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In the context of Super Bowl LIII, the Rams are the new kids on the block. Less than three years removed from relocating from St. Louis, their fan base is fairly new, although there are surely some fans still around from their pre-1994 stint in LA, and they did well to average over 70,000 fans at the very much not new 98-year-old Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum this season.
Much of that can be tied to a devastatingly good core of young talent, which includes 33-year-old coach Sean McVay, but is headlined by the Rams’ duo of 24-year-old superstars in quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley. Goff has been consistently dangerous all season, while Gurley, who led the NFL in touchdowns this term, has emerged as the best in the league at his position, alongside Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliot.
The Rams were an offensive juggernaut this season, trailing only Kansas City in yards per game and total points, and their prowess was highlighted by a mind-boggling a 54-51 win over the Chiefs in week 11. While it didn’t show in that classic, LA were defensively sound, if not dominant, in 2018, as they marched to a league-best 13-3 record and a first-round bye. Their defence has stepped up, most importantly, in the playoffs. First, limiting the aforementioned Elliot to only 47 yards in a 30-22 Divisional Playoff win over the Cowboys, then keeping Saints running back Mark Ingram to only 31 in the NFC title game.
Yes, many think the Rams owe their 26-23 overtime win in that game to the quite shocking no-call on clear pass interference by Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman, as the Saints were pushing for what would have probably been a game-winning touchdown with less than two minutes left. But at the fortress that is the Superdome, the Rams still managed to get themselves in a situation where luck could play its part, and their performance in overtime, finished off by Greg Zuerlein’s 57-yard field goal, the longest game-winning kick in NFL playoff history, was no stroke of luck.
In the Rams’ first Super Bowl appearance since 2002 (where they incidentally lost to the Patriots), it would be too easy to pick Goff, the NFL’s best young quarterback alongside Patrick Mahomes, as the Rams player to watch. The man who finished 4th in passing yards this season (Mahomes was 2nd) outdueled living legend Drew Brees in his own home, after all, in the NFC Championship. It would also be imprudent to pick Gurley, given he’s effectively been usurped by C.J. Anderson in this playoff run and is looking far from his best. It’s plausible Gurley may still be affected by the injury that kept him out of the last 2 games of the season.
Instead, given that so much of this game will hang on whether Tom Brady can once again enter into Playoff God Mode, the player to watch will be the man who led the league in sacks this season by some distance: Rams defensive end Aaron Donald. Bill Belichick has already described Donald as “unblockable”, and if he can hunt down or at least pressure Brady in a significant way, the Patriots may not look like the Patriots.
But the Patriots are still the Patriots, and intelligence and experience usually count for quite a lot in the NFL. And in that context, the Rams should not be considered favourites in Super Bowl LIII despite their clear advantage in physical talent. In the end, they’re going to a dance that Brady and Belichick have been lighting up every other year on average since Goff and Gurley were in grade school.