…the Big Day is finally within sight. The two weeks between the Championship games and the Super Bowl seem like an eternity, no? Well, I suppose it is only that way for the fans of the participant teams anyway. Sorry to you also-rans!
So we all know what happened by now in the Conference Championship games. The Los Angeles Rams stole one from the New Orleans Saints…or did they? And the New England Patriots held off the Kansas City Chiefs.
Back to the Rams. Everyone has been talking like they shouldn’t have beaten the Saints. All because of that non-penalty call on Nickell Robey-Coleman. Sure, it was a penalty. Sure, it should have been called. And sure, the Saints would have been almost able to run out the clock after that.
BUT, everyone seems to forget that New Orleans had a 13-0 lead early on. PLUS, it should have been 17-0, or even 21-0. Are the Rams coming back from that deficit if it occurred? Not so sure about that.
Ok, the Saints couldn’t get to 21-0, so I guess the point is not applicable. But they had several chances to put the game away early on. And didn’t capitalize. So although they did get kind of screwed late, let’s not forget the rest of the game.
As for the Pats, well, that one was an Instant Classic. Their defense dominated early, then Patrick Mahomes started lighting it up all over the place. The Patriots absolutely got a few breaks, but hey, that’s what has happened to them during this Bill Belichick/Tom Brady run. So I think everyone needs to accept it already!
All kidding aside, what a game. But that has been analyzed left and right, top to bottom, so no need to dig down deep on it two weeks later.
Let’s focus on the present…and the immediate future…
New England (-2.5) “at” Los Angeles Rams
Let’s be honest right off the bat. We are not going to sit here and pretend that we watched a ton of Ram football this season. Certainly not any film, breaking down the line play and such. But that doesn’t mean we can’t give some opinions, bogus or not!
We can say at 13-3, it was a helluva a season, sneaking out from the NFC Championship or not. They scored the second most points in the NFL. Explosive. And since they will be playing indoors, that’s something that needs to be noted.
Sean McVay gets all the credit. Boy genius and all that. And he’s good. But I have to tell you that having Wade Phillips as the defensive coordinator on his side kind of scares the bejesus out of me. I heard on the radio this week that the Pats have chewed up Phillips’ defenses on occasion. Unfortunately, I only seem to remember Phillips being able to shut Tom Brady and the New England offense down. Not sure why that is…guess it’s the recurring nightmares…ok, that was a little strong.
But Phillips and his crew do scare me a bit for sure. Aqib Talib is pure gold when he speaks. But he’s pretty f’n good when he’s on the field too. Aaron Donald? No explanation necessary. Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters…there are some names out there. And if they play to their capabilities, it feels like they can dominate. Maybe that’s just me looking at names. But still…
Robey-Coleman? Nah. Brady will look to torch him of course because of his comments earlier in the week…where he called Brady old and all. And maybe Tom will. But if NRC is covering Chris Hogan or Cordarrelle Patterson or Phillip Dorsett, Brady may not be able to take advantage of even that matchup.
Everyone always points to the fact that Bill Belichick has two weeks to prepare for this game and should dominate because he is so much smarter than everyone else. But doesn’t the other team have the two weeks to prepare as well? And what happened last year against the Philadelphia Eagles, when Bill had two weeks to prepare…and somehow thought that Johnson Bademosi and Jordan Richards were better options to have on the field than Malcolm Butler? Yup…
What if Phillips comes up with a great game plan? Maybe put Talib on Rob Gronkowski? Like the Pats did when he was here, putting Aqib on Jimmy Graham. Yeah, Gronk may not be Gronk this year. But he is still dangerous. Wade can come up with something himself in these two weeks.
But here is the twist…I think the Patriots try to run the ball down the Rams’ throat. Just like against the Chiefs. Time of possession. Keep the explosive offense off the field. Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, a little bit of James White and some old fashioned James Develin blocking. Then unleash Brady when appropriate…although hopefully without that brutal interception at the goal line against KC.
Will it work? No idea. But expect a fair amount of those screens to White and Julian Edelman as well. With Aaron Donald poised to wreak some havoc, Brady may not have a ton of time to throw. Then again, the Pats line has played well. Maybe Dante Scarnecchia comes up with another gem.
Although the Pats did not do this nearly as much as I would like this year, I have a feeling we see the hurry-up offense a little more on Sunday. Yes, I did just say I feel like they will try to win time of possession by running the ball, so why the hell would I say that they will hurry up? Welp, doesn’t mean that they won’t run the ball out of the hurry up. I’m just thinking they will try to tire that D-Line out even more…by not allowing them to substitute. Work quickly, but still eat clock. I don’t know, just a gut feeling there.
The Rams may try to run the ball too. Not exactly a Patriot strength. But is Todd Gurley anywhere near 100%? Doesn’t seem it. C.J. Anderson has been nice. But he’s not Gurley. Especially catching balls out of the backfield. Jared Goff will most assuredly go downfield more, but if Gurley is good to go, watch for plenty of short passes to him with the likes of Elandon Roberts trying to cover him. Not ideal.
That being said, my guess is the Pats will let the Rams do what they please with the running backs and prevent guys like Brandin Cooks from getting by them deep.
One more thing to consider: History.
This game will be played 17 years to the day after the Pats won their first Super Bowl against the high flying…St. Louis Rams. Brady can win his sixth Super Bowl. Would be a nice bookend. The Pats can tie the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most wins in Super Bowls. Etc. Food for thought.
Experience? Yeah, it can matter. Talent usually wins out in the end, however. Of course, lack of experience in this setting can make even the best dudes make the wrong decisions in crunch time. Something to think about as well.
The Patriots are playing their “no one respects us” card again. Kind of silly, but whatever works. Hopefully, they are using last year’s Big Game as motivation too. They should be. Throw in the fact that the team could look a little different next year. I know, every team looks a little different each year. And Brady already said there is zero chance he is retiring. But Gronk might. And Devin McCourty threw that word around this week…though I am not sure that is likely. But Dev and guys like Dont’a Hightower do have high cap numbers next year and aren’t the same players. Could they be cut? Trent Brown and Trey Flowers could cash in elsewhere. There could be more turnover than usual next year. And a 42-year-old quarterback that showed some decline this year, whether he wants to admit it or not (yes, I said it).
Some of us have been saying it for a while, but it is appropriate. This really could be the New England Patriots’ “last hurrah”.
I expect they will take advantage of it.
New England 34, Los Angeles Rams 30.
Week (against the spread): 1-1
Week (straight up): 1-1
Season (against the spread): 146-120
Season (straight up): 170-96