Do you believe in the circle of life? The Rams and Patriots will meet in the Super Bowl for the first time since Super Bowl XXXVI in 2001. That was Brady’s first Super Bowl; he beat the then-St. Louis Rams 20-17. So much has changed since then, as Brady, a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer, will appear in his ninth Super Bowl, while the Rams will make their first appearance since moving to Los Angeles.
Both teams will be playing with chips on their shoulders. Everyone felt the Patriots dynasty was over, prior to the start of the playoffs. Everyone outside of L.A. feels the Rams did not earn their stripes.
A Rams win has to start with the ground game, led by Todd Gurley. Gurley himself will look to respond after a disastrous NFC Title game performance in which he was benched after just 10 yards on four carries. As a team the Rams only ran for 77 yards against the Saints, but if L.A. has any desire to hoist the Lombardi trophy, a bounce-back game from Gurley would be exactly what the doctor ordered.
Defensively, the Rams already play mainly man-to-man in the secondary. This coverage can be effective against the Patriots, but only if the defensive line can put constant pressure on Brady. Wade Phillips’s unit, led by Aaron Donald, will have to do everything they can to make Brady as uncomfortable as possible, because even the great Tom Brady can get a little rattled if he is constantly under duress.
On the New England side of things, offensively the Patriots will have to execute a game plan similar to the one they executed against the Chiefs. New England ran 94 plays and held the ball for 43:59, compared to the Chiefs’ 47 plays in just 20:53 of the AFC Championship game. By dominating the time of possession battle, the Patriots were able to keep the Chiefs’ offense from gaining any real rhythm throughout the game. They will likely need to duplicate that effort against an equally explosive but also balanced Rams’ offense. If New England can create a similar ball-dominant attack, and prevent the Rams’ second-best-scoring offense from developing a rhythm early, the Patriots will have a great chance of winning.
Defensively Belichick is the best at taking away the opposition’s best options and forcing their weakest links to step up and beat his Patriots. Looking for weaknesses in this Rams offense will be difficult: thanks to the aggressive and innovative offensive mind of Sean McVay, L.A. has many ways to hurt their opponents.
Because the Patriots have been on this stage before and the Rams haven’t, the most important key for New England is to dominate the first quarter. Because the emotions and adrenaline for the Rams will be through the roof at the start of the game, an early lead for the Patriots could force the Rams into panic mode and cause them to play out of character.
The AFC has won three of the previous four Super Bowls. Funny enough, the Patriots have won two of them, but lost to the Eagles a year ago. Situational football will be a determining key in this game; whoever can convert on third downs and score touchdowns in the red zone will come out victorious.
Knowing the Rams’ lack of experience versus the Patriots’ ninth Super Bowl appearance, the first quarter will be critical for the Rams. Since the current Rams’ roster has not been on this stage before, if they can survive the adrenaline and the nerves of the first quarter, they will be fine. The Rams know people believe they do not belong in Sunday’s big game after the controversy in New Orleans. It will inspire them to play with extra pep in their step, and they will survive early game jitters on their way to bringing their first Super Bowl title to Los Angeles, winning 37-34.