I’ve already won the regular-season picks contest, and victory was clinched in the postseason version when the Patriots proved everyone in the entire world wrong (except the many who believed they’d advance to the Super Bowl) by beating the Chiefs.
But there’s still something special about nailing the Super Bowl pick, and on that MDS and I disagree. Our selections and our reasoning appear below.
MDS’s take: The Patriots have so many advantages. Experience is the obvious one: Bill Belichick has coached in more Super Bowls (including when he was an assistant) than Sean McVay has spent seasons in the NFL. Tom Brady has played in more Super Bowls than the Rams’ entire roster combined. If experience matters in big games, that’s an enormous advantage for the Patriots.
It’s also worth noting that the Patriots seemed to play their best football as the season went on, while the Rams struggled a bit down the stretch. That’s an advantage for the Patriots as well.
However, I believe the Rams have a better team, top to bottom, than the Patriots do. The Rams have an offensive line that should control the game against the Patriots’ defense, while the Rams’ defensive line, led by Aaron Donald, has the ability to take New England out of its offense. With the men upfront leading the way, Los Angeles has the stronger roster.
It was a roster that was built to win this year, with some key offseason moves. After watching everything the Rams did in the offseason, I said before the season that the Rams would beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl, and I’m not going to change that pick now.
MDS’s pick: Rams 30, Patriots 27.
Florio’s take: After the Patriots lost to the Dolphins and Steelers on consecutive Sundays in December, sliding out of one of the top two spots in the AFC, I looked at the remaining schedules for the contenders in the conference and thought, “They have us right where they want us.”
Indeed they did. Seizing on the trumped-up notion that no one believes in them, the Patriots handled their final two regular-season opponents, manhandled the Chargers in the divisional round, and then somehow stickhandled their way past best team in the conference on its own field for a ninth Super Bowl appearance in 18 years.
I (and many others) believed in the team no one believed in because of experience. Eight consecutive trips to the AFC Championship means something when it comes to finding a way to advance. Four Super Bowls in five years means something when it comes to finding a way to win it. And losing the Super Bowl last year definitely helps provide a kick in the pants, too.
The Patriots’ 5-3 record in the Super Bowl since 2001 is downright unpatriotic. They could be 8-0 or 0-8 or anything in between, because every game has been excruciatingly close. They’re due for something different. They’re due for an old-school, boring-ass Super Bowl blowout. And they’re not due to be the team on the wrong side of it.
Many thought the Chargers, who were 9-0 outside of L.A., would go to Gillette Stadium and win. By halftime, it was clear they wouldn’t.
It was clear they wouldn’t because the Patriots methodically scored over and over and over and the Chargers couldn’t match. While the outcome is far easier said than done, the Patriots will strive to duplicate the approach, moving the ball consistently when they have it, scoring touchdowns not field goals, and getting off the field quickly on defense by taking away tailback Todd Gurley and daring quarterback Jared Goff to beat them over the top. Barring another inexplicable decision to leave one of the team’s starting cornerbacks on the sideline for the full game, the Patriots’ defense should be able to handle Brandin Cooks (whom the Pats know very well) and Robert Woods (whom they also know well from his time in Buffalo, where he was a teammate of Patriots All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore).
The Pats will do it offensively by keeping the Rams’ defense guessing, on every play. And that inability to know with a high degree of certainty whether a pass or a run is coming will keep an aggressive group of defenders on their heels, fearful to commit to chasing the quarterback due to the possibility that, on third and five, a running back will run right by them.
Then there are the comments Belichick made last week about Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ system. When Belichick praised Wade for having success with the same defense for more than 30 years, some saw that not as praise but as a clue that Belichick will find a way based on years of tape and tendencies and tells to pick it apart, with running back James White potentially emerging as a key contributor through an underneath passing game that could blow open, given the attention that will be devoted to corralling receiver Julian Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Last year in the Super Bowl, the Patriots didn’t have Edelman. The year before that, they didn’t have Gronk. For the first time since Super Bowl XLIX, they have both. That’s a huge plus for the Patriots.
They also have Tom Brady, perhaps the greatest player at any position in league history. After the epic 28-3 comeback in Super Bowl LI, Brady said he’s at the point where nothing a defense shows him can fool him. Two years later, his legs and arm still youthful enough to do what his brain tells them to do quickly and decisively, the former sixth-rounder’s internal supercomputer has even more data for seeing seven steps ahead of a defense, based on what they’re doing before the ball is snapped, where they finally align, and how they move once the play starts.
Which makes the thought of the Pats losing a second straight Super Bowl not compute. Yes, the end of a generation-plus of football excellence is coming, eventually. But not yet. Not on Sunday.
On Sunday, the Patriots could do to the Rams what so many Super Bowl winners did in the years before we became spoiled by the game being a consistently good one. Here’s hoping it’s not a blowout. Here’s one man’s guess that, unfortunately for the Rams, it will be.
Florio’s pick: Patriots 39, Rams 20.