The Super Bowl is tomorrow! Is anyone else as excited as I am?! Of course you are. The most dramatic game in all of sports takes place tomorrow in Atlanta’s beautiful stadium, and for two weeks it’s all a lot of us have thought about.
The Americans have their wing orders ready, people are hurrying and checking their guest lists, getting their “chips” from the store, their beers in, and decking out in their team gear, ready for action. Meanwhile, in the UK, most of us are just lucky to have been able to book the Monday off work, sneaking in naps and hoping that snow doesn’t shut down transportation options ahead of the game, but some are dreading the alarm going off probably two hours after they get to sleep (I had to do that last year – it was not fun).
So, the only question remaining, other than the idea of someone actually picking Maroon 5 to play the Half Time Show, is who wins? So, let’s have a little look at the key match-ups and speculate a little.
Firstly, I know it’s unwise to bet against Tom Brady, and I’m not, but I am willing to bet against that Patriots defence. It is not a good defence.
No, they’ve not been awful throughout most of the playoffs, but let’s also not forget that Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City offence managed to put up 24 points with three minutes of possession in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship game. Three minutes of possession.
They’ve done some things really well through the play-offs, though. They shut down the run against the Chargers and Chiefs, allowing only 19 and 41 yards respectively all game which is great, and they managed to sack Mahomes four times and Rivers twice. They are outstanding numbers, but can they really do that against the Rams? That depends on Todd Gurley‘s health, really. If he’s fully fit he is better than anything they’ve faced so far, and C.J. Anderson is essentially a backfield battering ram. Anderson wears the defence down, and then Gurley exploits it on the outside.
But on top of that, stacking the box to take the run game away exposes the secondary, and the weakness there was definitely available for all to see in that fourth quarter against the Chiefs. Stephon Gilmore is phenomenal, but on the opposite side they have J.C. Jackson and whilst he’s been a great acquisition after going undrafted, he did get a little bit out of his depth in parts of the Chiefs game (and who can complain when you’re so young and being asked to cover Sammy Watkins and Travis Kelce), being drawn in to several P.I. calls, but he is progressing. The kid can play but the odds are he’s going to be shadowing Brandin Cooks a lot in the Bowl, with coverage in the slot on Higbee, and Josh Reynolds peppered in. That’s a big ask of the young DB, but we’ve been shocked by Patriots DBs before, haven’t we?
Offensively, the Patriots are going against Wade Phillips again. He and Bill Belichick have crossed paths a lot over the years in various scenarios, but most notably when Phillips was defensive coordinator for the Broncos in the 2015 AFC Championship game where the Broncos managed to go on and win the Super Bowl. He consistently got to Brady, unsettled him, and forced him to throw in uncomfortable circumstances.
He’s going to take away the run game. That’s his job this year, and with that first round pick-studded line he’s working with that’s absolutely an achievable goal. If you’re forcing Tom Brady to throw 40 or 50 times in a game, you’re giving your ball-hawk corners, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, a chance to make a play on the ball and either getting a turnover or forcing long third downs.
If you allow the Patriots to run the ball they’ll control the clock because these backs don’t fumble. If they can run the ball you’re freeing Brady for play-action, and he could go 25 for 35 and 3 touchdowns if allowed that freedom.
Another key part of the game to watch out for is the potential matchup of Robert Woods and Gilmore. They played together for years at the Bills, and in that, I’m sure they practised against each other a lot. They will know each other’s moves, weaknesses, and strengths intimately, and it could become a deciding factor.
There’s a lot of shared ground between the two teams, and there seems to be a lot of respect between the two sides, even friendships.
The Patriots got some great news with Dont’a Hightower returning to practice, and that leaves both teams with surprisingly injury-free rosters going in to the Super Bowl, with the exception of the Rams and the Patriots missing Cooper Kupp and Isaiah Wynn respectively.
On paper, the Rams are clearly the better team. You cannot argue that. Brady is Brady, and Belichick is Belichick, but I believe there are more opportunities in this game for the Rams than there are for the Patriots.
I’m not a defeatist, but as a Patriots fan this is our biggest and toughest challenge!
I’m exceptionally nervous.