By: Eric Cain / @_Cainer
Haven’t we seen this before? Rams vs. Patriots on the grand stage. These teams squared off in Super Bowl XXXVI, but a lot has changed since.
Tom Brady is no longer a 24-year-old second-year player looking to pull off an upset. No, the 41-year-old is seeking his sixth Super Bowl ring. Bill Belichick is 17 years older and the Patriots boast 39 players who have been on a Super Bowl roster.
Back in February of 2002, the St. Louis Rams were the veteran club led by quarterback Kurt Warner, running back Marshall Faulk and receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt. Present day and back in Los Angeles, the Rams are led by 33-year-old coach Sean McVay – who will become the youngest coach in Super Bowl history – and third-year quarterback Jared Goff. Oh, and that running back named Todd Gurley isn’t bad either.
The tables have turned – reversed if you will – now 17 years later. Once the Patriots upset the Rams to conclude the 2001 season, the team began what is arguably the most dominant dynasty run professional sports has ever seen.
Will the underdog repeat history? Or will Brady and Belichick lay claim to No. 6? Let’s discuss.
Offense has taken the league by storm and the Rams are a big reason why. McVay is widely considered around the sport as an offensive genius and has transformed Goff into a top-tier NFL quarterback. LA ranked second in the league in yards (421) and points (32.9) per game in the regular season while boasting top-five run and pass totals.
The defense was greatly improved in the offseason with the additions of defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh and Marcus Peters and Aquib Talib to the secondary. However, the results didn’t boast one of the better units across the sport as injuries and inconsistent play lurked throughout.
Even with a group that ranked 19th in yards given up a contest (358) during the regular season, the unit is finally healthy and playing with a lock down effort in two playoffs games. The biggest stat line that jumps off the paper – the Rams are surrendering an average of only 49 yards rushing in two playoffs games.
But the Patriots have been just as good of late – yielding only 30 yards a game on the ground against the Chargers and Chiefs in recent weeks.
New England has carried its typical ‘bend but don’t break mentality’ on defense this season, but has been good against the run all season long ranking just outside the top-10. However, the defense gave up almost 360 yards a game while placing 22nd in pass defense in the regular season.
But as is the case with the Rams, the Patriots win games on offense – even with an aging soon-to-be Hall of Famer under center. With a depleted receiving corps seemingly all year long and an injured backfield for the better part of the season, Brady led New England to the fourth-best offense in the NFL this year – averaging 393 yards and with 27 points a contest.
The second-seed in the AFC dominated the Chargers in the divisional round before allowing a couple of ‘excuse me’ touchdowns late in the second half. New England then held Kansas City to only a touchdown in three quarters before holding off the top-ranked offense in an overtime thriller.
Both teams are rolling and this should be an exciting one.
Cain’s pick: Rams 31, Patriots 28
I know it’s foolish to bet against Brady & Belichick, but hey, they have lost three in eight tries so far. It is possible. Both offenses are more than capable of putting up 30-plus on the scoreboard but I think Sunday will come down to LA’s defense making things difficult for Brady. If you remember back to that wild Week 11 matchup against KC on Monday Night, the Rams gave up 51 points on the scoreboard but forced five turnovers and found the end zone twice on that side of the ball.
New England’s offensive lien has played tremendous of late as Brady has barely been touched in the playoffs. Los Angeles’s front-line will be a different story as Aaron Donald tallied 32 TFLs on the season, Donte Fowler Jr. has been a mad-man in the postseason and even Suh came around against the Saints. The Rams defensive line will be the difference-maker in an absolute thriller.
WNML Staff Picks
Patriots: 10 picks
Rams: 5 picks
Avg margin of victory: 4.5 points
Tyler Ivens: Rams 38, Patriots 28
I’m not taking the Rams because underdogs have been the way to go in Super Bowls latterly, or because Sean McVay is 8-0 in his two years against AFC teams, or because I saw the Pats lose five games away from Gillette Stadium this season. It’s about my belief the Rams should be -1 or pick’em and because they also have more big-play playmakers. I got the Rams 38-28 (+2.5). Take the OVER, as well (56.5)
Heather Harrington: Patriots 31, Rams 28
Erik Ainge: Patriots 23, Rams 21
Brian Rice: Patriots 27, Rams 24
You never bet against Brady.
Josh Ward: Patriots 31, Rams 30
The Super Bowl experience should offer a slight advantage for New England, although Rams coach Sean McVay can help make up for that issue. How do the Patriots handle the defensive line of the Rams, especially with Aaron Donald’s ability to completely disrupt a gameplan for LA? That should be a major key to the game. Tom Brady’s ability to get the ball out quickly should help, and betting against him at this point doesn’t make a lot of sense. I’ll take the Patriots in a close one.
Will West: Rams 41, Patriots 31
Joel Silverberg: Patriots 38, Rams 34
I like both teams a lot. I think the Patriots have really come together since having a week off to start the postseason and I don’t think the Rams are intimidated at all by the big stage. The Rams have a ton of playmakers on both sides of the ball and that offense can produce regardless of how much Todd Gurley we see. Still, it’s hard to see New England dropping back-to-back Super Bowls in consecutive years. In typical Patriots fashion I think the game will be close, but Brady and Belichick get their sixth rings.
Jimmy Hyams: Patriots 34, Rams 30
Hard to pick against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in a Super Bowl. Patriots seem to be playing best ball in biggest games this year.
John Wilkerson: Patriots 34, Rams 28
Vince Ferrarra: Patriots 31, Rams 28
Check out the latest Vince’s View on the Super Bowl matchup.
Sam Forman: Rams 41, Patriots 34
I think LA is just the better team in this case and personally C.J. Anderson is looking more and more like last year’s Nick Foles. It is also a time where LA doesn’t have to worry about saving Todd Gurley and that is something the Rams have been doing in my opinion at least over the last five weeks. Now, I know what some of you are thinking, “how can you pick against Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and New England” or “you just want the Patriots to lose.” Well one of those statements may or may not be true, but I picked Philly last year and we all know how that worked out. So, it’s an easy pick for me Rams are the better team and I’ll take them to go all the way.
Jeff Jarnigan: Rams
Micah Davis: Patriots 31, Rams 24
Bad Take Andy: Patriots 32, Rams 24
Patriots finally have a prolific running back in Sony Michel.