I’ve always maintained that, despite a great track record of picking championship games/series, I’m always willing to go down in flames getting the Patriots wrong as my pick. After all, what could possibly be a better consolation prize? A year ago, I went with the Patriots to win but got the Eagles cover right, and of course got the Red Sox, the Capitals, and (obviously)the Warriors right.
So how will this all go down? I mean, if you listened to the experts, the Patriots weren’t supposed to be here, right? The Rams are supposed to cruise to victory, just like the Chiefs and Chargers, right? Clearly, these “experts” haven’t been watching a lot of football lately.
Here we go again, with the Pats here for the third year in a row and fourth time in five years. All the numbers and symmetry points towards New England, even if the Rams appear to be the more talented team on paper.
Now a closer look:
Playoff picks record: 4-6
Overall season record: 48-33
The Rams are explosive. They have the wide receivers, the No. 1 draft pick at quarterback, the superstar running back, and put up well over 500 points. So they have the edge, right? Not so fast.
New England coaches its offense — and, for that matter, its entire team — better than anyone, maybe ever. Receivers are open when they’re not supposed to be. Third down and long becomes third and manageable. Tom Brady was sacked only 21 times in the regular season and not once in the playoffs. Oh, and Sony Michel is a star in the making at running back, while fellow backfield mate James White is a star already.
The edge in pure playmakers belongs to the Rams, but I’m not sure Todd Gurley is healthy or even feeling all that confident right now. Julian Edelman has been a man possessed the past two games, and this could be Rob Gronkowski’s swan song (no, I don’t actually believe it will be, but the media loves to float the idea).
Unconventionally — and, really, hasn’t that been what this whole Patriots dynasty is anyway? — I’m giving the nod to the AFC’ers. Edge: Patriots.
Remember Super Bowl XXXVIII, when the Panthers had the superstar defensive line led by Julius Peppers (congratulations on a wonderful career, by the way) and Kris Jenkins? How many sacks do you think that line racked up? You guessed it: none.
Now, I don’t believe the Rams’ star-studded D-line will be completely shut out. Will it be a meaningful sack (or two), or will it be a pity bringdown? Hard to say now, but Josh McDaniels will help scheme ways to neutralize Wade Phillips’ defense. Yes, Phillips did call a great game in the 2015 AFC championship game for the Broncos, but he’s mostly been had by Brady and Belichick, as most have. I believe the Patriots’ defense is the overlooked unit here. Kyle Van Noy, Stephon Gilmore, Trey Flowers, Malcolm Brown, and Devin McCourty (will this be his final game?) are all highly underrated players capable of making an impact.
You can’t ignore the Rams, and specifically Aaron Donald, but Bill Belichick takes away what you do best, and that would be Donald. That neutralizes what looked to be a big edge for Los Angeles. Edge: Even.
Greg the Leg, if healthy, is as good as it gets. So is Stephen Gostkowski. Matthew Slater is the special teams ace-in-the-hole for the Pats, and watch out if Cordarelle Patterson has a chance to return a kick or two. Edelman is capable of breaking a big punt return, especially since he always makes the first man miss. Johnny Hekker is an excellent punter (and lookout on fake punts!) and John Fassel does a great job coaching this unit. Another tough one to pick. Edge: Even.
Do I really have to explain much? Let me say that I love the job Sean McVay has done, the boy-wonder who has this team in the Super Bowl in just his second year at 33 years old. But Belichick is the master, bar none. McDaniels can expose any defense, no matter how good (hello, 2014 Seahawks and 2004 Eagles). And soon-to-be Dolphins head coach Brian Flores has the defense playing at a high level. Yes, I know that the Rams do have some similarities to the Giants teams of 2007 and 2011 that beat the Patriots. And McVay is an excellent football mind. But he isn’t Belichick, because no one is. Edge: Patriots.
Finally, the chance to throw all the symmetry at you! How perfect would winning this game be for sports’ most perfect franchise? More perfect than even last year, when I suppose it was “too perfect.” The numbers and similarities are endless. No, the Pats didn’t get their three-out-of-four-by-beating-the-Eagles twice last year. But winning this year would right all the wrongs. And can you really imagine this franchise losing back-to-back Super Bowls (again)?
A Brady win would make him a nice, even, 30-10 in the playoffs. He would be 6-3 in Super Bowls. And it’s hard to imagine the Patriots actually losing six Super Bowls as a franchise. 17 years ago to the day, he beat the Rams to kick off this dynasty. Super Bowl rematches haven’t been kind to the Patriots; they’re 0-2 against the Giants and 1-1 against the Eagles. 2-0 against the Rams would even the score nicely.
Remember when the Patriots failed to join the 1972 Dolphins in Super Bowl XLII? Well here’s a chance at redemption. A win in this one would join the ’72 Dolphins in a couple of categories. One, the Patriots would be the first team since then (and only second in the Super Bowl era) to win the Super Bowl a year after losing it. New England is also one of only three franchises to appear in three straight Super Bowls; the 72 Dolphins were in the middle of a three-year run in which they went 2-1, just as New England is attempting to do.
Jared Goff is trying to do what Nick Foles did last year: get to 3-1 in his playoff career by beating the Patriots. But I feel like the Rams were fortunate to beat New Orleans, whereas the Eagles left no doubt in waxing the Vikings in last year’s NFC title game. The Patriots are better than the Saints and Cowboys teams that the Rams beat to get here.
The Patriots are still playing the underdog card, even as 2.5-point favorites. In fact, they’ve played it so well that the Rams have no rallying cry this week (certainly nothing as empowering as “We’re still here!”). As always, the Patriots have stolen the spotlight. Edge: Patriots.
Think I’ve made my direction clear enough? If you’re tired of the Patriots, join the club. But at this point, what’s one more? And are the Rams really all that likable as an “underdog” in this spot? Every single one of the Patriots’ eight Brady Super Bowls have been decided by one score or less. Aren’t we due for a change? I’m saying this is it, and New England puts one more stamp on its dynasty in case there was anyone still left who was doubting them. Pick: Patriots 35, Rams 22.