The Wildcard Previews Super Bowl LIII

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This is not the Super Bowl that the people demanded. Saints against Chiefs would have had everything this matchup has but with a smile on top. Instead we’ve got the evil twin matchup of that which is the Los Angeles Rams against the New England Patriots, it’s basically a flashback to Lakers vs Celtics in the NBA all those times. Who really wants to see that? At least the Rams are new to LA and lacking in that unbearable Lakers sizzle. The Patriots, on the other hand, are the preferred gridiron team of Satan himself and the opportunity to watch Tom Brady potentially squeeze another ring onto his famous hands (he’ll need both of them) is about as enticing as pouring acid directly into my eyeballs. In fact I’d argue those two prospects are equally painful.

So I s’pose we’d better all cheer for the Rams then. Which is okay, I can make that work. The Los Angeles Rams have a lot going for them after all. It wasn’t that long ago that they were the perennial 7-9 team, Jeff Fischer weaving his anti-magic there. Including the 2012 season when they went 7-8-1, they had four seven-win seasons out of six before moving from St Louis to Los Angeles in 2016 and at 4-9 and with the possibility still there of Coach Fischer guiding them to mediocrity once again… they jumped the gun and sacked the poor fella.

In 2017 they figured they’d switch it up and hired Sean McVay who became the youngest NFL head coach in history at just 30 years old. Fast forward a couple years and he’s about to be the youngest ever head coach in the Super Bowl. He’s turned Jared Goff and Todd Gurley from confusingly unproductive prospects to absolute stars of the game with his immensely creative play scheming and positive mentality. Boosted by having two superstars on rookie contracts, the Rams had plenty of spare cash to go after defensive excellence, locking down folks like Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib and re-signing the incomparable Aaron Donald. I mean, that bloke had 20.5 sacks this season. He’s a defensive tackle. He’s not coming round the edges, he’s bringing pressure straight up the middle and wreaking havoc with the league’s leading tally for 2018. That’s incredible. If’s he’s not DPOY then I don’t know what else to say (we’ll find out Sunday arvo, the day before the Super Bowl).

The Rams also boast a rather excellent offensive line – in fact it’s that O-Line which deserves a lot of the credit for what they do, for why Gurley is also finding himself skipping past the first defender almost every time (at least it feels that way). There are legit commentators out there on the soap boxes saying that the Rams have the greatest rush-blocking unit the game has ever seen. I shan’t join such ranks, particularly not as a Cowboys fan who saw their damn near perfect O-Line of a few years ago… but I will add that scheme has a lot to do with it all.

Todd Gurley screwed me over in the back half of the season by cooling off from his historic scoring pace through the first eight games. I was counting down in my previews each week whether he’d crack the records for TDs and Scrimmage Yards but then he chilled off and then injury meant he didn’t even play the last two games. In came CJ Anderson and, guess what, he was just as good. Now they’re splitting snaps in the playoffs. That goes beyond great O-Line play and gets into Sean McVay’s brilliance again. Watch closely on Monday, he’ll be bringing the whole playbook out with the championship on the line. The movement they have, the shapes they set up in… it’s all designed to create separation for receivers and holes for running backs and they honestly do it better than anyone else.

The annoying part of that is Sean McVay has been raised up into this cult-like figure representing the future of NFL coaching where, as the NFL Twitter joke goes, all you have to do to secure an NFL head coaching interview nowadays is demonstrate a single interaction you once had with McVay. But, like, fair play to the bloke. He’s gotten his team to the Super Bowl and has genuinely built upon winning Coach of the Year in his first season by getting even better in the next. The Rams were 8-0 before getting outshot by the New Orleans Saints in week nine, losing 45-35, and they’d also go on to lose to the Bears and Eagles, denting their clear favourite status along the way. But Goff and the lads got revenge on the Saints in the Conference Championship in overtime (after deservedly beating Dallas 30-22 in an entertaining and competitive divisional game) and here they are. Although… let’s just say the Saints weren’t too happy with losing on the back of the Worst Call in NFL History (tm).

As for the New England Patriots, they’re not even good. Honestly, mate, this was the worst they’ve looked in at least a few years. Rob Gronkowski, who is probably about to retire and embark upon a Hollywood action man career which I am all here for if it happens, has been a shadow of himself. The Josh Gordon thing was supposed to give them the offensive weapon they desperately needed but it didn’t work out quite as planned (although, at the same time, it worked out exactly as expected). Their defence has stopped bending and started breaking with zero pass rush to speak of (give or take Trey Flowers, tbf). They don’t have an above average running back to depend upon. Tom Brady was the only offensive positional player to start more than 12 games as injuries struck. Bloody useless, aye?

And yet like those pesky weeds in the garden, you think you’ve seen the end of them and then you wake up one morning and there they all are as if they never left. The Patriots just find a way, as always. I’m going to continue to be bitter about it and say that the way things panned out in the AFC was extremely helpful to them. The Jaguars beat them up in week two then fell off a cliff. The Steelers also managed to implode, timing their destruction for the home stretch as they only won once in the five games between weeks 12 and 16 to miss the playoffs entirely… that win coming against the Patriots. Don’t even get me started on the rest of the AFC East either, bunch of losers.

But only a truly cold-hearted person could deny Tom Brady’s greatness, and Bill Belichick’s greatness, as the Patriots built yet another magnificent offensive line (two of the best going head to head this season) – well aware of the key to any functioning and dependable offence in the modern game… geez, Belichick must know Sean McVay!

They also did the usual thing of taking solid role players and getting the absolute best out of them like they do every season and come the playoffs they flexed all the experience those blokes have built up and learned from as they blew out Philip Rivers and the Chargers early and held off the Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs late on their way to the big show. Two incredible quarterbacks who had incredible seasons, also two guys on two franchises who/which aren’t really accustomed to tasting victories in the playoffs.

Which means that basically we went through five months of gridiron action, uncountable dramas and untouchable entertainment, and in the end the New England Patriots ended up where they always do. There really is no substitute for having been there, done that all before.

Rightio then, who wins?

Man, I dunno, why am I asking me that? I could legit see an eventuality where the Rams come out and just crush them, too fast and too clever even for the Patriots. Put three scores on them in the first quarter and hold them at arm’s length the rest of the way. The Rams have done it to plenty others. There’d be a second half comeback from the Pats, there always is, but this time in Atlanta unlike when they played Atlanta the Rams would keep on methodically scoring points to leave with the trophy.

But then another part of me also thinks that saying that is underestimating what the Patriots have done in their last two playoff games to get here… because I could have said the same about each of those games too.

I’m not going to make a prediction. I’ll just say that it’d be nice if Tom Brady finally lost a Super Bowl to somebody other than Eli Manning. Old fella’s got enough rings already and the Rams have been the best team for most of the season. That’s not a prediction though… that’s a prayer.

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