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Super Bowl LIII Preview

     Super Bowl LIII The Super Bowl LIII stage is set.  Per usual, the New England Patriots are representing the AFC.  Claiming the 2-seed in the conference at the end of the regular season by virtue of a tiebreaker over the Houston Texans, the Patriots had a first-round bye before hosting the Los Angeles Chargers, who were on a roll after defeating the Baltimore Ravens on the road the previous week.  The Patriots then proceeded to give them what can only be described as a shellacking, taking a 35-7 lead into halftime before coasting to a 41-28 victory. The next week, they headed to a hostile environment in Kansas City to face the Chiefs, whom they had defeated in a thriller in the regular season.  Despite the Patriots leading 14-0 at halftime, the Chiefs came roaring back. They took the lead late in the game, only for it to go to overtime after the Patriots scored again, and Chiefs’ kicker Harrison Butker tied the game at the end of regulation. In overtime the Chiefs never even touched the ball, with the Patriots’ veteran legend at quarterback, Tom Brady, leading the offense down the field to score and secure the sudden-death victory.  This will be Brady’s ninth Super Bowl appearance and the Patriots’ eleventh.

     The Los Angeles Rams came out of the fray in the NFC to take the crown after beginning the season on a hot 8-0 start.  They too had a first-round bye and faced the Dallas Cowboys at home. The stalwart Rams defense held Cowboys runningback Ezekiel Elliott, who led the league in rushing yards in the regular season, to just 47 yards on the ground en route to a 30-22 victory.  The Rams then traveled to New Orleans to face the Saints, who had handed them their first loss of the season in Week 9. The Saints dominated most of the first half, but the Rams scored late to keep it close. It remained that way late in the second half, when the game was tied and the Saints had possession of the ball in Rams territory.  On third down, Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw a pass to the flat for receiver Tommylee Lewis. However, by the time the ball got there, Lewis was in no position to catch it, having been knocked out of the way by Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman in what seemed like a sure pass interference penalty. Somehow, in what was later admitted as a mistake, no penalty was called, forcing the Saints to settle for a field goal.  The Rams matched the field goal to send the game to overtime, picked off Brees, and won on a Greg Zuerlein game-winning field goal.

     While both games had their share of officiating mishaps, be it the missed pass interference call on Robey-Coleman, or the phantom roughing the passer penalty on Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones in the fourth quarter, all four teams played fantastic games and provided plenty of entertainment for NFL fans.  Any combination of the four teams in the conference championship games would have made for a great Super Bowl matchup, and the one we got was Rams vs. Patriots in a rematch of the 2002 Super Bowl, which happened to be the first one Brady and Belichick won and is often considered the beginning of the Patriots’ dynasty.

     The game is portrayed as a battle between generations, since the Patriots’ head coach, Bill Belichick, is twice the age of Rams’ head coach Sean McVay, and Tom Brady has 17 years on the Rams’ third-year quarterback, Jared Goff.  The teams also have very different offensive philosophies. The Patriots run a more traditional, methodical smashmouth and dink-and-dunk offense, which mostly consists of power runs and short passes, while the exciting, new-age Rams sling the ball all over the field.  Both teams have impressive, physical defenses, and with the offensive prowess of both teams, the victor could be determined by whichever team can make a late defensive stop. The game should be a matchup for the ages and very well may determine the future of the sport.

Coby Rich