Super Bowl Preview

I don’t know why this Super Bowl feels underwhelming.  It’s a good matchup; we could see a lot of points, or not a lot at all considering that we might have a quarterback matchup that could produce some mistakes (more on that later).  But something feels off.

Maybe it’s because one team probably shouldn’t be here, and the team that should have been might be the best in football.  Or maybe it’s because Championship Weekend was just too perfect in terms of the competitiveness and quality of the games, and even though Sunday’s the Super Bowl, no game could get better than what we saw two weeks ago.

Or maybe it’s just a personal thing.  Maybe it’s because this is the first Super Bowl I can remember not being with my family for.  Maybe it’s because college is kicking my absolute butt right now, and I haven’t had time to sift through Twitter and just take in the fact that it is Super Bowl week.  Or maybe it’s because the NBA lost it’s freaking mind this week, especially so yesterday and today.

But just because all of this is true doesn’t mean Sunday can’t be great.  Sure, it’s a little cringe-worthy we’re two days from game-day and we’re still debating about who should actually be playing in the game, but hey, that’s just more press for the wonderfully-ran National Football League during its biggest week of the year!  It’s not like they’ve mishandled anything during this week before!

Alright, alright.  Enough crapping on the league.  Let’s get to the game.

In terms of the matchups and schemes, some serious parallels can be drawn to last year’s Super Bowl, where New England succumbed to Nick Foles and the Eagles (An outcome that somehow made more sense after this season, with Philadelphia looking like crap with Carson Wentz starting and playing like the Super Bowl Champs with Foles starting) due to Foles picking apart the Patriots defense and the Eagles’ stepping up, forcing the greatest quarterback ever into one of the greatest mistakes ever made.

The Patriots aren’t nearly as bad defensively this season as they were last.  New England was 32nd in Defensive DVOA last year.  They were last in the league and made the Super Bowl.  This season, they’re back up to 11th, an impressive turnaround.  The defense wasn’t really why New England was losing games and had their crap stretch of the season; it had more to do with the ploy Tom Brady and the rest of the team put on the league by pulling a Warriors-like “We’re just going to take this one off” type of season.  They’re so good they don’t have to try.  Football’s not nearly as forgiving as basketball is due to the limited amount of games, but the Patriots pulled it off flawlessly, finishing at the classic 11-5 mark.

This defensive step-up is bad news for Jared Goff, who is similar to Foles in this situation.  Goff is somewhere between above average and good when it comes to his overall skill, and is appearing in the Big Game for the first time against one of the NFL’s all-time teams.  Him and Foles are in incredibly similar spots.  The biggest difference is that while Foles hadn’t exactly had the big game spotlight before last year’s playoffs either, Goff has less experience overall than Foles.  Goff is 24 and is about to complete his 3rd year as a NFL starter.  Foles was 29 and had almost six seasons under his belt before stepping into the spotlight.

But Goff doesn’t have the bag of nerves attached to him.  While he may not ever be the most perfectly rounded QB, it never feels like Goff is going to screw up in a big way.  Prior to last season’s run, we felt that way about Foles.  You just didn’t trust him.

A lot of that trust in Goff is due to his head coach, Sean McVay.  McVay has gotten ridiculous production out of anyone he’s asked for from it.  CJ Anderson, a former Broncos outcast who was everyone’s projected breakout player every year for three seasons is running at the same level or even better than Todd Gurley is.  Josh Reynolds has replaced Cooper Kupp, whose season ended on a torn ACL in Week 10, with what feels like no consequences lately (At first, very much so).

McVay’s high-powered offensive scheme allows Goff to rely on his weapons.  Todd Gurley, Anderson, Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Reynolds and Gerald Everett are all there for Goff to work with.

New England’s defense has substantially improved.  They don’t win 11 games this season without it.  But throughout these playoffs, it feels like we could have begun to overrate it a bit, which is dangerous when facing an offense that’s this devastating.

The Patriots got a little lucky against the Chargers in the Divisional Round.  Los Angeles stupidly came out aggressive, trying to throw the ball downfield in the frigid New England air and essentially gave possessions away that way.  Brady went back into Brady mode, proving us all wrong and forcing everyone to pick them to make the Super Bowl.  That game was much more about what LA did wrong offensively rather than what the Patriots did right defensively.

The Chiefs model (I think it’s actually better) the Rams’ scheme the closest to anyone to in the league.  It features attacks downfield while also relying on a running game.  Skill position players are used to their strengths, and the roster is equipped with guys who have every strength and skill you can possibly have offensively.  Need someone to create in space out of the backfield?  Need a deep threat?  Want to get absolutely toasted downfield?  The Chiefs, and the Rams, have you covered.

Once again, it wasn’t really New England’s defense that gave them the early lead against Kansas City.  Patrick Mahomes was rattled early on, leading to a failed capitalization on a Brady interception and a 14-0 lead.  Then KC found themselves and went to work.  Those ever-s0-skilled position players did their thing.  KC scored almost every single time the rest of the game.  All that mattered was that Brady could answer.  He did.

Sure, if the Patriots were able to survive the Chiefs, the most explosive offense in the league, then they should be able to get ahold of the Rams, right?

The Rams bring a bit more diversity than KC did.  After the Kareem Hunt departure, KC lacked that lead back who they could feed.  They relied on a cache of guys, none of whom were ever going to grind you down.  They all had speciality uses.

The Rams are different because they have two running backs who can serve as that lead guy and as speciality guys (Having Todd Gurley be a speciality guy is a sickening thinking experiment about how good this offense is).  Though he hasn’t looked his best lately, Todd Gurley is still Todd Gurley, and CJ Anderson is like that one pitcher who just gets hot for three series and leads his team to the Fall Classic (Things like that just isn’t supposed to happen in football).  The Rams can use either of these guys as open field weapons or as up-the-gut runners.  That means whenever they’re used, you’re dealing with fresh legs.

Then LA throws at you Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods.  Cooks is a speedster who can run any short-to-intermediate route and he’ll be open, simply due to his gust of beating guys off the line.  Woods was used incredibly incorrectly against the Saints, as McVay strangely kept trying to throw him screens instead of Cooks, but serves a downfield threat the Patriots have to put one of their safeties on.

The Patriots didn’t exactly have to worry about the Chiefs offensively though because they knew the offense had their back.  For New England, they need Sunday to work the same way.

In what was clearly an effort to protect and conserve Brady, the Patriots have adapted a power running scheme since the last month of the regular season.  Sony Michel worked through his early season struggles and is running hard, a style of play that’s not necessarily accustom to him.  At Georgia, Michel was the speedster compliment to Nick Chubb.  Now, he’s a like a mix of his classic self and Chubb.  New England has no problems rushing Michel up the A and B gaps, and he’s made that a non-issue.  Against the Chargers, he torched a top ten run defense by DVOA by running and hitting holes hard.  He was patient behind the line of scrimmage as well.

The Rams defense is complicated.  The stats identify them to be the complete opposite of the eye test.  DVOA ranks them 28th against the run and 9th against the pass.  But, the Rams have continually blown coverages throughout the season; everyone from Marcus Peters to LaMarcus Joyner.  Brady, who’s back to looking like Brady, should be able to pick them apart.

That’s good news, because there’s a serious chance the Rams wreck havoc up front.  LA stopped Ezekiel Elliot in his tracks in the Divisional Round, ending the running back’s insane hot streak to close out the season.

The Rams then did the same to the Saints in the Championship Round.  Granted, New Orleans was locked in on attacking the Rams secondary, as they only had 21 attempted rushes as a team, but LA stuffed both Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram.  Ingram had eight carries for 31 yards, while Kamara only gained 15 on one fewer carry.

The Rams defensive front is hot right now, and they’ve shut down every hot opposing run game.  The Patriots are another one standing in their tracks.

If the Pats run game is shut down and the Rams are able to score in whatever fashion on the defense, then it’s going to be up to Brady and Belichick.

Good luck to the Rams if that’s the case.

That’s essentially what this game comes down to.  Brady’s going to have to… step up?  Is that the right terminology here?  Is it really possible for Brady to elevate any higher?

Brady is going to have to deliver.  After watching what he’s done the past two weeks, and after seeing him fake-look like a shell of his former self, there shouldn’t be any doubt that won’t happen.

But that also means that how last year’s Super Bowl ended can’t happen again.  Or that the Rams skill up front can’t create the impact that those old Giants teams did.

Like last season, this Super Bowl feels like one that’s going to come down to a crucial turnover.  One that punishes the team who doesn’t score that one time to the point where the game is put out of reach.

In a season where offense has become everything, the Super Bowl perfectly reflects that.  Stops are going to go a large distance.  Turnovers even farther.  One quarterback is too good and other is too explosive thanks to his surrounding cast.

That monumental mistake could come from either side.  It could come from Goff’s because he’s young and inexperienced, and isn’t exactly the best QB in the world to start with.  It could come from Brady’s due to the talent and skill that’s relentlessly coming for him all game, or because last season proved that in a big moment, Brady is actually human.

This game figures to feature a lot of points.  In those type of games, you always take the better quarterback.  That’s the guy who’s less likely to screw up.

That’s Brady.  And there’s no debate about that.

Prediction: Patriots-33  Rams-27