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Chief Thoughts: 9 keys to Super Bowl 53 between the Patriots and Rams

Thoughts on Patriots vs Rams 2.0.

NFL: Super Bowl LIII-Opening Night Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Flores has a brother with autism. He grew up so poor that making just less than twenty thousand, even after he sent some money home to his family, felt like being rich. This week Flores is preparing for the Super Bowl. His mother won’t be there to watch him. She has inoperable brain cancer. She gave up treatment three weeks ago and has been on hospice ever since. But she will be watching the game. And God willing she will get to see the boy she effectively raised as a single mother become a Super Bowl champion.

Let’s get started.

Key Pivots

When I use the word “key pivot” I mean the performances I believe will have the greatest chance of having a major impact. The key here is the phrase “greatest chance”. For example, the Rams have one of the best offensive lines in football. If they were bad across the board it would be devastating for the Rams but it is not very probable.

Patriots: Tom Brady

The GOAT may not be at the height of his powers but he certainly is at the height of his clutch. If this game becomes really close I think we all know who our money is on. The GOAT is and always will be a pivot for this team.

Rams: Offensive Line Domination

The Rams have the best offensive line in football. This presents a big problem for the Patriots defensive line. New England beat the crap out of the Chargers offensive line; I predicted that. The Chargers’ line was one of the worst in football and the Patriots showed earlier in the season they were capable of beating up on bad offensive lines. They also were surprisingly successful against the Chiefs, particularly in regards to pressure up the middle. Now awaits a different kind of challenge, though.

Jared Goff is one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks when given a clean pocket. If the Patriots are forced to rely solely on the occasional unexpected blitz they are going to be in for an extremely long night. But the danger doesn’t stop there. New England is not good against the run. That has not been terribly relevant as they have mowed through two pass-happy offenses with significant early leads. But if the Rams are able to jump out to an early lead of their own or keep pace with the Patriots, the league’s best run blocking unit in the NFL could become a nightmare as L.A. turns the Patriots’ own strategy against them.

The biggest adjustment from Sean McVay throughout these playoffs has been the patience to rely on the running game to win games and it has gotten him and his team to a Super Bowl. I like this strategy to continue on Sunday. This is the most likely pivot for the Rams and why I have it listed first.

Patriots: Offensive Line Domination

Yep, the Patriots’ most likely pivot is the exact same as the Rams’. The Patriot offensive line has been dominant for four straight weeks on the ground and has played two of its best games in the playoffs against some of the stiffest competition. We will get to the Rams’ front seven in a moment but I see little evidence that the Patriots cannot continue to run rampant on the ground. This is not the Eagles’ defensive line from last year that was ranked number one against the run and top five against the pass. The Patriots should be able to run the ball outside — the Rams linebackers don’t inspire fear — and dominate on the ground.

The big question for me is how they limit interior pressure. If they manage to overcome that hurdle they will be in good shape. This is an area the Patriots can, have, and must dominate one more time to win the game.

Rams: Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh

Look, the Rams defense is definitely better than the Chiefs’. But it’s not dominant. It is certainly not better than the Chargers’. They have mediocre edge defenders, bad linebackers, solid corners, and average safeties. This defense would not be concerning on paper if it weren’t for two players: Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. Donald is the best defensive player in the NFL, Suh has played like one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL the last two games.

Tom Brady’s biggest weakness has always been interior pressure. Can Donald and Suh destroy his life the way the Giants destroyed the ‘07 Patriots? It’s definitely possible. The good news is that Donald has been held without a sack through the postseason against two offensive lines worse than the Patriots’. Teams are constantly doubling him but the bad news is that Suh has taken advantage of that extra attention. He’s been effective rushing the passer and maintained his dominance against the run. This postseason, New England’s offensive lines has performed as well as any Brady has ever had. It needs to stay that way for one more game.

Rams: Every secondary player not named Aqib Talib

The Rams secondary was actually an unsung disappointment this season. Lamarcus Joyner went from one of the league’s best cornerbacks to being average. Marcus Peters went from one of the league’s most promising corners to arguably his worst season. Nickell Robey-Coleman aka. “Slot God” probably would have lost his team a Super Bowl journey had fate, or a corrupt NFL, not sought otherwise. The Rams secondary has not been impressive most of the season.

However, the return of Aqib Talib has had a strong ripple effect on the defense. Talib has played well as a number one cornerback, Peters has played better as a number two. The Rams’ front seven has benefited from the superior coverage. I like Talib man-to-man against any one of New England’s receivers. The Patriots will have to win where he is not most of the time, which means the performance of the rest of the Rams secondary will be key. Can guys like Peters and Joyner play to their talent or will the bright lights of the Super Bowl overwhelm them? That will be an important pivot in this game.

Patriots: Julian Edelman

Don’t get it confused. Do you remember that 32-year old seventh-round draft pick coming off an ACL tear who converted to wide receiver only after being drafted into the NFL? He’s been the best wide receiver in the NFL this postseason. He’s amassed 257 yards at well over ten yards per a catch. Chris Hogan made an incredible play in the AFC Championship Game and he deserves all the credit in the world for that. Phillip Dorsett had a good touchdown. They were all critical. But the only consistent wide receiver on this roster is Edelman. And so far, that is all the Patriots have needed. If Edelman continues to play as well as he has they probably don’t need much more.

Rams: Sean McVay

The media orbits around Sean McVay. The youngest head coach ever. The man who single handedly turned around a moribund franchise. The photogenic good guy with a supermodel girlfriend who remembers every offensive play he’s ever seen. Bill Belichick is the GOAT, though, but let’s not deceive ourselves. We have seen this story before: the Patriots play good defense in the divisional and conference championship only to get blown up in the Super Bowl. Last year, the Patriots let a historically great quarterback performance become wasted in the dustbin of history because Doug Pederson kicked the crap out of Bill Belichick before the game even started. That’s supposed to be the Patriots’ calling card and the Eagles turned the tables on them. Can Sean McVay do the same? We will find out.

Patriots: Bill, Brian and the Rushing Defense

Despite entering the season with a defensive roster riddled with question marks, the Patriots have rallied at the perfect moment. Their defense has been absolutely dominant during the first half of both playoff games, allowing their offense a chance to amass a lead the other team could not overcome. However, 31 points by the Chiefs in the second half show that this defense remains deeply vulnerable.

Playing from a lead has been critical for the Patriots the last two games and I’d argue that it would be even more devastating against the Rams than it was the Chiefs. If the Rams cannot run the ball because they fall behind I am confident they will lose this football game. Jared Goff and company are a formidable foe but Patrick Mahomes and his armory they are not. This Rams team wants to run the ball and needs to run the ball. Not that different from the Patriots. If the Patriots can scheme early defensive domination or play the run without completely selling out I think they might win this game comfortably.

Rams: Linebackers

This is a negative pivot for the Rams. I think James White and Rex Burkhead are a massive mismatch for these guys and can have a field day. I think the L.A. linebackers are going to struggle if the defensive line cannot clamp down on the run. I also think the Rams secondary has leveled out with Talib. The second-least important position in football might just do in the Rams.


Screw it. He’s had two weeks to rest. It’s possibly the last game of his career. Rob Gronkowski has been dominant in both of his previous Super Bowl appearances. I say third time’s the charm and he does it again. The lovable goofball goes out on top and caps his Hall of Fame résumé with a Super Bowl performance for the ages.

Final Prediction

I think both teams will enter the game with a similar strategy of running the ball early and dominating time of possession. Both teams are good at this and both teams have shown vulnerability defending it. Todd Gurley shreds the Patriots as a receiver while Rex Burkhead and James White combine for the same effect against the Rams. Both offenses benefit from a few play action deep balls but most of the game is short passes and running. Gronk steps up with a big game as Wade Phillip schemes Julian Edelman out of contention. A key blitz on second down and excellent secondary coverage on a third-and-long force the Rams to punt once more than they can afford. At the end of the game, the slightly wilier quarterback and coach defeat the more talented Rams with a game ending field goal.

I hope.

Patriots: 30

Rams: 27

Final Thoughts

Win or lose it’s been a pleasure writing for you guys this season. I might not always agree with everyone but that’s part of what makes it fun. It’s not just writing about football, it’s the exchange of ideas and the experience that it prompts. This is an awesome community with some fantastic writers. Rest assured, the end of the season will not be the end of me. I adore the draft and all the elements that go into roster construction. I cannot wait to begin that discussion with you all.

Vive la Patriots!