Let the hype begin.
Now that we know Super Bowl LIII will feature the Patriots and Los Angeles Rams on Feb. 3, we’re left with nearly two weeks to debate and dissect the matchup. So, in honor of Tom Brady going after his sixth championship ring, here are six early, entertaining storylines to watch as anticipation for the big game starts to build.
Can the Patriots still claim the underdog title?
Somehow, the Patriots have gotten it into their heads that no one believes they can win. That mentality clearly motivated Brady against the LA Chargers. (See the post-game interview when he said, “I know everyone thinks we suck and, you know, can’t win any games. So, we’ll see. It’ll be fun.”) For the AFC Championship Game against the No. 1 seeded Kansas City Chiefs, the Patriots-as-underdog remained Brady’s preferred narrative. “The odds were stacked against us,” said Brady after winning the AFC title. “It hasn’t been that way for us in a while, and it certainly was this year.”
But with New England making its third straight trip to the Super Bowl and its ninth overall in the Brady-Bill Belichick era, it’s tough to buy. There’s also the fact that the Patriots beat the Chiefs 37-31, on the road in overtime. What kind of underdog does that? Or, maybe a better question is: What do the Las Vegas oddsmakers say? The Rams opened as a one-point favorite, then the odds flipped and the Patriots became a one-point favorite. It’ll be interesting to see how hard Brady and his teammates cling to their underdog status during Super Bowl Week.
The old guys versus the young guys
Fun stat that’s certain to be overused before kickoff, but still worth mentioning at your Super Bowl party: The age difference between Tom Brady (41) and Rams starting quarterback Jared Goff (24) is more than 17 years. That will be the largest gap between starting quarterbacks in Super Bowl history, according to the NFL. And they’re not the only big-name, old-young opposing pair at the same position. At 32, the Rams Sean McVay is the youngest head coach in the NFL and the youngest to ever lead a team to the Super Bowl. At 66, Bill Belichick is the NFL’s longest-tenured coach. And with age and experience comes wisdom and five Super Bowl titles as a head coach.
Welcome back, Gronk
For Patriots fans nervous about how tight end Rob Gronkowski would perform in the post-season, the last two games should put them at ease. Gronk has looked healthy and rested. After the AFC Championship, he also sounded happy, like football and playing for the Patriots again spark joy for him. “The way the guys have been fighting all year long — the way we fought this game — I couldn't be more proud to be on this team,” Gronkowski told reporters in Kansas City. “I'm proud to be out here with the boys — how hard we just kept fighting [on] defense, offense, special teams, a victory on the road, AFC Championship Game. It was one of my sweeter victories, definitely, in my career."
Gronk finished the championship game with six catches for 79 yards. Two of those catches came on big third down plays—one late in the fourth quarter and one during the Patriots game-winning drive in overtime. Need more proof Gronk is back to the player and personality New England fans know and love — or at least, close? Brady posted a celebratory video on Instagram that shows the quarterback and Gronk walking side by side to the team bus, smiling, looking a little mischievous, but not saying anything. Then, the video cuts to footage of the game-winning touchdown. Enough said.
Will everyone outside New England be rooting for a Patriots loss?
Let’s face it, even if the Patriots can persuade football fans that they’re the underdog in Super Bowl LIII, they won’t enjoy the typical underdog love from around the country. That’s what happens when you play in the Super Bowl as frequently as the Patriots and when there’s a sense of inevitability every time Brady gets the ball late in games. Asked if there was ever a doubt that Brady would get the Patriots to the end zone in overtime, Trey Flowers told reporters, “You knew that once we got the ball, it was game over.” That kind of confidence combined with a dynasty that, right now, looks like it will never die, doesn’t exactly win admirers outside your core fan base.
Prior to Sunday’s AFC Championship game, the only state outside New England rooting for the Patriots was Michigan, according to geotagged Twitter data compiled by sportsbetting.ag. Every other state wanted to see the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. The Michigan-Patriots connection? It’s almost certainly former University of Michigan quarterback Brady. You gotta respect Michiganders for their loyalty almost 19 years after he left Ann Arbor.
The Rams and Halle Berry
Here’s another fun fact to file away for your Super Bowl party: The Rams like to use celebrity-linked audible play names. There’s been Halle Berry, Elvis, Obama, Tupac and Ric Flair. And there’s nothing quite like hearing a quarterback approach the line of scrimmage and start shouting, “Elvis, Elvis, Elvis” or “Ric Flair, Ric Flair, Ric Flair." Earlier this season, when Goff used the Halle Berry play call, the actress noticed. Then, via Twitter, she asked Goff and the Rams what the deal was. After Goff got over his initial surprise that Berry had heard about her namesake audible, he tweeted back, “It’s my favorite play ever.” Here’s hoping the Rams have been saving some extra special celebrity play names for the Super Bowl.
The Patriots-Rams Time Machine
The Patriots dynasty started at the 2002 Super Bowl when Brady and Belichick defeated the then-St. Louis Rams, a.k.a. the Greatest Show on turf. It took a last-second field goal by Adam Vinatieri to pull out a 20-17 victory. While the Patriots went on to record-setting success, that was the last time the Rams appeared in the Super Bowl. That makes this year’s big game a rematch, though no coach or player from the 2001-2002 season remains with the Rams. Still, expect plenty of reminiscing to fill air time, including plenty of video showing a very young-looking, wide-eyed Brady celebrating amid falling confetti.
Now, plenty of fans in New England and Michigan wouldn’t mind a similar post-game scene on Feb. 3.
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