Been a bit quiet on the posting front, but time to spark it up again with a SuperBowl preview from the sharpest of NFL pundits, Ian Steven @deevo82. Forgive him for not posting last year, he was too busy partying in Philadelphia for his beloved Eagles!
Super Bowl XXXVI again
Americana descends on the world tonight in all its slightly-obese glory as the pinnacle of the Stateside sporting calendar bursts onto our screens with all the traditional glitz and glamour one would expect from the nation that incubated Hollywood.
Equally as majestic and crass as the Queen’s coronation with Ronald McDonald playing the part of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Super Bowl LIII attracts viewers of a non-sporting disposition as a contest to determine the best team in the NFL morphs into a burlesque show with your inebriated father wearing a corset appearing as the star act.
Atlanta is the host city with 75,000 fans in attendance, paying an average of $4,600 for a ticket to the most American named of venues, the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
A rematch of Super Bowl XXXVI is on the cards when the Kurt Warner led Rams were defeated by a pre-pubescent Tom Brady in the birth of the Patriots dynasty. (The NFL uses Roman numerals to name its Super Bowls as the season extends over two calendar years, and possibly as a code to confuse its nation’s president, who still uses his fingers to count).
The Patriots are the favourites but the margin has closed slightly between the two teams with the oddsmakers but what can we find if we delve a bit deeper – which is coincidentally is a phrase you never want to hear your proctologist utter.
New England Patriots Offense Vs La Rams Defense
The Patriots have a massive advantage going into any game never mind a game so important as the Super Bowl, boasting possibly the greatest player in NFL history in Tom Brady. The GOAT as he has affectionately become known has been there and seen it all before, many, many times. Not only has he suffered the joy of last second victory in the ultimate game but he has also endured heartbreak as well. One of the least quantifiable measures for success for the New England Patriot is basically the magic that Tom Brady can produce. In the last two minutes of a game, I'm not sure that there is anybody else that has played in the NFL that you would want under centre. Maybe Manning. Maybe Elway.
For the Rams, they just have to understand that Brady will produce more than they can ever counter and have to live to accept that. Whilst Brady is rightly lauded, credit has to be given to the surrounding cast for stepping up in Super Bowls when they need to such as Malcolm Butler’s game-winning interception against the Seahawks. The furore is always around the quarterback but there are 52 other players on the active roster who also contribute.
The issue for New England is that the supporting cast for Brady has never been this workmanlike. Rob Gronkowski is a shadow of the beast that dominated the NFL for a few years. He is clearly dealing with age and injuries. But the tight end can still produce moments of athletic brilliance. If it comes down to an important fourth down, expect Gronkowski to be split out wide and for Brady to find a way to force the ball to him, allowing the Gronk to use his massive frame and catching radius to make the clutch play. If Gronkowski is split out wide, assume Aqib Talib will shadow him. He is the biggest of the Rams cornerbacks and can physically match Gronkowski in what would probably be an unsanctioned wrestling match.
Julian Edelman will continue to be an important chess piece for offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. He is so good at underneath routes using his quickness to quickly change direction. Edelman is sure handed and he is a clutch performer. He is also the punt returner for the Pats. He is one of the players that you would typically look at for catches per game and the value on odds for it. With the pressure that the defensive line can put on Brady, it is possible that the quarterback will release quite a lot of quick passes with Edelman being one of the targets. You can get the over/under at 6.5 @ 1.66 for receptions for Edelman and that is sensible.
Phillip Dorsett is supposed to be the deep threat for the New England Patriots but he has been underwhelming since moving from Indianapolis. New England are not as explosive in the passing game of recent years and is one of the reasons why they have digressed to more of a running attack.
Other than Tom Brady, the biggest shining light offense for the Massachusetts franchise was the play of right guard Shaq Mason. He had arguably the best season in the NFL at that position and along with an offensive line who are incredibly consistent, which is what you would expect of a Bill Belichick coached team, the Patriots have morphed more into a running game. Rookie running back Sony Michel has been a revelation in the second half of the season. He has managed five rushing touchdowns and has over 100 yards in the two play-off teams so far for the Patriots against the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Diego Chargers. As a result, you would be looking at the over/under for rushing yards and also any time touchdowns scored for Sony Michel. But his stock has risen so highly that that is not much value there. There is also the risk that if the Rams get out to the better start, the Patriots will have to play catch up, reducing the amount of carries that Sony Michel would have.
James White has been a solid performer for the Patriots in the last couple of Super Bowls when it comes to catching out of the backfield and once again, you would have to keep an eye on him delivering. The problem for New England is that middle linebacker Corey Littleton is excellent in coverage and White may well not be as much of an option in this Super Bowl. Odds I can find on tackles for Littleton have the over/under at 8.5 and I think that is about right so will veer away.
One bet I had been looking out for was for Michel to have over 0.5 receptions. He did not catch many passes in the regular season but he has to be on the field for a play-action pass to work, and he would be a checkdown if everyone was covered.
The Rams are absolutely ridiculous in the centre of their defensive line. Arron Donald and Ndamukong Suh are composite behemoths. Donald is one of the best pass rushing defensive tackles the NFL has seen and won the Defensive Player Of The Year Ward last night. You could make an argument for him being the MVP if it was not the fact that that title is arbitrarily given to a quarterback each year. The advantage that the Rams have if they can push the pocket, it puts pressure on Brady. He cannot step up into his throws. He is also not very elusive, being best described as being a newly-born giraffe with polio. If you can move Brady off his spot, then you have a chance for success. He cannot extend the play. The key then for the Rams is to get pass rush off the edge. Donte Fowler Jr has been impressive in the last few weeks. He arrived in a trade with Jacksonville and is due to be a free agent so he is currently playing for a lot of money. Trent Brown is due to be up against Fowler. He is a massive mountain of a man. He does not have the quickest feet however. Brady is vulnerable to a strip sack if a defensive end is able to get behind him so that is something to keep an eye on.
I’d venture that to cope with Donald, the Pats will run a lot of outside zone plays to keep away from the monster tackle, and also run a couple of trap plays at him, using his speed against him. He will also most likely be double -teamed on most passing plays.
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is not a very aggressive man by nature. He is more of a bend and don't break character. The Rams could be happy to give up yards underneath as long as they tighten up in the red zone.
The key to this battle could very well be the offensive line versus the defensive line and the push that they can give for Sony Michel. If the Patriots can run against the defense then it will be a very, very long afternoon for Los Angeles.
If you are in the interceptions market then then the player likeliest to make a pick based off his aggressive nature is Marcus Peters. You can get 5.00 with Betfair but I am not sure that Brady will throw the type of pass that Peters loves to jump under.
One player who I think will have a big game for the Rams is safety John Johnson. He has had a superb season and has proven himself to be a sure tackler. If Brady throws a lot of short to intermediate routes, I can see Johnson getting close to double figures in tackles.
Los Angeles Rams offence versus New England Patriots defence
My personal belief that the two-week sabbatical between championship games and the Super Bowl is a massive advantage for a defensive-minded coaching staff.
Last year was an aberration where the Eagles offense was able to put up a massive amount of yards against the Patriots who were shell-shocked from the outset. I don't expect this to happen again with Bill Belichick still the ultimate mastermind.
The key to stopping the Rams is managing to nullify their running game. Todd Gurley was the main threat for them, putting up some implausible numbers. The former Georgia running back managed 17 rushing touchdowns, leading the NFL. But in the championship game against the New Orleans Saints, Gurley only managed 10 rushing yards on four attempts. He was pulled out of the game for CJ Anderson. Anderson played well against Saints, as he did against the Cowboys the previous week. But he is not the gamebreaker that Gurley is. He is slightly rotund, wobbling more than an elite player should, and not the breakaway threat in both the passing and running game that Gurley is. There is a lot of speculation as to the health of Todd Gurley and as a result, it makes it difficult to predict what it has the Rams will do. One thing is certain, Sean McVay likes to run the ball and then operate play action behind it. Jared Goff had an excellent season at quarterback after being the number one overall pick. He is accurate and can read the defence well. If the Rams can get some of their running game going, then that will open up space in the medium zone for Goff to find Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods. So, stopping the run is key for Bill Belichick.
If you are confident that Gurley is nursing an injury then going unders is a good move. If 17.5 is the marker, and with Gurley hurt, he could struggle to make that.
The good news for the Patriots is that Lawrence Guy, Trey Flowers and Danny Shelton have been superb against the run this season. In my opinion, Trey Flowers may well be the best all-round defensive end in the league – and that includes JJ Watt. They are going up against a Rams offensive line who are equally as dominant. Tackles Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein have had excellent seasons. This marries in with the zone running approach with Todd Gurley. If I am Jared Goff under centre, I am quickly identifying where Trey Flowers is and I am making sure that the run is going in the opposite direction. If it is CJ Anderson that has to step in, there will be more pressure on the interior line for the Rams which will ultimately give the Patriots the advantage.
New England and Brandin Cooks know each other very well since the year speedy wide receiver was playing for the Massachusetts team last year against the Eagles. Unfortunately he does not remember much about the game after receiving one of the most destructive tackles in the ultimate showpiece from Malcolm Jenkins. Cooks will want to make sure he has a far more memorable game this time around but the chances are he will be matched up against Stephon Gilmore who has been one of the most impressive cornerbacks in the NFL this year. It will be interesting to see whether Gilmore stays on just one side of the field or if he shadows Cooks whatever he lines up.
One thing that will make this matchup fascinating is the mad scientist reputation of Sean McVay, the coaching darling of the NFL currently. He will surely introduce a wrinkle somewhere that you would not expect. The Eagles had success last year with the Philly Special play against New England with the trend being using alternative motion to draw the offense to one side and the play to come back the other way. If you see a receiver motioning quite a lot for early down run plays in the first half, expect something interesting to happen after that later on in the game off of that.
Special Teams versus Special Teams
In a curious coincidence,, the special teams personalities seems to marry with the personalities of their head coaches. The Rams are very explosive, boasting punter Johnny Hekker and Greg "The Leg" Zuerline. Johnny Hekker is always a threat to throw the ball on a fake punt. He threw a pass on fourth down to Sam Shields in the championship game against the Saints and has also thrown a touchdown as well in his career. He is also a great punter and will not allow New England to get good field position. Zuerline was money within 40 yards this season, not missing a single field goal. He also had a 56 yard long attempt for the season. He could well be called upon to make a kick over 50 yards in this game.
The Patriots are very sensible and have a left-footed punter as normal in Ryan Allen and also have the mega reliable Stephen Gostkowski at kicker. Gostkowski might not have the leg power that his opposite number has, but he is a 12-year veteran who has played in 25 play-off games, including the Super Bowl. Nerves of steel go a long way in a game as massive as this.
One interesting side note to watch, if it does happen, Cordarrelle Patterson is one of the most explosive kick returners in the NFL. He is capable of gaining a large chunk of yards, if not returning a kick for a touchdown, but that is only complicit with a kick of not making its way into the end zone. I am pretty sure that the special teams coach for the Rams, John "Bones" Fassell will stress to his kicker that Patterson is not to get the ball in his hands.
I think that teams are going to struggle to punch the ball into the end zone early on and there could be a few field goals in the first half. The game is on turf and both kickers are accurate so there should not be many missed attempts.
Bill Belichick versus Sean McVay
This plays out very much like a Star Wars Jedi legacy plot. The old master taking on the vibrant new apprentice. Bill Belichick is 66 years old. Sean McVay is 33. The Patriots are seen as a dark franchise in the NFL. Cheating scandals and constant success produces a lot of detractors. As a result, the Rams are the feelgood story in this Super Bowl. They have newly moved to LA, from St Louis. A superb new stadium is being built for the franchise and celebrities are beginning to flock to their sidelines.
A lot is made about the youth and vigour of McVay. But I wouldn't rule out Bill Belichick. He makes football very simple. He tells players exactly what they have to do. Where they have to line up. And asks them to do one thing, just do their job. They do not have to do anything out of that remit and it is a formula that is successful for him.
The Rams have to emulate what the Eagles did last year and find a way to crack that formula. The Eagles had a lot of magical dust surrounding Nick Foles, an almost fairytale-like story. The Rams are going into this match up with their best player, Todd Gurley, in a vacuum of uncertainty. McVay will have to use all his coaching aptitude to overcome that. It will ultimately come down to a couple of calls. Whether to go for it in fourth down or not. Should we run back-to-back on the goal line or should we try to pass. Should I have confidence in my kicker or should I go for this, wanting a touchdown?
Where Belichick excels is in his half-time adjustments. I fully expect the success, if any, LA have had in the first half to be shut down in the second instalment. Remember, because half time is longer in the Super Bowl due to some horrendous musical act no-one cares about, coaches have more time to pore over game film and make the adjustments needed.
Sean McVay is going to concot something we have not seen before and that is part of the allure of this match-up. Something razzle-dazzle. A get up off your seat moment. As for Belichick, I wouldn't be surprised if you went with seven offensive linemen and just ran the ball down the throats of the Rams.
Wildcard – the Zebras
There was a huge outcry (and much mirth) surrounding the non-pass interference call in the NFC Championship game between the Rams and the Saints. Nickell Robey-Coleman cross-body pressed Tommylee Lewis on a crucial fourth down call but the officiating crew bewilderingly did not throw a flag, with the Saints whingeing that it cost them the game and a chance to appear in the Super Bowl.
The NFL is a reactionary league and you can guarantee that the slightest bit of contact with the ball in the air will result in a pass interference call. Bet 365 have the over/under 12.5 @ 1.8 for penalties accepted. John Parry is the official for the match and he does call a lot of defensive pass interference and illegal contact fouls. The last three Super Bowls had 7, 13 and 18 penalties called. The Rams and Pats both averaged about six flags per game this season so the over on this could be a good bet.
It’s always tough to go against the Pats and Tom Brady and I think they will have a great second half to win the game. It will be a close game so the spread could be a good bet with the Rams at +4.5 @ 1.6 with Sporting Bet. A fixed odds bet with the Patriots would get you 1.8 with Ladbrokes, Coral and Betfred.
If you are feeling brave then LA/NE HT/FT with Will Hill @ 4.33 is a good option but I’d steer towards 1 point on New England winning the second half @1.83 with Betfair.
You can get 1.91 on Sony Michel to have the most rushing yards. But, if Michel gets over 100 yards rushing, he will probably be the MVP as more rushes for Sony means less throws for Tom. - Sony Michel to be MVP – 0.5 points @ 21 with Betfair and Paddy Power.
In all likelihood, it will be tight in the first half and teams will struggle to get in the end zone. Over 1.5 first half field goals – 1 point @ 2.00 with Bet 365
I think the marker has been set too low for this bet. If the Rams play a lot of cover 3 then Johnson will have a monster game. John Johnson over 6.5 tackles - 2 points @ 2.00 with Bet 365
This one was hard to find but it has value written all over it. Sony Michel over 0.5 receptions – one point @ 2.2 with Bet 365