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.

 

Back to their Roots: Pats Dynasty Continues after OT Thriller

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It was 31-31 in overtime.  After winning the toss, the New England Patriots had the ball on 3rd down at the Kansas City 30 yard line.  QB Tom Brady had made two straight third down conversions going to WR Julian Edelman, but this time, he looked in the direction of TE Rob Gronkowski.  Gronk had not been himself for most of the season.  But after stating that he would ‘seriously consider’ retirement with the conclusion of the season, he had stepped it up so far in this game, with 5 receptions for 64 yards.  He was tightly covered by S Eric Berry, but it didn’t matter.  He reached up and caught it, keeping the Patriots’ drive alive with a clean set of downs.  After that, Brady handed it off to RB Rex Burkhead three times, and he finished the job.  Touchdown.  37-31, Patriots win!

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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 tonight’s when Brady and co. took down QB Patrick Mahomes II and an explosive Chiefs offense after coming in as 3 point underdogs.

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The Pats set themselves up for success with a strong start to the game where they showcased complimentary football.  The Pats were in no rush in the 1st quarter, so they took their time, running the ball and eating clock on their first scoring drive of the game.  It was important to get into a rhythm early on to keep up with the Kansas City, but keeping the ball for 80% of the first quarter works.  Their opening drive was the longest playoff opening drive in the history of the Brady-Belichick Patriots.  The Pats held Kansas City to under 3 minutes of 1st quarter possession time by sacking Mahomes and shutting down the Chiefs offense quickly.  Preventing the Chiefs from developing a rhythm of their own also works.  In fact, while the Pats had 100+ total yards after one quarter, the Chiefs had negative yardage.

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New England had another drive going that continued into the 2nd quarter, but things went south when Brady threw an end zone pick to LB Reggie Ragland.  The Chiefs had just successfully pressured TB12 and taken control of the turnover battle in one measly play.  Many people say this was a blatant mistake by Brady, but I saw it as a job well done by an underrated, young Chiefs D.  Though the Pats had lost their rhythm after marching down the field, they did shut down the Chiefs easily after the interception, forcing 3 and out.  With just about 7 minutes left in the 1st half, the Pats had 155 total yards, and the Chiefs still had just -2.

It took a bit for the Pats to get back into the swing of things after the pick, but on a deep throw to WR Phillip Dorsett, they scored again two drives later.  Utilized as a receiver, White led them through majority of the drive, but it was the deep throw to  Dorsett that scored the TD for New England.  After their defense’s big showing in the first half, the Pats held a 14-0 lead at halftime.  The defense had held the Chiefs to just 32 total yards in the half, and this was the first time the Chiefs had been shutout in the first half at home in 51 games

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However, the Chiefs figured out New England’s formula in their first drive after halftime, marching down the field in 4 plays for a TD thanks to a huge catch by WR Sammy Watkins and a quality TD by TE Travis Kelce in tight coverage.  Preventing big plays is a definitive weakness of the Pats D.  The Patriots needed to extend their lead so they didn’t have to press the panic button when Mahomes and co. started dominating.  They failed to score another TD in the 3rd quarter, but they did add a field goal to their lead, making it 17-7 Pats.  However, Mahomes and RB Damien Williams led the Chiefs on a huge drive to end the 3rd quarter.  This one did end in a touchdown, narrowing New England’s lead to just 3 points after a somewhat questionable pass interference call.  It had been 14-0 at half, but the Chiefs offense had just taken control of the game, outscoring New England 14-3 in the 3rd quarter.

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The Pats tried again to score a TD at the beginning of the 4th quarter, but they couldn’t convert on 4th down.  They forced the Chiefs to punt on the next drive, but initially, the refs called the punt muffed by Edelman when the Chiefs picked up the ball.  However, the call was overturned after instant replay showed that Edelman never touched it.  Edelman ended up costing the Pats the following drive though, as he bobbled a pass, allowing the Chiefs to intercept it and go on to take the lead with a TD the following drive.

The 4th quarter was a back and forth battle with several lead changes.  The Pats and Chiefs each scored a touchdown on their next drives, making it 28-24 Chiefs.  With two minutes to go, the Pats had the ball in what was still a one possession game.  The Pats 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 and force overtime.  It was 31-31.

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After that the Pats 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!  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.

Despite 2 interceptions, Brady finished 30/46 with 348 passing yards and a TD.  Sony Michel rushed for 113 yards and scored two TDs, and Burkhead had two rush TDs of his own.  Edelman and Gronk each had 75+ receiving yards, and James White nearly had 50.

Mahomes threw 3 TDs and 0 interceptions as the Chiefs won the turnover battle despite losing, but Mahomes only threw for 295 yards, partly because the Pats had the ball for much longer.  Though Watkins had 114 receiving yards, Damien Williams caught 2 TDs as well as rushing in one.

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It’s hard to name one MVP for the Pats in this game, because everyone did their job.  The important thing is, the Pats will travel to Atlanta to take on QB Jared Goff, RB Todd Gurley, and the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII.  In Belichick terms, ‘We’re on to the Super Bowl’.  The Red Sox beat the LA Dodgers in the World Series just three months ago.  Can Boston teams not only win two championships in a year, but also beat the city of LA twice?