After 256 regular season games and three weeks of thrilling playoff action, we are just about one week away from the big game. We have seen young superstars emerge, some teams ascending from the ashes while others fell off badly, historic offensive numbers being put up and two electrifying Conference Championship games ending in controversial manner. However, after all the drama we have seen over these last five months, we end up with the Super Bowl favorites from the preseason squaring off on February the 3rd. On one side we have the Patriots, who have dominated the league, making it to the final game in half of the last 18 seasons, and on the other is a team in the Rams that went 4-12 just two years ago and hasn’t made it there since 2001. That was when these two squads faced off against each other, featuring the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ under MVP Kurt Warner as two-touchdown favorites against the defensive-minded Pats with some first-year starter at quarterback named Tom Brady. With New England winning the game on a last-second field goal, this launched one of the (if not the) greatest dynasties in American Sports history, led by what is widely considered the best quarterback-head coach combination ever, while the Rams would go on to win just two playoff games until this season. Here we are 17 years later – the most dominant team in the NFL over that stretch facing off against a young bunch in the L.A. Rams that many look at as the most talented squad. Jared Goff as the youngest quarterback ever to start a Super Bowl versus the oldest one in Tom Brady. The youngest head coacher ever to start a Super Bowl in wonderkid Sean McVay against the old master in Bill Belichick. The Rams versus the Patriots Part II.
Heading into Championship Sunday I looked at these two matchups and how things might play out. Instead of trying to preview one of them and pointing out schematic advantages and disadvantages like I did a week ago, I decided to present one X-factor for each team on offense and defense respectively. I believe these are truly the four best teams in the league when I combine players and coaching. There might have been more talented teams on paper, but when I look at these four head coaches and their staffs I think we are blessed with some of the very best play-callers and guys who excel at preparing their troops. So which players for each of them, who don’t usually play a primary role, could be key factors on Sunday?
Now in his 15th season in the NFL, Philip Rivers has started 218 straight games, recorded over 55000 passing yards and almost 400 touchdowns. He has made the Pro Bowl eight times, beaten basically every quarterback record in Chargers history and even seen them move cities. However, there is one thing he has never been able to do – beat Tom Brady. In eight total games versus the Patriots, Rivers’ only win against them came in 2008, when Matt Cassel replaced an injured Brady. And I don’t want to make this all about the quarterbacks, but these two guys have been the constants in that matchup for more than a decade now and so I thought the title makes a lot of sense. The Bolts finished the 2018 season tied for the best record in the AFC at 12-4, but with the Chiefs holding tie-breakers over them, they entered the postseason as a Wildcard team and already had to go on the road to beat the Ravens in Baltimore. Now they once again travel up to New England, where the Patriots are being questioned once again but still have one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time under center. What might be different this time around? Rivers has the best team surrounding him since they went to the conference championship game over ten years ago. Will he finally slay the dragon?
Going into the 2018 season, the NFL scheduled their biggest international game ever in London, as they announced that the reigning Super Bowl champion Eagles would travel to England’s capital to square off against the Jaguars, who were coming off an AFC Championship game loss. To have two of the final four teams of last year battle it out overseas was very uncommon, as most matchups abroad prior to this one seemed to either be lopsided from the start or included a rather odd pairing of teams. However, as we are on the brink of reaching the mid-season mark of this NFL season, both these teams stand at 3-4 and this Sunday’s matchup looks like anything but a potential Super Bowl preview. While there’s still plenty of games to be played after this weekend and both teams don’t have a clear favorite in their division, this game to me feels like it could decide the fortunes of Philadelphia and Jacksonville. Since I’m flying over for this matchup myself, I thought it would make sense to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of either squad and look at how they can exploit them respectively. Will the Eagles soar high in their first trip to the UK or can the Jags take advantage of what has to feel like their home-field almost, playing at Wembley for their sixth straight year now?
The Saints and Vikings faced each other in the season-opener at U.S. Bank Stadium. Minnesota never really was in trouble that day and won the game 29-19. Both team have evolved throughout the season and they are set for a rematch on Sunday. After losing their first two games of the year, New Orleans went on to win ten of their next twelve and an NFC South title, to set them up as one of the biggest contenders in the conference. The Vikings won the North with a 13-3 record and earned the number two seed, possibly giving them home-field advantage all the way through the Super Bowl. In week one their starting quarterback still was Sam Bradford and everybody thought this was the same old Saints, who air it out and play no defense. Times have changed and both teams need to be reckoned with. This should be a huge matchup and looking at both squads, I believe the final score could look a lot different this time around. Here’s why:
After having two different conferences represented in the title game for the last six years, this is the first time since 2012 the two contenders are coming from the SEC. While Georgia won the conference title, Alabama didn’t even get the chance to play in the championship game. With Kirby Smart facing off against his former head coach Nick Saban and two teams that are built similar, there’s lots to talk about. Over the next couple of paragraphs, I want to analyze the paths of both these programs heading into the matchup, how they will approach it, under-the-radar contributors and the outcome of the game. Alabama has been crowned national champions four times since 2009, while Georgia is looking to do so for the first time since 1980. It’s dynasty versus contender, teacher versus student, the Tide versus the Bulldogs.