The Rams are going to win. Usually, writers save their picks for the end of the article in order to build suspense and lay out the details. But just like the NFL this year, I’m throwing out conventional rules and saying, “Screw it, I don’t care about you or your team.”
If you don’t understand that joke, watch the last two minutes of both of this year’s Conference Championship games with an NFL rulebook open in your lap. Oh, and try not to tear out the pages in anger.
Anyway, I’m telling you up front that Sean McVay is going to get a few bounces to go his way, and the Los Angeles Rams are going to take home the Lombardi Trophy.
The Rams have Todd Gurley. The Patriots haven’t faced a team with a running game like the Rams in a while, and Sean McVay is going to take full advantage of that. The Rams are going to run it again and again, and when they don’t, it’s going to be a play-action play that opens up the field for Jared Goff to throw one of his Russell Wilson-like floaters to an open receiver.
The Patriots are, of course, led by Wesleyan’s own Bill Belichick ’75, and he is sure to dial up some looks that will confuse Los Angeles on both sides of the ball. But I don’t think Belichick has the arsenal to defeat McVay’s Rams. I’m not saying McVay will out-coach Belichick; I’m saying the Rams are more talented than New England in a lot of positions on the field, and McVay is a smart coach. These two aspects, and maybe a favorable call or two, will propel the Rams to a victory.
This is not an in-depth analysis (nor is much of this article), but let’s think about last year’s Super Bowl, when Doug Pederson’s Philadelphia Eagles beat the Patriots. The Eagles started backup quarterback Nick Foles, who played an exceptional game, winning Philadelphia a much deserved Lombardi Trophy. Before the match, it seemed that without the injured Carson Wentz, Philadelphia’s starting quarterback for much of the year, the Eagles didn’t have much of a shot. But maybe, against a Patriots team that has predictably dominated the NFL year after year, this kind of unpredictability is key.
How do you prepare to play a team in the biggest game of the year if you don’t have substantial film or experience against their game plan? The Pats didn’t have a clue about what backup Nick Foles was going to do, and he torched them.
Here’s more evidence: The Patriots came into Arrowhead Stadium and gave the Kansas City Chiefs nothing but fits in the first half of the AFC Championship game. They had extensive film and gameplan techniques against a young, vulnerable Patrick Mahomes. That planning and anticipation won the Patriots a birth to the Super Bowl.
Sean McVay has something important to realize: You have to throw crazy and new play designs at the Patriots in order to win in big games. Obviously, having an all-time defensive performance helps. Ask Tom Coughlin’s old New York Giants. But the point stands. The Rams need to be prepared to deceive, and once they’ve deceived, they need to run Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson down Belichick’s throat.
Last year, the Philly Special ended the first half of the Super Bowl with a touchdown, something that rarely any team accomplishes against the Patriots. Belichick usually commands the end of the first half before getting the ball back at the beginning of the second, immediately marching down the field to score. This is demoralizing to teams, but last year Philly found a way to combat it by selling out on fourth and goal. With an incredibly impressive special teams unit, Sean McVay is sure to utilize punter Johnny Hekker or kicker Greg Zuerlein in some surprising way.
The Patriots haven’t played a single team this year that plays like the Los Angeles Rams. In addition, the Rams stopped some of the best rushing attacks in the NFL, not once but twice in their past two games. Wade Phillips’ defensive unit is ready for Sony Michel on the ground. Whether or not the Rams are ready for Tom Brady’s short passes to James White out of the back field, I’m not sure. But stopping the run against the Patriots is the key to beating them this year, and the Rams, with Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh on the defensive line, have the experience and personal to do just that.
Give me the Rams over the Patriots: 38-34.
Ben Owen can be reached at email@example.com.