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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Super Bowl LIII preview: Old vs. New

Posted by Eric Fisher On February 2

The Rams and the Patriots, the opponents for Super Bowl LIII on Sunday (6:30 p.m.), are different in many ways. The Patriots are the established team, playing in their third straight Super Bowl. The Rams are the team on the rise, playing in their first Super Bowl in 16 seasons, when the franchise was still located in St. Louis.

The Patriots have Tom Brady, a sure-fire Hall of Famer, starting at quarterback. The Rams have third-year quarterback Jared Goff, the first overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, starting at quarterback.

The Patriots are coached by 66-year-old Bill Belichick, the “evil genius” who, if the Patriots win Sunday, would become the oldest head coach to win a Super Bowl. The Rams are coached by 33-year-old Sean McVay, the “boy genius” who, if the Rams win Sunday, would be the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl.

Another apparent difference is that the Rams have a powerful two-headed rushing attack consisting of Todd Gurley and CJ Anderson while the Patriots’ running game. But Sony Michel and James White run well enough to keep defenses honest so they can’t tee off on Brady.

The Rams and Patriots have followed similar postseason paths. As the second seeds in their respective conferences, the Rams and Patriots enjoyed first-round byes. After winning their first game without being pressed too badly, both teams won in overtime on the road in their conference championship games.

Here is a preview of Super Bowl LIII.

RAMS (15-3) vs. PATRIOTS (13-5)

(Sunday, 3 p.m.)

How the Rams got here: The second-seeded Rams had a first-round bye and then defeated the Cowboys, 30-22, and the top-seeded Saints in overtime, 26-23.

How the Patriots got here: The second-seeded Patriots had a first-round bye and then dispatched the Chargers, 41-28, and squeaked past the top-seeded Chiefs in overtime, 37-31.

Meetings this season: none

Story lines: Even though the Eagles are the defending champions, the Patriots, with three straight trips to the Super Bowl, are being treated as the team occupying the throne, with the Rams as the challengers. Once again, Tom Brady, arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history, is facing one of the league’s rising young quarterbacks, just as he did in the AFC Championship Game against Patrick Mahomes. Adding to the “old vs. the new” storyline, the age gap between head coaches Bill Belichick (66) and Sean McVay (33) is the largest in Super Bowl history. McVay was 12 years old when Belichick became the Patriots’ head coach.

RAMS

Running back Todd Gurley (256 carries for 1,251 yards, 17 TDs and 59 receptions for 580 yards, 4 TDs) only had five touches against the Saints in the NFC Championship Game. He has been battling a knee injury, but he looked pretty good in the Rams’ first playoff game, gaining 115 yards against the Cowboys. CJ Anderson looked even better, gaining 123 yards on the ground and notching two touchdowns. Anderson was the workhorse back against the Saints. Perhaps more credit should be given to the Rams’ offensive line, which is the only offensive line in the NFL to have the starters during all 16 regular-season games. Quarterback Jared Goff has nice numbers (64.9 completion percentage, 4,688 yards, 32 TDs, 12 interceptions, 101.1 QB rating), but he didn’t look confident down the stretch, particularly during losses to the Bears (15-6) and Eagles (30-23), two playoff teams with good defenses. Goff’s top targets are Robert Woods (86 receptions for 1,219 yards, 6 TDs) and Brandin Cooks (80 receptions for 1,204 yards, 5 TDs), who played for the Patriots last season. The middle of the Rams’ defensive line includes Aaron Donald, the likely defensive player of the year, and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. The Rams are only allowing an average of 49 rushing yards during the postseason.

PATRIOTS

There were times when Tom Brady didn’t quite look like himself this season, but the Patriots hope Brady’s nagging injuries healed during the bye week. Brady completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 4,355 yards, but his mix of 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions is below his usual standard. The Patriots have found a reliable running option in rookie Sony Michel (209 carries for 931 yards, 6 TDs). Running back James White is a threat to run (94 carries for 425 yards, 5 TDs), but his greatest value is as a receiver (87 receptions for 751 yards, 7 TDs), as was evident in the playoff win against the Chargers, when he tied an NFL record with 15 receptions (for 97 yards) and didn’t run the ball once. Julian Edelman (74 receptions for 850 yards, 6 TDs) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (47 receptions for 682 yards, 3 TDs) are familiar targets, but don’t lose track of Chris Hogan (35 receptions for 532 yards). The Patriots have only allowed five sacks in their past eight games, including the playoffs. That line will have a challenge against the Rams’ defensive line, particularly Donald. The Patriots have a solid defense, but they didn’t generate a lot of pressure on the quarterback. That’s changed during the playoffs, with linebacker Dont’a Hightower and defensive end Adrian Clayborn, in particular, pressuring the quarterback.

Prediction: The Rams should try to turn the Super Bowl into a ground war. They will try to control the game with their rushing attack, keeping the ball out of Brady’s hands as much as possible and taking the pressure off Goff. The Rams should be able to limit the Patriots’ ground game. The question is whether that will enable them to pressure Brady before his receivers can get open. If Talib and Peters can maintain coverage long enough, Brady and the Patriots could be in trouble. The formula is there for the Rams to beat the Patriots. However, we should have learned by now not to count out the Patriots. Somehow, Brady and Belichick seem to find a way to get the job done. Patriots 24, Rams 20

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