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Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Tuesday's Gone: Week 21 #NFL Game Reviews SUPER BOWL LIII EDITION

  Tuesday's Gone: Week 21 #NFL Game Reviews 

2018 NFL Playoffs: 
  6-5 .545 (WINS); 7-3-1 .700 (ATS); 6-5 .545 (O/U)

2018 season totals: 
167-87-2 .652 (WINS); 119-129-8 .480 (ATS); 140-113-3 .553 (O/U)

Note/Key (when applicable): Statistical analysis based on the following metrics (abbreviations): Points scored (PF); points against (PA); Point differential (PD) Yards gained (YG); Yards allowed (YA); Red Zone TD efficiency (RZ); 3rd-down efficiency (3rd); Turnover ratio (TO); Time of possession (TOP); Yards per play (YPP); Sacks (S); Interceptions (INT); Penalty yards (PEN); Against the spread (ATS). Statistical sources include: Pro Football Reference; Pro Football Focus;;; Point spreads and over/under figures are taken from the opening lines via Vegas Insider

SUPER BOWL LIII NOTE: The point spread and over/under are taken from the opening line. Despite the point spread shifting four points in the course of 48 hours, Pro Football Media has always used the opening point spreads for any game before the betting public affects the point spread. 

Tom Brady became a household name in 2001 by beating the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, and here he is, 18 years later playing the Rams once again in Super Bowl LIII.

2 New England Patriots 13-5 (+1.5) @ 2 Los Angeles Rams 15-3 (+57.5): Patriots 31-28 Patriots 13-3

Sunday, 6:30 PM, Mercedes-Benz Dome Stadium, Atlanta, GA (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The New England Patriots are playing in their third consecutive Super Bowl and fourth in five years. This territory has been traversed by few teams, and no other team can claim to have three separate dynasty runs along this seemingly endless 18-year dynasty the Patriots have produced, something we'll likely never see again, in any sport. The 1972-1974 (Note: Super Bowl years, not seasons) Miami Dolphins went 3-0 in three straight Super Bowls and the infamous 1991-1994 Buffalo Bills went 0-4 in four straight Super Bowls; New England becomes the third team in NFL history to make three straight Super Bowls. The Pittsburgh Steelers won four (4-0) Super Bowls in six years from 1975-1980, but the 1982-1990 San Francisco 49ers are widely considered the greatest NFL dynasty of the modern NFL era, from their sustainability to Bill Walsh’s offensive ingenuity, winning four Super Bowls (4-0) in nine years. The New England Patriots have had three such separate runs in the 18-year Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era: 2001-2008 (3-1); 2004-2012 (2-2); 2012-2019 (2-1, pending SBLIII). Bill Belichick has now coached in over 22% of all Super Bowls (12 of 53). That’s astonishing. If you’re still arguing against the New England Patriots being the greatest dynasty in NFL history and/or Bill Belichick being the greatest overall coach, you’ve chosen a populated, but ignorant hill to die on. 

I can only imagine the population of this hill decreased by a large margin Sunday night, as even the most hard core New England Patriots haters witnessed two things that have long-cemented this dynasty’s place in history: Bill Belichick (and defensive coordinator Brian Flores, now head coach of the Miami Dolphins) stifling the Los Angeles Rams and their high-powered, high-ranking and historically-great (regular season) offense and Tom Brady leading his sixth 4th-quarter game-winning drive in six Super Bowls. Sounds a little Jordanesque, doesn’t it?

 The 18-year tandem of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have accomplished a feat that may never be repeated in any sport.

The storylines for Super Bowl 53 (SBLIII) are seemingly endless. The Revenge of the Rams. The New England dynasty having started against these Rams, then of St. Louis. The same New England franchise is now back, 18 years later, having played in eight Super Bowls in the meantime, with the same quarterback, who is now 41 years old. SpyGate still looms for those who can’t move on. The Rams shouldn’t really even be playing in SBLIII, but before I dive into conspiracies involving the NFL needing one of their Los Angeles franchises to succeed, suffice it to say you can find my rant in my Divisional Round review of this website. Los Angeles is full of New England transplants, so the local scene should be a riot. The Boston Red Sox just defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. Don’t forget about the greatest rivalry in NBA history between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. The ultimate storyline is one that probably slipped by most, but was pointed out by my good friend DJ Critters: The game is in Atlanta, home of the Atlanta Falcons, victims of the 28-3 New England Patriots comeback in Super Bowl LI. What the hell is that sneak Arthur Blank up to? I guess I can count Home Depot out as a potential sponsor if this gets back to him. (wink)

Arthur Blank didn’t pull any stunts, but most of us watching Super Bowl LIII fell asleep anyway, so he might’ve gotten away with something, although it clearly had no effect. The biggest storyline outside of the actual game might’ve been the poor showing by Rams fans, which reportedly made up less a third – if that – of the crowd. This was corroborated by my source in attendance in case you think this is #FakeNews. You could blame the distance, as Atlanta is more than double the mileage from Los Angeles than Boston (2,175:1,075), but I think it's just Rams fans. You can’t take a team that resided in Los Angeles for nearly 50 years (1946-1994) away from that city and move them halfway across the country to St. Louis. To make matters worse, the owners, the beloved Stan Kroenke’s, then uprooted the team and moved them back to Los Angeles after 20 more years. That’s basically three generations of people, and just as that third generation of fans were forgetting about their Rams, the team was back in their back yard (and also competing with another “Los Angeles” team). The Patriots have now beat the Rams through two moves, and people may forget, were in Super Bowl XXXI just four years prior to the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era, so their fan base is strong. Unfortunately for the Rams, their geographic inconsistency related to their owner's greed has cost them some fans, and it showed at SBLIII. Besides, don’t people in Los Angeles care more about red carpets than football anyway?

The success of the Los Angeles Rams largely depends on Todd Gurley, whose play and status has been the talk of the week leading up to the Super Bowl.

     This game is about match ups, but it’s more about experience. The New England Patriots have Super Bowl experience in spades, but more importantly is the experience the two teams have with each other. Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has coordinated the defenses of the San Diego Chargers (2004-2006), the Houston Texans (2011-2013), and the Denver Broncos (2015-2016) before landing in Los Angeles. Belichick beat Phillips in their first two playoff meetings between the two in 2006 (SDC) and 2009 (HOU), but Son of Bum had the last word, beating Belichick in the 2015 AFC Championship game. Speaking of that championship game, Aqib Talib's play was instrumental in beating them as a member of the Denver Broncos; Talib just so happens to have played for the Patriots. Speaking of Rams players that once played for New England, Brandin Cooks is also now a Ram. Ndamukong Suh never played for the Patriots, but certainly played against them as a member of the Miami Dolphins, as did Robert Woods as a member of the Buffalo Bills. There’s a lot to be said for players with intimate experience having played for or against an opponent, but New England could be the one franchise that really doesn’t make a difference with considering the adjustments Belichick is famous for making. 

Wade Phillips produced, as he pitched a shutout in the 1st quarter despite the Patriots possessing the ball for over 12 minutes of it and held the Patriots without an offensive TD until the 4th quarter. The experience factor came into play for the Patriots as Stephon Gilmore (e PD; 1 INT) shadowed Brandin Cooks most of the game, and although Cooks was the second-leading receiver with 120 receiving yards, he never found the end zone, and the one time he almost did the much bigger and stronger Gilmore was able to rip it away from Cooks. In fact, you could've argued for Gilmore to win SBLIII MVP with his performance in the defensive backfield. Another potential MVP was Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, whose experience with Ndamukong Suh also clearly paid off, but more on that later. 

The success of the New England Patriots depends largely on James White's ability to catch passes out of the backfield.

These teams are similar, right down to the fact the last time both teams lost was Week 15, in one-possession games against teams from Pennsylvania (NE: PIT; LAR: PHI). Both teams have dynamic offenses (NE: 4th points scored; 5th total offense/LAR: 2nd points scored; 2nd total offense) and league-leading point differentials (NE: 5th, 6.9 ppg; LAR: 3rd, 8.9 ppg). Neither team turns the ball over (NE: 5th; LAR: 4th), but both teams take the ball away (NE: 5th; LAR: 3rd), and both teams dominate takeaways in some form (NE: 3rd INTs; LAR: 5th sacks). Both teams are disciplined, although from different sides of the ball (NE: 2nd O-PEN; LAR: 7th D-PEN), and both teams have solid kicking games, although Greg Zuerlein is questionable, but reportedly fine. If Zuerlein weren’t able to go for some reason the Rams are 5/7 on 2-point conversions. Both kickers missed only one PAT each in 86 combined attempts, and both kickers had similar field goal success rates (Stephen Gostkowski, NE: 27/32; Greg Zuerlein, LAR: 27/31). The two teams are even ranked side-by-side in Special Teams efficiency (NE: 16th; LAR: 17th). The Patriots have also mastered the kickoff, opting to pin teams well within the 20-yard line rather than allowing for a touchback on the 25-yard line, which statistically leads to better field position. It’s the little things with Bill Belichick, but the same goes for Sean McVay, only McVay prefers trickery. Just for reference, New England had a 9.5 ppg differential in the playoffs; Los Angeles has a 5.5 ppg differential.

There were no trick plays and no adjustments, but there were nine Rams regular punts, much to the confusion of everyone watching the game, especially those familiar with Sean McVay and the Rams. It was a fake punt that was the shot in the arm the Rams needed against the Saints in the NFC Championship game, and jokes about the officials blowing the game aside, it was that play sparked the Rams, who ultimately won the game. There was none of that in SBLIII; in fact, there was the opposite: Where the hell was Todd Gurley? Even in the SBLIII aftermath, when the dust has settled and the whispers become headlines, you know, for example when teams like The Greatest Show on Turf desperately reach for reasons why the lost to a lesser team, we got nothing. Gurley claims to be healthy and McVay wishes he had used him more. Gurley had 11 touches, which some have pointed out, is like LeBron James playing 11 minutes in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Both teams came into the game with stellar offenses and mediocre defenses capable of flashes of good to brilliance, the latter being more of a trait of the Rams up until SBLIII. The game was the complete inverse of that, with both offenses struggling mightily because both defenses were playing at high levels, especially the Patriots. I wonder what the prop bets on SBLIII being Opposite Day were?

 Jared Goff was seven years old when Tom Brady won his first Super Bowl.

     The Rams will try and pressure Brady, specifically with Suh and MVP dark horse and obvious Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, but it might not work. The Patriots offensive line is one of the best in the NFL, specifically the past several weeks. Tom Brady has dropped back 90 times in the playoffs and hasn’t been sacked once; in fact, he’s only been hit three times (The Patriots rank 1st in pass protection for the season). Despite ranking 5th in sacks, the Rams only rank 21st in pass rush efficiency, and even if Suh and Donald break through, will there be enough time to get to Brady? No quarterback in the NFL gets the ball out of their hands quicker than Brady, and the fact that many sports books have the total sack prop bet at 2.5 sacks speaks volumes about the effect the experts think the pass rush will have on the game. One issue New England might have could be getting open in the slot, as Los Angeles has shut down the middle of the field since the return of Talib from injury. The New England backfield might not be so open for those quick passes, either, considering the Rams are the top-ranked team against passes to running backs out of the backfield, and have played the 7th-toughest schedule against team that employ the same tactics. New England does have Brady, and Julian Edelman and James White are not typical slot receivers or running backs coming out of the backfield. The Patriots also play more fullback sets than any team in the NFL, so James Develin could play a big role; coming in 2nd in fullback usage rate are the San Francisco 49ers, who just happen to be in the same division as the Rams and play them twice a year. Bill Belichick is aware. The Patriots need to establish the run game to control the clock, keep the Rams off the field, win the backfield pass match up by getting White going out of the backfield with short quick passes, and contain Todd Gurley. Sound simple enough, right? New England has quietly built a decent defense all year, and before you point to a weak schedule, New England surrendered a respectable 25.8 ppg in five games against teams that ranked in the top-10 in offensive efficiency, which is nearly a TD lower than those offenses are used to scoring. Those type teams certainly describes the Rams. It should also be noted the game is in a dome, where Brady excels even more than usual, with a quarterback rating nearly 10% higher v. outdoor fields.

The Rams pass rush did not get to Tom Brady. In 121 drop backs in the playoffs, including SBLIII, Brady was hit seven times and sacked only once, with four of those hits and the sack coming in the Super Bowl, by the loudest talker in the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl in Nickell Robey-Coleman, no less. Aaron Donald and Suh managed one QB hit apiece and were completely shut down by clever blocking schemes. The Rams also shut down the Patriots passing game out of the backfield as advertised, holding the Patriots running backs to 13 yards on three receptions (only eight targets); James White was held to one catch on four targets for five yards. You could chalk that up to great defense or Belichick abandoning the idea during SBLIII or before the game even started. Regardless, New England flexed its defensive muscle against efficient offenses once again, this time holding their opponent to far fewer than 25.8 ppg. As for the Tom Brady in the dome, the fact that Brady had his worst offensive performance since his first Super Bowl victory (262 passing yards; 1 INT), it clearly made no difference this time. Wait, maybe that’s the role Arthur Blanks played! I must investigate…

 Aaron Donald is the most dominant defensive player of his era, but it's going to take the game of his life to beat the New England Patriots.

     The Rams don’t have to worry too much about New England’s pass rush, because despite tying the Philadelphia Eagles for 2nd in sacks since Week 14, New England’s sacks are largely situational and came from the shot-gun formation, a formation the Rams don’t utilize often. As for the Rams weapons, Los Angeles receivers Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks both gained 1,300+ receiving yards, the second wide receiver combination in NFL history to accomplish such a feat. The other? Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt of the 2001 Rams. The Patriots will certainly jam the smaller Woods and minuscule Cooks at the line, as Cooks has proven he doesn’t like contact, nor can he really run routes, so Todd Gurley’s role becomes even more important, as the Rams play action style of offense is the key to their explosiveness. The scouts say Gurley is healthy, so the issues have to be mental, which may have started when the Rams signed CJ Anderson. The timing is interesting to say the least. The Rams haven’t been the same offense since they lost Cooper Kupp, but Woods has filled in as well as anyone could, and I imagine the Rams will utilize him over the middle against a Patriots team that lacks speed everywhere, but especially at LB. The middle won’t be open if Gurley can’t get it going, because other than three-plus wide receiver sets, the best chance Los Angeles has to beat New England is by controlling the tempo, blasting the edges against New England’s slow LBs, using play action to open up the slot, and possibly even deep opportunities, and converting Red Zone opportunities into TDs, especially with Zuerlein supposedly questionable.

The Patriots pass rush did flourish against the Rams, to the surprise of many, sacking Jared Goff four times, although on at least half of those sacks Goff looked like he just gave up and threw himself to the ground. Goff was abysmal (229 passing yards; 1 INT), although he didn’t really have anyone to throw it to. Gurley was MIA and the Rams receivers were either jammed or covered the entire game; Cooks 120 receiving yards were simply a matter of speed, for which Cooks in known, and the fact he drew 13 targets, the most of any receiver in SBLIII. Todd Gurley was the key to the Rams success, and just like the past several weeks of the regular season into the playoffs, he was nowhere to be seen. The last time Gurley led the Rams in rushing before the Super Bowl (35 yards on 10 carries) it was Week 15, when he rushed for 48 yards. Once Los Angeles signed CJ Anderson McVay never looked back, and the team paid the ultimate price, even if Gurley doesn’t give the Rams a better chance to win, which sounds ridiculous, but what else could be happening? Even Gurley says he’s healthy, so my only question now is, will the media keep the same pressure on McVay to deliver answers about Gurley’s absence as it did Belichick re: Malcolm Butler in SBLII? Los Angeles didn’t check off a single box in their game plan against the Patriots, which is why they were a 53-yard FG away from being shutout in Super Bowl LIII.

 Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay's is coaching the Super Bowl in his second season, but no one aware of his pedigree is surprised.

     SBLIII should be a game for the ages. The game opened with the Rams favored by 1.5 points only to see the public bet them down to 2.5-point underdogs in 48 hours. The public sure is confident in the Patriots, but the experts weren’t. Will Tom Brady win his 6th Super Bowl and match the Pittsburgh Steelers by himself? Will Aaron Donald become the 3rd defensive player in a decade to win the Super Bowl MVP award? Will Rob Gronkowski have to go full Robocop after sacrificing his body one last time for the New England Patriots before riding off into the sunset? Will Todd Gurley get out of his Hollywood funk? Will Greg Zuerlein even make it to the game? That was sarcasm. Will Jared Goff be able to hear anything above SBLIII attendees booing the Patriots? Will Marcus Peters make a colossal mistake, or get kicked out of the game for committing two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, or will he just leave to go chill with Marshawn Lynch in the middle of the game? Will the Patriots lack of weapons be their demise or will their depth at running back chew two-thirds of the clock away? Will the Rams inexperience and anxiety deviate their focus or will the team's youth, speed and energy be too much for Brady and the Patriots slow front seven? Which genius will make the better adjustments, the 33-year old McVay or the 66-year old Belichick, who has been coaching in Super Bowls as long as McVay has been alive?

SBLIII was not a game for the ages. It’ll be talked about for a long time, but probably in the context of the Patriots/Tom Brady’s 6th Super Bowl victory, it being the lowest scoring Super Bowl in history, or for things like the entire city of New Orleans boycotting the game. SBLIII certainly won’t be remembered for any fireworks, and considering the Rams shouldn’t have been there in the first place and that the entire country outside of New England hates the Patriots, I imagine most people besides Patriots fans will try to forget SBLIII as soon as possible. If we’re answering the questions I posited, here we go: Yes. No. In a sense. Not in the slightest. Yes, but he missed a FG badly and cost the Rams their only shot of a comeback. The entire crowd were Patriots fans, so Goff’s miserable performance had nothing to do with the crowd noise. The only mistake Marcus Peters made was being present when the Rams signed him; maybe if he didn’t show up the Rams wouldn’t have signed him. The lack of weapons didn’t hurt the Patriots because they were playing a high school team from the Los Angeles area. Yes, and I can’t overstate that enough, because the Rams anxiety overwhelmed any youth or speed advantages they might have had. It goes without saying Bill Belichick, specifically his coordinators at his direction, made the better pre- and in-game adjustments.

 Beware of the Hoodie. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick uses the force to adjust and make your best players disappear. 

     I do know one thing for sure: Those adjustments become much easier with experience, and there’s no more experience on a football field anywhere on Earth than there will be on the Patriots sideline during SBLIII. Experience can breed greatness, and it has in this case with the New England Patriots, and whether you love them, or most likely hate them, you’ll be witnessing it again Sunday. If we don’t witness greatness from New England on Sunday, we’ll likely see the torch being passed from old dynasty to new, in almost the exact setting – sans the location – that produced the Patriots dynasty 18 years ago. How poetic. Except the Rams couldn’t do what the Patriots have accomplished in the past 18 years if they had another million. What, you thought I’d end my SBLIII preview on a cheesy emotional high note? It doesn’t matter if the Rams are toiling away in St. Louis or towards the bottom of a list of activities to do on a fall Sunday in Los Angeles, the Rams are about to get their hearts ripped out again, and unlike Tom Brady, Jared Goff isn’t taking 40 cents on the dollar for the next two decades to make sure the Rams have enough cap space to produce a team that’ll compete for a Super Bowl for the next two decades. You’re going to miss them when they’re gone, I promise. New England win, covers and the game hits the over.

The Patriots are already 8/1 odds to win SBLIV, which were the best odds until the Kansas City Chiefs fans went wild and bet their team's number down to 6/2 odds. The Rams are up there, too, but will they be? This loss goes deeper than the surface. Deeper than a bunch of young stars losing their first Super Bowl on the path to a dynasty. First of all, Jared Goff isn’t even signed long-term, and he might never be if he can’t recover from that embarrassing performance. Todd Gurley just cashed in, but he looks like he’s about to retire. Aaron Donald cashed in already, too, but the Patriots made short work of him in SBLIII. Unfortunately, film exists and the NFL is a copy-cat league. Suh and Aqib Talib were on one-year deals, but their Super Bowl performances didn’t line any suitors up at the door, but even if they’re back, what difference does it make? They would probably end up playing the Patriots again, or perhaps the Chiefs, who the Rams already surrendered over 50 points to this season. In other words, why pay for what you don’t need. Andrew Whitworth is retiring and apparently considering philosophy. Who cares about Marcus Peters? The Rams coaching staff has already been plundered and we all saw what happened to the Eagles after the same thing happened to them last year after the Super Bowl. As for the Patriots, Tom Brady plans on coming back and competing for another Super Bowl, which is all anyone needs to know about the Patriots. Will Belichick be back? Yes? Ok. Will Brady be back? Yes? Ok. We’ll probably see you guys in the Super Bowl again, then, but do us a favor this time, will you, New England? Let’s make the 10th Belichick-Brady appearance as memorable as the first eight.

End of the year note: My website started as a Super Bowl preview five years ago and morphed into a sports blog with NFL game previews/reviews to compliment an already-existing music blog. As the years passed, I focused on the NFL, eventually forming Pro Football Media, a site solely focused on previewing/reviewing every NFL game every week of the season using the opening point spreads and over/under as reference points. As another season closes the site will temporarily go into hibernation as I make improvements to the website, social media accounts and develop the Tuesday’s Gone podcast, which I hope to launch the first week of September. The PFM social media accounts always remain active for developing news, but the site will be back the first week of September for all of the Week 1: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis). Thanks for all of your continued support and we hope that you’ll continue to support Pro Football Media and grow with us. Have a safe and productive summer and we’ll see you for the 2019 NFL season!

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