The many narratives and Radio Row interviews from this week leading up to Super Bowl LIII will cease to be relevant once the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots take the field in Atlanta on Sunday.
Once the game kicks off at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, all talk of the non-call in New Orleans or neutral zone infraction in Kansas City during the conference championships will fade into the background.
However, these two teams’ flair for the dramatic will carry over. Will the Super Bowl go to overtime for only the second time in history?
Will Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman truck a Patriots receiver at a crucial point only for a referee not to call anything?
Take a look at three predictions, kick-off time and viewing information below.
Kickoff: 6:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: CBS All Access’
Bill Belichick Squashes the Sean McVay Hype
Rams head coach Sean McVay, 33, will be the youngest head coach in Super Bowl history, and he will make his debut opposite a legend.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has been coaching in the NFL since 1975 and has been the head coach in New England since 2000. Belichick has won five rings and coached in eight Super Bowls with the Patriots, but he also won two as the New York Giants defensive coordinator in the 1980s.
McVay has quickly earned Belichick’s respect. The Rams coach shed light on their mutual respect to NBC Sports’ Peter King before his team departed for Atlanta:
“This season, he has basically texted me after every one of our games. After we beat Minnesota in September, he texted, ‘Man, you guys are really explosive and impressive and fun to watch. Congratulations—keep it rolling.’ … That’s one of the things I like about our business, our fraternity of coaches.
“As competitive as it is, guys find time to share when they can. I’m still young, still figuring it out. That stuff’s been really helpful to me.”
En route to the big game, McVay took out Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game and has had to face off in the NFC West with Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks. Respect where respect is due: McVay has dueled with the best of them to put the Rams in this position.
However, something tells us (history, mainly) that the only thing Belichick texts McVay after Super Bowl LIII will be, “Better luck next time.”
Todd Gurley Remains in Inexplicable Rut
Gurley led the NFL with 21 total touchdowns in the regular season. The 24-year-old running back was very much in the NFL MVP conversation until a knee injury hindered his performance down the stretch—keeping him out of the Rams’ final two regular-season games completely.
Gurley has been listed as healthy and played in both of L.A.’s postseason games. Against Dallas in the divisional round, he resembled what is expected of him with 16 carries for 115 yards and a touchdown. Remaining defenses cringed at the thought of him combined with bowling-ball back C.J. Anderson, who was signed in December.
Then the Rams arrived in New Orleans for the NFC Championship Game, and it appeared that Gurley left part of himself in L.A. He dropped a crucial third-down pass in the first half and then spent the majority of the game on the sideline. Was Gurley benched or injured?
After the game, in which he rushed for just 10 yards on four carries, Gurley addressed the speculation by telling ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry, “I was sorry as hell today. I was sorry. So, C.J. did his thing and the whole team did its thing.”
McVay has since publicly applauded how Gurley is bouncing back. The Rams coach also told reporters Friday that Gurley is fully healthy and ready to play a “big role” against the Patriots.
However, the Patriots defense has been shutting down running backs throughout the postseason. Against the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game, Damien Williams scored three total touchdowns but only rushed for 30 yards on 10 carries.
Prior to the Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers star running back Melvin Gordon was smothered. Gordon rushed for just 15 yards on nine tries, and the Chargers only had another four rushing yards on top of that.
It’s possible that Anderson’s presence and productivity could cause the Pats to overcompensate or underestimate Gurley, but this defensive unit has been fearsome in the postseason.
James White Shines on the Super Bowl Stage Again
You may not ever think about White during the regular season, but he has a way of making sure opponents consider him in the playoffs.
Most notable on White’s resume is his performance in Super Bowl LI. He played a crucial role as the Patriots came back from 28-3 to deficit against the Atlanta Falcons with 139 total yards and two touchdowns.
He broke and tied multiple Super Bowl records, such as most receptions in a Super Bowl with 14.
More recently, White tied the postseason reception record in the divisional round against the Chargers with 15 catches.
All of which is to say that White is primed to be the Patriots’ most pivotal piece against the Rams. Saints dual-threat running back Alvin Kamara set the blueprint in the NFC Championship Game. Kamara only rushed for 15 yards, but he exploited holes in the Rams’ coverages with 11 catches for 96 yards.
Now that the Patriots have rookie running back Sony Michel—who has gone for 100-plus rushing yards and five total rushing touchdowns in both postseason games—to punish defenses on the ground, White is freed up even more as a receiver.