By Norm Elrod
(CBSLA/CBS Local) — The 2018-19 NFL season all comes down to Super Bowl LIII, between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams. The legendary quarterback-coach pairing of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will try to add the Patriots’ sixth Lombardi trophy to the trophy case. Their first came at Super Bowl XXXVI way back in 2002, against the Rams, then from St. Louis. Today’s Los Angeles version of the Rams is led by young quarterback Jared Goff and young coach Sean McVay, who will be looking to cap an impressive season with the organization’s second Super Bowl title.
The Patriots have gelled in the last part of the season and into the playoffs. Issues that dogged them early on — their 41-year-old quarterback’s arm strength, the lack of downfield threats, a suspect defense — haven’t derailed them. In fact, they haven’t appeared to be issues at all. Belichick has once again crafted a scheme to create a winner out of the talent he has available. Win or lose Sunday, he’s still the greatest coach ever.
The Patriots offense, which focuses on runs between the tackles and short play-action, is humming. The offensive line is moving bodies up front, and holding off pass rushers enough to keep Brady upright. Sony Michel has emerged as a workhorse, amassing 53 carries, 242 yards and five touchdowns in two playoff games. Julian Edelman has hauled in 16 catches for 247 yards. And Tom Brady has put the ball where it needs to go, completing 64 of his 90 attempts for 691 yards.
The defense might be the biggest surprise, slowing down the high-powered attacks of the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs. In their win over the Chargers, the unit allowed a paltry seven first-half points, essentially ending the game by halftime. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs were kept at bay for three quarters, before their offensive onslaught forced the game into overtime.
The Rams probably have the better team in terms of talent. Of course, they had the better team in their last Super Bowl meeting with the Patriots — the first win of the Patriots dynasty — and that didn’t matter. Jared Goff is a serviceable passer, but this offense flows through Todd Gurley and, lately, C.J. Anderson. The Rams’ two-headed rushing attack looked unstoppable in the divisional round against the Dallas Cowboys, with both going over 100 yards. But their 54 yards seemed pedestrian against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship. The running game, when it’s working, opens up the downfield passing game. And Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods can certainly torch a defense if given an opening.
The Rams defense is tough along the line, where Aaron Donald continues to terrorize quarterbacks. Brady recently suggested Donald should be considered among the best ever at has position, and not as a fawning pregame psych out either. But the defense softens up in the secondary. Aqib Talib has had success against Brady over the years, but can he do enough to slow the efficient Patriots attack?
Super Bowl LIII will be won and lost between the tackles, like football games often are. The Patriots will double-team Donald all day in an attempt to neutralize him, leaving opportunities for Ndamukong Suh to cause havoc. The Patriots offensive line will create enough traction in the run game to free up the short routes to Edelman. And Brady won’t have the ball in his hands long enough for the vaunted Rams pass rush to reach him.
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots defense will get to Goff. Gurley claims to be healthy, but he sure didn’t look it against the Saints. Anderson has been a revelation for the Rams, but he can’t carry this offense. He’ll get some help from the downfield passing game, but it won’t be enough to keep pace with a Patriots offense that will continue to put up points.
The Patriots will win their sixth Super Bowl in a high-scoring game that isn’t as close as the final score might indicate. SportsLine analyst Tom Fornelli makes some similar points:
Every bone in my body is telling me to take the Rams and the points in this game, but I just can’t do it. Count me amongst the public in this game, because I think that Bill Belichick will take away the Rams rushing attack in this game and force Jared Goff to beat him. Goff’s capable of doing it, but not often enough to warrant taking the Rams and the points. The Patriots OL will neutralize Aaron Donald and the Rams pass rush, giving Tom Brady all the time he needs to find whichever Patriots receiver the Rams are leaving open, and he’ll pick them apart like he picks everybody apart.
Which side has all the value in Super Bowl LIII? SportsLine’s advanced computer model is 7-3 ATS in the 2019 playoffs and has simulated Rams vs. Patriots 10,000 times.