On Feb. 3 in Atlanta, Georgia, the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams will face off in Super Bowl LIII. Seventeen years removed from a Patriots victory in the teams’ last Super Bowl clash, much has changed for the two franchises. The Rams moved back from St. Louis and have made the playoffs only four times since 2002; meanwhile, the Patriots have won four more Super Bowl titles, cementing themselves as one of the greatest sports dynasties of all time.
The two teams’ roads to the Super Bowl are similar: Both won their respective divisions to secure a bye in the first round of the playoffs. The Patriots, 11-5 in the regular season, bested the Los Angeles Chargers in the divisional round and then the Kansas City Chiefs in the conference championship. On the other hand, the Rams went 13-3 in the regular season. They beat the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round and the New Orleans Saints in the conference championship due, in part, to a controversial pass interference non-call late in the game.
In terms of yards per game, the teams are evenly matched on both sides of the ball. Los Angeles is led by quarterback Jared Goff and top receiver Robert Woods, whose connections led the Rams to gain 421.1 yards per game, almost 30 more than the Patriots in the regular season. The Rams also scored 32.9 points a game, nearly six more than the Patriots’ 27.2. On defense, both sides gave up roughly the same number of yards per game, but New England held their opponents to 20.3 points per game compared to the Rams’ 24 points against per game, seventh and 20th in the league, respectively.
One matchup to watch out for throughout the game will take place between the Rams’ defensive line, led by Aaron Donald, against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Donald, the 2017-18 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, put up another strong campaign this season, leading the league with 20.5 sacks. On the other side of the ball, Tom Brady is known for his lightning-quick release, giving pass rushers minimal time to sack or pressure him. If Brady can find his favourite weapons—primarily Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, and James White—quickly, then Donald’s impact will be limited. If not, Brady will be in for a tough fight.
The Rams have the advantage in the running game with star running back Todd Gurley on their side. Gurley has been in the NFL’s top three in rushing yards for the past two seasons, though his recent play is cause for concern. He suffered a slight knee injury in Week 15, which led him to miss the last two weeks of the regular season. Despite returning to rush for over 100 yards in the divisional round, he was limited to just four carries for 10 yards in the conference championship. Rams Head Coach Sean McVay has since said that Gurley played less due to poor performance, but the fear of a nagging injury still remains.
As for the Patriots, running back Sony Michel has rushed for over 100 yards in each playoff game: If he can maintain his strong performance, what once seemed like a clear advantage for L.A. is suddenly far from certain.
Ultimately, Donald and the Rams offense will push the Rams over the Patriots in an exciting affair. Both teams have earned their spots in the NFL’s biggest game of the year and will surely deliver a thrilling contest for fans of football and Maroon 5 alike.