After 20 weeks of some of the most entertaining American football in recent memory, the curtain will fall on the 2018 NFL season. In a year that saw something of an offensive explosion, especially amongst passing offence, this year’s Super Bowl should prove to be a perfect encore to close the book on another memorable season.
The New England Patriots led by a 41-year-old quarterback, Tom Brady, having just completed his 18th season, proved once again that reports of their supposed decline were greatly exaggerated. Brady is competing in his ninth Super Bowl, an NFL record, beating the previous record set by himself last year. Brady is as synonymous with “The Big Game” as the halftime show, holding over 16 individual records and sharing just one other – consecutive appearances with Ken Norton.
The youth and inexperience of Goff and McVay cannot be overlooked; McVay is the youngest coach in Super Bowl history at 32 years old.
It is impossible not to see The Pats as favourites in this matchup, when they went into Arrowhead Stadium and beat the Chiefs, arguably the best team throughout the regular season. Brady, along with head coach Bill Belichick secured their legacy long ago, but should they be successful, and should the silver and blue confetti rain down on the field in Atlanta on February 3, they will have consolidated two decades of dominance in the most competitive sporting league in the world.
Their opponents assume the form of the upstart Los Angeles Rams, led by 24-year-old Jared Goff and head coach Sean McVay. The youth and inexperience of Goff and McVay cannot be overlooked; McVay is the youngest coach in Super Bowl history at 32 years old. Yet the Rams were participants in the most entertaining match of the entire 2018 season, where they squeezed by the Chiefs 54-51 in game-week 12. The Rams will make their second Super Bowl appearance, by virtue of beating the New Orleans Saints in a dramatic comeback that stunned the hosts in the Superdome.
The two teams are so similar yet so different; both quarterbacks are California-born (Goff hails from Novato and Brady from San Mateo), and both idolised San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana (Goff even wears the same number as Montana: 16). Both possess talented high-scoring offences, past and present, and while the Patriots may not seem as lethal in attack as they once were in previous appearances, their victory over Kansas City proved that they are more than a match for the Rams.
For the Rams to have a chance in their first Super Bowl in 17 years, they will have to make sure the Patriots do not control the pace of the game.
For Brady in particular, this may seem like a case of déja vu; his first Super Bowl appearance and victory came against the Rams in 2001, when they were still based in St Louis. The Rams were previously viewed as the greatest offence ever to take to an NFL field, dubbed “the greatest show on turf” due to the artificial playing surface of their home field. The Rams scored 504 points this season, the highest in their conference and third in the league, only bested by the Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers – both teams lost to the Patriots in the playoffs. They also count a dangerous and skilful running-back in Todd Gurley among their ranks, just like they did in 2001 with Marshall Faulk.
For the Rams to have a chance in their first Super Bowl in 17 years, they will have to make sure the Patriots do not control the pace of the game. Their opponents starved the Chiefs of possession and limited Patrick Mahomes’s ability to get his team back into the contest. The Patriots have been excellent in emulating some of the best teams this year in order to beat their opponents. Most notably, they copied Baltimore Ravens’ defence in their Divisional Round victory over the Chargers. The two-headed rushing attack of Todd Gurley and CJ Anderson must be fully utilised and allow Jared Goff to be effective on play-action passes.
For the Patriots, some of their players must avoid getting giddy. The Rams may be a weaker opponent than the Chiefs, or the Philadelphia Eagles (who beat the Patriots in last year’s contest), but they are still dangerous. Brady must avoid risky passes down the sideline against the likes of cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. Finally, the offensive line must show up and keep the Rams’ rampaging defensive tackle, Aaron Donald, at bay.
Making a prediction for this contest is far from easy, as was the case last year. The Rams are far more complete than last year, yet the Patriots have many returning players this year and have an underrated run defence. Either way, make sure to stay up for this year’s Super Bowl, which kicks off Sunday at 11.30pm GMT.