  Look for QB Josh McCown to succeed in filling in for Darnold, leading the Jets to a high scoring victory.  The defense will slip a little against QB Matt Barkley and the Bills, but Buffalo will not be able to put up enough points with Allen and TE Charles Clay injured.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

The Saints find themselves with a lack of WR depth with Dez Bryant, Cameron Meredith, and Ted Ginn Jr. all on IR now.  That being said, New Orleans will not be at their best offensively.  But the Bengals shouldn’t look much better without WR A.J. Green.  QB Drew Brees and his receivers should edge out a victory despite an underwhelming performance.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Look for QB Matt Ryan and his receivers to put up another big game in Cleveland.  The Browns will try to keep up, but their young core won’t quite do it. The Falcons D will continue to struggle and give up a good number of points to the Browns, but the offensive dominance will be enough for Atlanta.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

This will not be easy for Kansas City.  QB Josh Rosen, RB David Johnson, and the Arizona offense should have a day against a banged-up Chiefs D.  However, QB Patrick Mahomes II should keep up the good work and this offense should be enough for the Chiefs to keep rolling at home despite defensive struggles that may cost them when it matters.  I’m honestly surprised they didn’t seek defensive help at the deadline.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

QB Ryan Fitzpatrick should be able to take advantage of his deep core of receivers to lead Tampa to victory here.  Also expect the Bucs D to surprise many with as they get in the way of QB Alex Smith and the Redskins offense.  Smith will struggle to find his receivers with the Bucs pressuring him and WR Paul Richardson sidelined with an injury.  The Buccaneers will play complimentary football and win triumphantly here.
Sunday, 1:00 PM EST

Detroit’s offense will continue to miss WR Golden Tate as they struggle in Chicago.  Look for another big game by the Bears defense here.  QB Mitch Trubisky and the Chicago offense won’t be on their best either, but the shut down defense should be enough for the Bears to hold on for a victory.
Sunday, 4:05 PM EST

The Chargers D should look better than usual against a deep but struggling Oakland offense.  Meanwhile, QB Philip Rivers and his receivers will put up another big game as Rivers throws multiple TD.  The combination of these two things will cause the Raiders to fall short again at home.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST (OT)

Look for another overtime thriller out of QB Aaron Rodgers and his receivers.  Expect the Packers D to nearly cost them the game as they struggle more than they should against a Brock Osweiler-led Miami offense, but look for Rodgers to come up clutch and save the Packers once again.
Sunday, 4:25 PM EST

The dominance of the LA defense should continue with DE Dante Fowler Jr. on board.  Expect them to hold Seattle TD-less here.  The Rams offense won’t be at their best here, but QB Jared Goff and his WR trio will help lead the Rams to victory, supplemented by the shut-down D.  The Seahawks will continue to miss WR Brandon Marshall as the Rams keep Seattle’s other receivers well-covered for majority of the game.
Monday, 8:15 PM EST

 

Expect the struggles of QB Eli Manning to continue as he throws just 1 TD and multiple picks.  RB Saquon Barkley will keep this close with a big game despite Manning’s struggles. But the Giants will fall short as the defense limits, but cannot stop QB Nick Mullens and the young 49ers offensive core.  

That’s all for this week.  Stay tuned for my NFL midseason report later today, and stay tuned for my MLB off-season coverage throughout the rest of November.  

NFL In Detail 2.0: Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars are the second of those three bad teams who made slight improvements.  Guys like Julius Thomas were key additions, and they were unbelievable throughout the entire draft.

Fantasy and Training Camp Outlook

QB

Blake Bortles is your starter, but if he was to get hurt, there is plenty of backup.  Chad Henne, former Jags QB is one option.  Jeff Tuel, signed in free agency from the Bills is another.  And Stephen Morris is an emergency option.  But Bortles is a lock-in number one guy.

RB

Toby Gerhart may be able to regain as number 1, but many guys challenge.  I think former Raven Bernard Pierce should be the number 1.  He was for the Ravens before Justin Forsett went on his run.  T. J. Yeldon, drafted with the Jaguars second round pick, is another option.  He helped Alabama to the final four in college, and he should definitely help Jacksonville.  But they should definitely consider youngsters Storm Johnson and Denard Robinson as backups.  Johnson could have a breakout year, like Robinson last year until he got hurt.  I see a good year in Yeldon, Gerhart and Johnson along with decent ones in Robinson and Pierce.

WR

NFL Network thought Allen Robinson would be the Jags breakout receiver.  But that was just out of him, Hurns, or Marqise Lee.  They have other guys too.  Out of those guys, I say Hurns or Lee.  But they have rookie Rashad Greene, and veterans Tandon Doss and Justin Blackmon as well.  Breakout year?  Justin Blackmon.  He will recover from last years indefinite suspension and blow up, as long as Blake Bortles is willing to pass to him.  Start Blackmon, with Lee, Hurns and Robinson behind him.  Will Bortles remember to throw the rock to him?

TE

Julius Thomas is your starter, even at a descending point in his career, but you also need to put Marcedes Lewis and Clay Harbor in mind.  They both handled starting jobs at some point last year, and were OK.  Start Thomas, then Lewis. then Harbor.

Defense

A young defense will help the Jags to victories.  Rookies Michael Bennett and James Sample, along with veteran Nick Marshall, are some new guys to the once empty defense.  They also drafted Dante Fowler Jr. with the third overall pick, but he will miss 2015 with a torn ACL, so they screwed up.