Super Bowl 53 has arrived and we’ve crunched the numbers, reviewed the tape, and consulted our ouija board. Here’s our Super Bowl Prediction!

New England Patriots (-2.5) @ Los Angeles Rams

It is not often that Championship weekend delivers two outstanding games, that are close throughout and each have plenty of calls to digest and examine, not to mention a pair of overtime contests.  But thanks to impressive road wins by the Patriots and Rams, we have a rematch of one of the classic Super Bowl games of all-time.  And what a coincidence.  Will the Patriots dynasty hit its climax against the team it began with?  Or will the upstart, young and unproven Rams make it two straight wins against lock Hall of Fame QB’s as underdogs?

The first key to the game is fairly obvious.

Which Todd Gurley will we see?  The reigning NFL MVP or the back that was benched in favor of CJ Anderson in the conference title game? Are we going to see arguably the best dual-purpose back in the league or the player that saw balls skid off his hands in the NFC Title game which resulted in Interceptions?  If someone knows that answer, care sharing?

The Gurley story line is quite intriguing

While he has struggled, Anderson has emerged.  Where would the Rams be without Anderson’s play down the stretch/in the first few rounds of the playoffs?  And remember, Anderson, from his playing days with the Broncos, has plenty of experience playing in big games against the Patriots (he had a walk off TD run in OT during the Brock Osweiler era against the Patriots).  But one must assume that with two weeks off to rest, Gurley will be ready to go and not just be a glorified decoy.  Given the Pats inability at times to cover receivers out of the backfield (Kareem Hunt, D. Williams, Kenyan Drake come to mind), Gurley is an essential weapon for the Rams to succeed when they possess the ball.

Then you have the boy wonders Sean McVay and Jared Goff.  Can the boy wonder and his rifle-armed QB overcome the Patriots with two weeks to prepare?  Remember something.  In the Patriots three Super Bowl losses, they were up against veteran quarterbacks, who had each gone through plenty of high and lows.  Eli Manning had seen it all at that point in his career, while Nick Foles knew that was potentially his last chance.  Of course, Goff may come out and not be phased, however if the first quarter+ of the NFC Title game showed us anything, he may be a bit antsy once he steps out on the field.  But given what he has already overcome so soon into his career (being labeled a bust), Goff seems to have the mentality to thrive.

Flipping the script, how can the Patriots yet again turn back the clock and dominate against a D-Line of Donald and Suh?  Assuming the secondary and Wade Phillips plays plenty of press coverage at the line, will Brady have enough time to adjust with those beasts chasing him down?  The line kept Brady clean through the majority of the AFC Title game and has also stepped up their play in the latter half of the season.

Then you have the Patriots versatility on offense and the change in philosophy they have shown from recent memory.  If you recall, in the Patriots first Super Bowl against the Rams, it was about ball control, playing smart, avoiding mistakes and relying on the defense.  People forget how the Patriots were much more of a ground and pound offense than the Brady “air it out” crew they evolved into.

Fast-forward through the Deion Branch/David Givens/Troy Brown/Randy Moss/Aaron Hernandez/Danny Amendola/Rob Gronkowski era, where they had a solid running game, but one that could be considered complimentary and now, when you include the skill set of a James White and Rex Burkhead, is truly the oil that makes this tank run.  With Sony Michel leading the way, the offensive line has dominated the opponent and led to Michel having a breakout rookie season.  Given how poor the Rams were in the regular season against the run, that has to be the Pats mentality.  Get the ground game going and open up the play-action passing game for Brady.

And when it comes to Brady, this truly may be the most he has ever done with so little.  Yes, Edelman may be the Patriots “1” receiver, but he is not a “1” receiver.  Gronk is surely no Gronk, while Hogan, Dorsett and Patterson are Free Agent signings/Minor trade pieces that simply play their part.  And given two weeks to rest, not to mention this may being a game where win or loss it is his last, can/will Gronk empty the tank and give us one last vintage performance?  And as shown in the title game against the Chiefs, Gronk is more than just the pass-catching, red-zone weapon.  His skills as a blocker are unparalleled as a Tight End.  He is an extra lineman and allows the Patriots to utilize him either way, while adding another skill player on the field and keeping Dwayne Allen off it.  That is a major advantage for the Pats.

But at the end of the day, what pulls me in the Patriots direction when making a pick on the game is the small line, -2.5.  The Patriots always, without fail, play close Super Bowls.  Rams, Panthers, Eagles, all 3 point wins.  The first Giants game, a 3 point loss, followed by a 4 point loss.  Then a 4 point win against the Seahawks and a miracle 6 point win (and cover) against the Falcons. And of course last years “blowout”, an 8 point loss to the Eagles, which if not for the strip sack of Brady late in the 4th quarter, may have been another 3 point victory.   Then there are the Rams, who started off red-hot, went a big sluggish following the loss of Cooper Kupp, got right at the end of the season playing against their mediocre division, then looked solid against the Cowboys and Saints in the NFC Playoffs.  And when breaking down the game, I see some distinct advantages:

Coaching:

McVay is clearly brilliant.  He knows his stuff.  His attention to detail and level of preparation is probably only surpassed by that of Mr. Billy B on the other sideline.  But is the moment going to be too big?  Is he prepared with everything the Pats will throw at him.  Being in a 9th Super Bowl is a distinct advantage here, so I lean the Pats.

Special Teams:

Kicking in the Super Bowl is not like kicking in Week 17 against the Cardinals.  Just ask Stephen Gostkowski, who has missed kicks in AFC Title games and in Super Bowls.  Just ask Adam Vinatieri, who before his game winner against the Panthers, had missed two kicks (one blocked), earlier in that game.  Is Greg the leg ready? Is he healthy?  And when you have a veteran like Matthew Slater and an explosive veteran like Cordarelle Patterson back on kick offs, you are in good hands.  Thus, I like the Pats edge there as well.

Knucklehead Factor:

This is not something you would think about regularly, but think about this.  If one of the teams was going to mouth off, be a bit more aggressive, maybe do/act in a way that may result in a game changing penalty, which one would it be?  One with Suh and Talib or one with Hightower, McCourty, Gilmore?  We know the history of Talib and Suh.  Their discretions, behavior and immaturity.  Whose to stay they do not get riled up/frustrated and lash out?  The Rams are also more likely to have a play or two that is a head-scratcher.  A why would you do that?  The Patriots don’t often make mental mistakes.  Yes, Brady had a safety throwing the ball to no one in the 2nd Super Bowl against the Giants, but hey, that is 9 games and that is the one I recall.  Again, nothing major, but maybe just enough to sway the game a tad.

Quarterbacks:

I am sorry.  Goff was a top pick and Brady is 107 years old. One is in his 4th playoff game, while the other is in his 4th Super Bowl in 6 years.  You cannot choose Goff or Brady, so with everything on the table, give me Brady.

RB’s:

Gurley is an MVP.  Michel, is solid.  Clearly, the advantage goes to the Rams, but what if Gurley is not 100%?  What if Anderson is needed much like he was the last few weeks.  Still, advantage Rams.

WR’s and TE’s:

While I love the skill set of Woods and Cooks, Edelman is fearless and one of the most clutch receivers in recent memory.  Than take into account Gronk vs. Everett.  Even THIS Gronk.  A better blocker, receiver and a complete mismatch.  Give me the Gronk that can empty the tank one last time.  And last time I checked, Patterson, Dorsett and Hogan have all made substantial impacts in either these playoffs or in huge moments with the team.  Pats again.

Defense:

Clearly an advantage for the Rams.  But how much?  Lack of experience, Pats with 2 weeks to prepare for the Rams O and the Pats O-Line that man-handled the Chiefs.  I do love the Rams having the best defensive player in the game, a lock down corner (two actually) and Suh.  So while the advantage is there for the Rams, given how the Patriots shut down Mahomes and that offense, this to me gets closer to an even score.

Overall:

Given everything above and everything in my head, this is the Patriots game to lose.  Can they really lose two in a row?  With how they slowed down the Chiefs on the road, why would they not be able to slow down a worse offense in the Rams?  They accounted for the pressure the Chiefs tossed at them, not to mention the fact they are a team that just does not usually make mistakes (unless on a last second play in Miami).  On the Rams side, is Goff going to make enough plays in crunch time?  Can they play with the lead?  Is Gurley healthy?  Can they make enough plays with Woods and Cooks in the passing game?  Who is going to stop Gronk?

To me, there are more questions on the Rams end than the Pats.  But that could have been said last year against the Eagles as well.  But if the Patriots learned anything from last year, it would be to not overlook what may appear to be a lesser opponent.  In this case, the Rams are not.

They were the class of the league for the majority of the season and if not for the shootout loss to the Saints, would have been a top seed.  Not a team that you think is a fluke or got hot at the right time.  And with the Patriots, they are not a squad they would overlook.

There will be points, big plays, two solid rushing attacks and certainly some storylines to talk about for years.  But in the end, Brady makes the plays Goff cannot and the Patriots get title #6

Final Score!

Prediction: Patriots 31-23