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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Scouting Report: Los Angeles Rams

Football is back in LA!  The Rams moved to the city in the off season.  The NFL was desperate for an LA team, and this is a big move.  This LA team is intriguing, but will they surprise people and thrive in a tough division?  Todd Gurley, Jared Goff, Aaron Donald and many other key players on this team could be deciding factors.  Today, we go over what areas are doing well, which areas need work, and what to expect of the 2016 Rams.

3 Players to Watch

1. Michael Brockers, DT

The Rams front seven is already loaded.  Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn and Alec Ogletree headline the position and Mark Barron and Akeem Ayers are also major contributors.  But one guy who I think has lacked attention in the past and may draw people in this season is defensive tackle Michael Brockers.  The 2012 first round pick has quietly racked up 14.5 sacks in his 4 year career, but has never reached six in one season.  Brockers has started for most of his career, but never really has broken out.  He’s in a contract year, and if he wants an extension with the Rams badly enough, he’ll break through this season.  I could see him with 8 or 9 sacks at the end of the season, and he will make a fierce Rams pass rush even better.  They already picked up the fifth year option, so it looks like he has one more year to prove himself.

2. Jared Goff, QB

Jared Goff did not look ready to start at minicamp, but he still has training camp.  He will make or break this Rams team.  His success is what will decide this team’s fate.  I think if he can get comfortable with the Rams system, he will dominate and thrive.  Will Goff perform well this season?  It will be tough to thrive without any strong receiving weapons, but I think Jared Goff, the surprise No. 1 overall pick, is capable of doing so.

3. Tavon Austin, WR

Tavon Austin did finally break through last season, but somehow Kenny Britt is ahead of him on the depth chart?  Kenny Britt is not a legitimate receiver, fantasy-wise or in real life, but Austin is a sleeper to be a legitimate weapon.  Britt should not be the WR1.  You may think the Rams now have no receiving weapons, but they have several underrated weapons, Tavon Austin, Lance Kendricks, Pharoh Cooper, Tyler Higbee, I could go on all day.  But will they break through and do well enough for Jared Goff to start strong right off the bat?

 

3 Questions That Must Be Answered

1. Will a weakness at o-lineman affect the make or break offense?

The offensive line, especially the interior offensive line, is LA’s major weakness.  If they continue to have problems, it will make it tougher for Jared Goff to adjust, making it harder for the receivers who want to rack up some surprise yards.  That offensive line better step it up, or it could ruin the Rams’ entire offensive scheme, and make defenses bull through to pressure Goff, Gurley and the receivers more easily.  The offensive line is yet another unit with a make or break season ahead.

2. Will the secondary top off a powerful defense?

The front seven is already a consistent source. But the Rams have holes in the secondary, and if they can get it together, the defense will be among the top.  Trumaine Johnson has just one more year in LA, so they need to not just find more talent for this year, but extra for the future.  T.J. McDonald could be a source, but the 2013 3rd rounder has not yet broken through.  They have some names at corner, Coty Sensabaugh got 2 picks last year with Tennessee, E.J. Gaines also got two picks in 2014 after missing the entire 2015 season.   But the Rams still have a serious hole at free safety, and that could bring down their defense, especially when they’re still trying to find guys at corner and strong safety.  This entire secondary needs to get it together, and if it can, this defense will add to an already strong defensive division.

3. Which sleepers will break through, and which will be duds?

The Rams have a lot of sleepers on offense, and with the defense already doing its thing, and well, their performance could make or break the team.  Will Tavon Austin continue to get better?  I don’t know, I can’t really see him doing much more than he did for the team last year, but you never know.  I think Kenny Britt has already proved that he can’t be much of a help, but he must currently be WR1 for a reason.  He was a 1st rounder in 2009, and he does have 25 career TDs, but is the Rams the right fit for him?  He’s not puting up the same numbers he did, and he’s either a bad fit, or is getting old.  I can’t see Brian Quick doing much either.  He’s in a downward direction as well, but Pharoh Cooper has a lot of upside and was a good draft pick, along with Mike Thomas.  But I think the Rams have the most hidden potential at tight end.  Lance Kendricks could become a big name with experience and consistency.  Tyler Higbee may pay off after being drafted.  I see several tight ends making a splash in 2016, not just in LA, but all over the league.  There are more potential Gronks out there.  It’s a tough position to be in, but there are opportunities to shine.

 

3 Bold Predictions

1. Todd Gurley will be one of four RBs that surpass 1400 yards

This may come as a surprise to you.  Most of the older running backs are on a major decline or already retired.  But the younger generation of running backs is out to dominate.  Le’ Veon Bell could be on pace for some serious numbers if he stays healthy and out of trouble.  I also like Todd Gurley to dominate again.  Ezekiel Elliott and David Johnson could stack up some big numbers as well.  A couple older RBs are also still getting into greatness.  I think Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy will have big years too, Peterson is still unstoppable, and McCoy should probably adjust to the Bills system this year.  He was good last year, but got hurt and was a little less dominant than usual.  I think he’ll bounce back.  Eddie Lacy could even surpass 1400 yards this year.  I think Gurley, along with Peterson, McCoy and Le’ Veon Bell will top 1400 yards this year.  The NFL does have more strong wde receivers, but they do have some explosive RBs as well, even in a receiver friendly year.

2. The Rams will lead the NFC West in sacks

The Rams do already have a strong pass rush, but in a tough defensive division, they have competition.  Even the 49ers have a better defense than offense.  But I think that the Rams have a better pass rush than you might think, and this year, Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn, Alec Ogletree, Mark Barron, Michael Brockers and Akeem Ayers, will all band. together, with full power and strength, and hoard a ton of sacks.  More than the Seahawks or Cardinals put up, and they won’t just lead the division.  They’ll lead it by far, and maybe even take a spot in the NFC’s top 3.  That’s just my opinion.  But can the offense stay consistent, and make a dependable playoff contender of the Rams?

3. Lance Kendricks will score 10 TDs in the regular season

The Rams have plenty of big sleepers, but I have the most faith in tight end Lance Kendricks.  Kendricks has shown some pretty great things, but now in a starting role, he needs to show more consistency.  I think Kendricks is capable of scoring 10 TDs if he gets reps.  Whether or not this team functions or wins games, this guy will be a breakout candidate.  I think the offensive line will make it a lot harder for this offense to thrive, but I still see a lot of potential in Kendricks.

 

Schedule Breakdown

The LA Rams are in a good spot, but holes around the offense could cause them to fall apart of inconsistency, especially with a weak offensive line, which is never good and just makes things harder for them.  They open the season in San Francisco.  I think this defense will be one of many to overwhelm the Rams, and they will drop this game on the road.  I think the Seahawks defense will also do extremely well against the Rams.  The Rams will not top them, even at home.  The tough schedule just goes on after that.

A young Buccaneers team with a revamped defense should be too strong for the Rams in Tampa Bay, the Cardinals will present another, unbeatable, tough defense, especially on the road, and don’t sleep on the Bills.  Injuries and all, with the draft they had, a revamped defense of their own should edge out the Rams.  Even with bad defense, in Detroit, this underrated Lions team will beat a Rams team who’s offense just cannot find the missing puzzle piece.  Trust me, it will happen, but the start of the season will be a rough ride.  The Giants revamped front seven should top the Rams as well, even in London, a neutral location that the Rams have had a lot of games in.  Yes, at the bye, they will be win-less.

The Panthers defense should be another tough one that pressures Jared Goff and the o-line, another loss for them.  In New York, I don’t think they can catch the Jets, who have a strong defense as well.  But then comes a game at home against the Dolphins.  By this point, Jared Goff will have gotten way more comfortable and will be fed up with losing the first 9 games.  The Rams should edge an aging and weakening Dolphins defense, overwhelm the offense, and take the easy W.  The Saints offense should then take advantage of the Rams weak secondary, especially at home.  Bill Belichick and the Pats should find the next week easy.

But then they come home to host the Falcons.  The same Falcons who have their own inconsistency on offense and defense.  The Rams will again crush them, as they look like the kind of team who will dominate when they have the right formula.  Then, in the last three weeks, Seattle and Arizona are unbeatable, but they will top the 49ers on their home turf.  The Rams are actually better than San Francisco.

 

My Prediction

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The Rams are the kind of team that typically struggles, but when they do well, they dominate.  They have the pieces on offense and defense, they just need to put them together.  I see 3, 4 maybe even 5 wins if they’re lucky, but a tough schedule makes things 2 times harder.