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Full Circle? A Rematch of Super XXXVI

Left Side of Six Lombardi Trophies by daveynin is licensed under CC BY 2.0


Estimated Reading Time: 12 Minutes

The last time the Super Bowl was played in Atlanta, Georgia, you would have to go all the way back nearly two decades. The team that won? It was the Rams.

On January 30, 2000, the St. Louis Rams faced the Tennessee Titans. The Rams were 13-3 holding the best record in the NFC. They were led by 28-year old quarterback Kurt Warner – an undrafted player who, once upon a time, was bagging groceries before he became one of the greatest stories in NFL history. The game was a defensive battle the whole way through even until the last play of the game, when Rams linebacker Mike Jones made a game-saving tackle to prevent Titans receiver Kevin Dyson from stretching out over the goal line…just one yard away. The Rams won 23-16.

Now, nearly two decades later, the Rams are back in the Super Bowl, and back in Atlanta. But things are much different this time around.

Call it a David vs. Goliath Super Bowl if you want. After all, it always seems like it every time the Patriots are in it. This Rams team is very talented, however, and they finished their season 13-3 for a reason.

LA’s Lethal Weapons

The Rams have weapons all over the place, and tremendous talent on both sides of the ball. Todd Gurley could arguably be the most talented, explosive running back in the game, and now he has a bulldozer as a partner in crime in C.J. Anderson. In the past four games, Anderson has rushed for 466 yards and four touchdowns on 82 carries. That’s 5.7 yards per carry, 166.7 yards and one TD per game on average. So basically, if Gurley is in fact still injured in any way, there is still hope Rams fans. However, I do believe Gurley has to be at least 80% if the Rams are going to win this game.

Not only are the Rams able to attack you on the ground, but through the air they have some deadly weapons too. Robert Woods has really become one of the better receivers in the league during the second half of this season, and Brandin Cooks can still ball. It will be interesting to see how New England schemes their defense against a team who can attack you in so many ways.

Can the Patriots Stop Aaron Donald?

Meanwhile, on the defensive side of the ball, there’s the NFL’s sack leader (20.5) Aaron Donald. Will the Patriots double-team Donald to prevent him from getting after Brady? Maybe, but the Rams have Ndamukong Suh and Dante Fowler, Jr. who are also more than capable of giving Tom Brady some trouble in the pocket. The Patriots offensive line will have to bring their A-game, and I think they will.

The Key to Beating Brady

Normally, teams who have been successful against Brady and the Patriots have defenses that are able to apply interior pressure on the GOAT quarterback. The Rams certainly have the right pieces and formula on the defensive side to do just that and get after Brady. This season, including the playoffs, Brady’s passer rating against edge pressure is 118.7. Against interior pressure? Try 63.1. That is a HUGE difference, and so if the Rams can get pressure on the interior, this game could get pretty interesting.

But the Patriots offensive line is very good. In fact, I personally think they could be the second-best offensive line in the NFL this year (probably behind the Colts). You better believe Dante Scarnecchia, who will one day be in the Hall of Fame, will have a game plan for Donald and company on that defensive front.

Rams Aren’t Great Against the Run

They have a good defensive line, but boy they are not too good against the run. In fact, they allow 5.1 rushing yards per attempt – that’s worst in the NFL. And if the Patriots win the coin flip, I could definitely see New England sticking with their recent first quarter formula in these playoffs: Run the ball.

When Sony Michel rushes for over 100 yards in a game, the Patriots are 6-0 this season; including the playoffs. And in the playoffs, Michel has been an absolute monster. In the past two playoff games, Michel has rushed for 242 yards on 53 carries for FIVE touchdowns. Then the Patriots have James White, who is a pass-catching machine at running back. This game may come down to who is able to run the ball more effectively.

Believe It Or Not…The Patriots’ Defense is Underrated

I think the Patriots defense is slightly underrated, and I can just hear the Pats fans disagreeing with me on this one. But their run defense is actually not too bad. Yes, they give up 4.9 yards per attempt, which isn’t good. But when it’s all said and done, the Patriots don’t allow much from the opposing running backs by the end of the game. New England allows 112.7 rushing yards per game – that’s 11th best in the league. Not bad. And they also have only allowed 7 rushing touchdowns this entire season. Only one other team has allowed fewer, and that’s the Bears (they allowed 5). The Rams have allowed 12.

Looking at the two secondaries, they both aren’t that great, but each have a couple talented playmakers. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but Stephon Gilmore is a top-10 corner in this league. I don’t care what anyone says; they can fight me on it. If I were a betting man (which I am hehe) I would say Gilmore will actually match up with Robert Woods; not Brandin Cooks. Cooks is a speedster, but I think Woods has been LA’s biggest threat in the receiving corps. As for the Rams’ secondary, having Aqib Talib back is huge, and Peters is able to make flashes of great coverage play. But I must say, if the Rams decide to go zone scheme on defense, they could be in for a long night.

Dinksy-Doo Dunkeroo!

I’m a Steelers fan, and I was super happy when they beat the Patriots this season. But one of the MAJOR reasons why they were able to take down New England was because Pittsburgh got smart and they finally went man coverage downfield. Why do you think the Patriots smoke the Steelers almost every time? Because Brady carves up a zone defense like a Thanksgiving dinner. It’s how Brady operates, it’s how he plays at the position. He’s not going to beat you deep, and he’s not going to run out of the pocket. He is an inside-the-numbers kind of quarterback and he feasts on the slant and slot routes. He is the ultimate master of the dink and dunkeroo. But that’s ok – because it f***ing works.

Why the Rams Will Win

If the Rams win this game, it will be because Donald and the defensive line terrorize Brady with interior pressure. You have to make Brady uncomfortable and get him out of the pocket. That has been a known formula for at least sticking with the Patriots throughout the game. If the Rams win, Gurley will have to be healthy, and while I don’t think it will be his running that will be key, it will actually be his pass-catching plays that will be the difference-maker. After the catch, Gurley is very difficult to stop. The New England defense cannot give him much space. And finally, it may sound obvious, but the Rams will only go as far as Jared Goff can take them. Goff has to have a good game for the Rams to have a chance; I don’t care how good Aaron Donald, Todd Gurley, and Robert Woods are. I think Goff has to get protection from his o-line (obviously) and I think he has to throw for at least 300 yards and 3 TDs. If he can do that, the Rams will have a chance. The Patriots’ defensive line has been pedestrian throughout the regular season, but recently, they have been great. This game could be won in the trenches.

Why the Patriots Will Win

Run, run, and run. I don’t even think Brady has to do too much here. If the Patriots are able to effectively run the ball, move the chains, and keep the Rams offense off the field, Belichick and his staff will do the rest. There is no coach better in this league at controlling the tempo and game clock than Bill Belichick. But the Patriots have to be able to run the ball effectively. If Sony Michel runs loose and James White exploits defensive gaps on the inside, the Patriots will be in very good shape. On defense, the Patriots cannot get beat deep. Their secondary can’t allow big plays downfield. This is Goff’s first Super Bowl of his career, and if you let him complete a couple bombs downfield, it’s going to boost his confidence and composure. Sometimes, it just takes a couple plays and the quarterback feels composed and in a rhythm.

So Who Wins?!

The Rams are the better team on paper, but honestly, I think the Patriots will exploit the Rams’ questionable secondary. I think the Rams are a very good team, but I’ve had a problem with their secondary the entire year this season, and they seem to give up big plays on the ground, which isn’t a good sign going up against the two-headed monster that is Michel and White. Aaron Donald will get his…he’ll make his plays, but Brady is so good against the blitz and he gets the ball out quicker than anyone in this league. On the defensive end, I think the Patriots will surprisingly apply just enough pressure to make Goff a bit uncomfortable, and that could be the difference-maker in some key downs. The Rams are so talented on offense, but it all gets spoiled if Goff is off his game.

I expect the game to be close, and I expect it to be fairly high-scoring. But in the end, I think Brady will come out on top coming down to the wire. Brady will get his sixth Super Bowl ring, which will be the most by any player in the league. The only other player in NFL history to have five Super Bowl rings is Charles Haley, who was a defensive end and linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers.

Will This Be the End of A Dynasty?

Not yet. But we’re getting close.

A lot of people are wondering if this will be Tom Brady’s last game. I am here to tell you that it certainly will NOT be. I am 100% sure that Brady will keep going for at least another three years, and here’s why…

If Brady wins this Super Bowl, he will have six Super Bowl championships. Again, that would be the most by any player in NFL history. But here’s the thing, and this may sound silly but…you know who else has six rings?

Michael Jordan.

Brady is such a competitor, that not only do I think he wants to go down as the best football player to ever play the game, but I think he would LOVE to be considered the best professional athlete we’ve ever seen; and championships tend to hold a lot of weight in that debate. I think Brady will want to stay long enough in this league that he will want to pass Michael Jordan in championship wins. I really do believe that, and not only that, but if he wins a seventh Super Bowl, he will have led the Patriots past the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most Super Bowl wins by a franchise in NFL history. So, not only would he pass Michael Jordan, but he can say that he took the New England Patriots from ZERO to SEVEN Super Bowl Championships, solidifying the New England Patriots as the absolute best NFL team we have ever seen in the history of the league.

Brady and Belichick Will Go Out Together

Not only that, but Brady has said that he wants to play until he’s 45, and when he turns 45, Belichick will be 70. It just makes perfect sense, because I think Brady and Belichick will go out of this league in retirement together.

You see, Brady can’t retire after this season…not yet, because it would totally diminish the philosophy of his TB12 brand – which is compete at the highest level for as long as you can (basically at least). If he retires now, what kind of message does that send from his business perspective?

So, before I give you my final prediction, score, and Super Bowl MVP, let me just run through with you my retirement checklist. Will any of the following players retire after this season?:

Brady? = Hell no. I’d be SHOCKED.

Belichick? = No way. Not yet…he goes when Brady goes.

Gronk? = Yes. I believe this is it for the big fella; whether the Patriots win or not.

Devin McCourty? = HELL YES.

Here’s the thing. I’ve already talked about Brady and Belichick, but let me talk about Gronk for a second. I think this is his last game, because I think he physically is ready to hang them up. His body has endured a lot of injuries in his career, and Gronk is such a big personality that he is very marketable in a lot of other things. One of those things being the entertainment industry. I can see it now…Gronk being one of the 85 featured actors who will be in Expendables 5.

I think the contemplation of retirement and the trade speculation from last season indicated to me that Gronk’s days in New England were certainly numbered, and his career in the NFL would be coming to an end soon.

Gronk Goes Out on a High

Rob Gronkowski has had one hell of a career. A two-time Super Bowl champion with five pro bowl appearances. He has 521 career receptions at tight end, with 7,861 yards, and 79 TDs in nine seasons. You can bet that he will be in the Hall of Fame, and while Gronk may be retiring after this Sunday, he will be going nowhere but up in life.

Oh, and by the way…he’s my pick for Super Bowl MVP. Gronk has been fairly quiet recently, but I think he comes alive in this Super Bowl; especially towards the end of the game. He will get in the end zone at least once on Sunday, and it may come at a very big moment. A tight end has never won the Super Bowl MVP. But hey…why not now?! Gronk will be the first one.

What a way to go out for one of the best tight ends to play this game.

And as for Devin McCourty, all I gotta say are two things: 1). He’s already hinted in a big way that he may retire, and 2). What better way to go out than to go out as a Super Bowl champion…alongside your twin brother, Jason McCourty. What a moment that would be for the McCourty family. So yes…HELL YES McCourty…you finish this thing with your’s and your brother’s hand hoisting the Lombardi trophy together.

So, there you have it folks. The big showdown is here, and I am picking the Patriots in a close one. Enjoy the big game, eat and drink lots, and remember, it’s not “Sportsball” people.

Patriots win 31-27

Super Bowl MVP: Rob Gronkowski          

Matt lives in Newnan, Georgia but was born and raised in Upstate New York. He is a fan of the New York Yankees, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Boston Celtics. At the collegiate level, he is a Notre Dame and Syracuse fan (yeah he can root for both, and what?!) He must, however, find a soccer team to root for. So him out there. All suggestions are welcome. You can catch Matt on the Turf mostly covering NFL, NBA, MLB, College Football and Basketball, and Horse Racing (that is not a typo, he practically grew up on a racetrack). It's nothing's strictly sports.

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