This is the Los Angeles Rams‘ first Super Bowl since 2001, and not many people are giving the underdogs a chance.
Jared Goff is the fourth-youngest starting quarterback in Super Bowl history. Sean McVay, at just 33, is the youngest head coach in Super Bowl history. In fact, Tom Brady is eight years older than McVay.
But despite a huge discrepancy in experience, there are valid reasons why the young Rams should be taken seriously.
The Rams are looking for the second Super Bowl win in franchise history, with the first also coming in Atlanta in 2000. Here’s why you shouldn’t bet against the team lifting its second in the same city.
The Defensive Front Four
Tom Brady might be the greatest of all-time, but the best player in Sunday’s game will be Aaron Donald.
Brady lost in the Super Bowl twice against the New York Giants because of pressure up the middle, and is 1-3 in Super Bowls when he has been hit eight or more times. Led by Donald, the Rams have the talent in their front four to cause similar problems for No. 12.
No co-ordinator coaches against Brady better than Rams defensive co-ordinator Wade Phillips. In the 2015 AFC championship game, the Denver Broncos – under Phillips’ tutelage – got after Brady like nobody else has since, sacking him four times and hitting him a whopping 17. And Phillips has played Belichick and Brady tough historically: the last three times Phillips has faced the Patriots, his defences have given up an average of 19 points a game.
But it’s not just L.A.’s ability to get after the passer that will play a determining factor on Sunday, as the Rams have given up just 98 yards rushing in the playoffs thus far.
Donald is the best Rams defender, but Aqib Talib is arguably the most valuable. Of the $221 million the Rams spent this off-season, no acquisition provided a better return on investment than Talib.
The veteran cornerback missed Weeks 4 through 12 with an ankle injury but is back on the field in the playoffs and playing well, which should change how we perceive the Rams defence. With Talib, L.A.’s defence has given up 18.3 points per game, 312.4 total yards per game, 209.9 pass yards per game, an 11-13 TD-to-interception ratio and a 78.4 opponent passer rating. Without Talib, the Rams gave up 30.8 points per game, 401.3 total yards per game, 272.6 pass yards per game, a 23-6 TD-to-interception ratio and 111.6 opponent passer rating.
The 32-year-old knows New England’s scheme well after practising against them every day as a former member of the Patriots. Talib could come back to haunt his former team with a big play, but even without making a game-changing play, his ability to play the slot and blanket anyone from tight ends to No. 1 receivers raises the ceiling of the Rams defence and gives Phillips flexibility as a defensive play caller.
The demise of Todd Gurley has been greatly exaggerated.
Since 2015, Gurley leads the league with 46 rushing touchdowns. This season, including the playoffs, Gurley has 1,376 yards rushing, averaged five yards per carry and rumbled for 19 rushing TDs. The Rams are 11-0 when Gurley gets 15-plus carries this season. And it wasn’t that long ago the Rams gashed the Dallas Cowboys for 273 rushing yards in the Divisional Round.
With a bye week following the NFC title game in which he barely touched the ball, Gurley’s rested. All he’s heard for the last two weeks is how bad he’s been playing. He’s primed to be an angry runner on Sunday.
The Rams are likely to run him early and often with the Lombardi Trophy within their grasp.
To beat the Patriots, you can’t beat yourselves. Just ask Dee Ford and the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Rams are the least penalized team in the NFL this season. It’s not often Belichick faces a team that is more disciplined than the one he’s coaching.