YOU HAVE loaded your nachos with a mountain of sauces, spiced the chicken wings and arranged a decadent banquet of chocolate, sweets and crisps. You’re all set.
Then the action starts and your mates are left baffled. Except you’re not, because you’ve read this preview – this is your moment.
The conversation starter
Sport has a funny way of coming full circle. In 2002, Tom Brady truly announced himself. Just two years into his career and at his first Super Bowl, the unfancied quarter-back conspired with New England Patriots’ head-coach Bill Belichick to upset the favourites – the St. Louis Rams.
A dynasty was born: Brady lifted The Lombardi Trophy five times in eight Super Bowl appearances.
The Patriots soared, but the Rams buckled. In the 15 years since, they have become serial under-performers. A move back to Los Angeles in 2016 initially failed to inspire, but a radical appointment in Sean McVay – then 30 years old – provided a drastic change in fortune.
Now, the Rams are back in the big time with third-year quarter-back Jarred Goff against a Patriots team jam-packed with experience of winning on the biggest stage.
The prologue fits the bill; but will the denouement mirror history and kick-start a new dynasty?
New England Patriots – Team debrief
Like the greatest teams in sport, the Patriots know when to come alive and shift gear. The greatest illustration being Super Bowl LI – two years ago – when the Patriots overhauled a 25-point deficit with just 23 minutes left in regulation time. The closest comparison with soccer would be Liverpool’s monumental fight back against AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League Final.
After averaging 27 points during the season, the Patriots have averaged a massive 39 points in the post-season. Their Divisional Round clash with the LA Chargers was over before the third quarter. The AFC Conference Title match-up with the Kansas City Chiefs saw them quiet a fervent home crowd and win in over-time – as soon as the Patriots won the toss for first possession in over-time, it was never really in doubt.
At 41, Brady has been accused of being past it, but you only have to watch the way he commanded and led the Patriots’ over-time drive in the AFC Conference game to know how wrong this is. Yet a quarter-back is nothing without potent weapons. Sony Michael, running back, has five rushing touch-downs in the play-offs and has relieved the pressure on Brady’s passing game. Taking 16 catches for 247 yards in the post-season, wide-receiver Julian Edelman has been Brady’s main outlet and won’t be fazed by a Rams’ defence known for their aggressiveness. Goff’s effectiveness when under pressure weakens and so defensive end Trey Flowers has the power to diminish the Rams’ attack.
Los Angeles Rams – Team debrief
Swashbuckling, daring and exciting, the Rams’ offense has lit up the NFL.
The brains behind the Rams revival is the ebullient McVay; a fiercely intelligent head-coach who devises play-schemes in his sleep. The Rams spent big this summer and it paid off. They bought in old heads – Ndamukong Suh and John Sullivan – to complement the youthful verve throughout their team.
The play-offs are unfamiliar territory for McVay and the Rams and they haven’t quite cut the same purposeful unit as they did in in regulation season. Still, a 30-22 win against the Dallas Cowboys shouldn’t be dismissed; more so, their dramatic NFC Title win against the Saints, which was mired in controversy. The Saints hadn’t lost in 10 play-off games at home.
Despite the influx of experience, there’s a stark difference with the Patriots: just four Rams have played in the Super Bowl before, whereas the Patriots boast 38.
The arduous journey to perfection will be pursued by many. But only one will prevail.
The Road to the Super Bowl.
Narrated by Dick Vermeil. pic.twitter.com/IQVnYuUwzi
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) January 31, 2019
The Patriots will try to stifle the Rams’ running game in the same manner the New Orleans Saints did in the NFC Conference game. It means Super Bowl success may rest on Goff’s shoulders. The 24-year-old is productive but relies heavily on communication with McVay and lacks ingenuity when under pressure. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald led the NFL with 21 sacks – bringing down the quarter-back – and his power and craft could see him evade Brady’s protection. Robert Woods is Goff’s preferred target and his darting runs could prove vital.
And if your mates ask for a prediction? Play a politician’s game and fudge it. All you need to know is there will be points and it will be exciting.