Jan 20, 2019

  • ESPN

The Los Angeles Rams needed overtime to get by the New Orleans Saints, but they are headed to the Super Bowl. They will meet the New England Patriots in Atlanta in two weeks. The Pats also needed overtime in a shootout against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in the AFC title game.

Here's an early look at their matchup, complete with team breakdowns, X factors and big questions for the final game of the season. Plus, we have early predictions from our experts and ESPN's Football Power Index.

What to know | NE | LAR
Big questions | Early picks

What to know for Super Bowl LIII

When: Sunday, Feb. 3 at 6:30 p.m. ET on CBS
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta | Tickets
Vegas line: Patriots -1.5 (O/U 58.5)
FPI prediction: Rams, 51 percent

Super Bowl LIII will bring together the NFL's oldest of the old, and the newest of the new. The New England Patriots are led by the NFL's most-tenured coach (Bill Belichick) and oldest starting quarterback (Tom Brady). When Belichick and Brady won the first Super Bowl together at the end of the 2001 season, Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay was 16 years old. Their quarterback, Jared Goff, was 7. McVay has sparked a revolution in the way NFL teams think about offense and team building. But no one has done it better than Belichick and Brady. — Kevin Seifert

New England Patriots

Reason to be excited: Simply put, the Patriots have Brady and Belichick leading the way. This is their ninth appearance in the Super Bowl together, so they know the drill more than any quarterback-coach combination in NFL history. That alone makes the Patriots a dangerous team in the highest-stakes game. — Mike Reiss

Reason to be concerned: Aaron Donald. The Rams' defensive tackle is the best in the NFL at the position, and he could make life difficult for Brady. The Patriots are strong on the interior of their offensive line with left guard Joe Thuney, center David Andrews and right guard Shaq Mason, so it will be interesting to see how much attention the Patriots devote to Donald, who led the league with 20.5 sacks. And then there's Ndamukong Suh to deal with as well. — Reiss

Patriots will win if …: they have a player rush for more than 100 yards. Since the Belichick-Brady era began in 2000, they are 11-0 in the postseason when a player rushes for 100 yards, and 51-1 in the regular season. The revived running game led by Sony Michel and James White has helped settle things for the offense down the stretch, making life easier for Brady. — Reiss

X factor: White, who is going to get carries in the Super Bowl out of the Patriots' one- and two-back personnel groupings. His impact as a receiver changes the game for defenses. White caught 87 passes during the regular season, added a whopping 15 receptions in the divisional playoff win over the Chargers, then tacked on another four grabs in the AFC Championship Game win. His ability to work the flat, produce in the screen game and create matchups underneath against linebackers is crucial to the Patriots' passing attack, especially on third downs. — Matt Bowen

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0:17

Pats punch SB ticket on Burkhead's OT TD

Rex Burkhead plunges in for his second touchdown, as the Patriots sit atop the AFC throne for a third straight season.

Stat to know: The Patriots ran man coverage 59.8 percent of the time in the regular season, the highest rate in NFL, according to ESPN's coverage classifier powered by NFL Next Gen Stats. Their corners will have to deal with the speed and talent of Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods on the outside of the Rams' high-octane offense in Atlanta. — ESPN Stats & Information

Los Angeles Rams

Reason to be excited: Sean McVay. The second-year coach never has coached on a stage of this magnitude, but over two seasons the offensive wunderkind has proved his innate leadership ability and willingness to evolve as a playcaller. McVay's offense is full of weapons, including a much-improved quarterback in Goff, a dynamic duo in Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson, and two 1,000-plus-yard receivers in Cooks and Woods. And recently, he has found a way to keep defenses on edge in utilizing every single one of them. Goff was 7-of-7 for 107 yards when targeting Cooks in the NFC Championship Game. — Lindsey Thiry

Reason to be concerned: Experience. There's no telling how a team of young playmakers will react when they take the field for the biggest game of their careers. They showed their poise in a divisional-round win and in the NFC Championship Game, but Cooks and cornerback Aqib Talib are the only offensive and defensive starters with Super Bowl experience. — Thiry

Rams will win if …: they avoid turnovers. A common denominator in all three of the Rams' regular-season losses were turnovers by Goff; he threw an interception against the Saints, threw four against the Bears and was responsible for two turnovers in a loss to the Eagles. If Goff can take care of the football, the Rams can win the Super Bowl. — Thiry

X factor: Woods caught 86 passes for 1,219 yards during the regular season. He also added six scores in a system that fits his skill set. Look for Woods to show up running intermediate cuts off the Rams' early-down play-action concepts, while also creating separation on deep crossing routes. And when Goff can throw in rhythm, Woods will find the open voids in the coverage to move the sticks. He's a slick route runner with the toughness to make plays inside the numbers versus both zone and man coverage. — Bowen

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Rams earn Super Bowl berth with OT win

The Rams get two huge field goals late from Greg Zuerlein and benefit from a missed pass interference call to beat the Saints 26-23 in overtime.

Stat to know: Goff entered Sunday's NFC title game with the most play-action pass attempts this season. He went 10-of-12 for 108 yards and a touchdown off play-action in the win over the Saints. — ESPN Stats & Information

Big questions

Who will the Patriots take away?

Belichick is known for identifying the thing about the opposing team's offense that worries him and figuring out a way to take it away. But at this point, what is that for the Rams? You'd have said Gurley at almost any point in the past two seasons, but he's not himself right now and it has been hard to affix an offensive identity to this Rams team so far in the postseason. Certainly, the Patriots will be aware of Cooks, who helped their team get to last year's Super Bowl.

But the Rams can beat you in a lot of different ways, and Goff is playing with a great deal of confidence right now. Belichick's challenge the next two weeks will be to figure out how McVay plans to come after him, then design a defense that addresses that. — Dan Graziano

Will Gurley be OK for the Super Bowl?

Gurley missed the past couple of games of the regular season because of a knee injury but came back and played well in the divisional-round victory over Dallas. But he was barely a factor Sunday in New Orleans. He scored a touchdown, sure, but he had only 10 rushing yards on four carries and one 3-yard catch on three targets (the other two of which were drops). Anderson, signed off the street in December to fill in while Gurley missed games, had 16 carries for 44 yards and was in the game in many key moments while Gurley held his helmet and watched from the sideline.

The Rams have insisted that Gurley is healthy. McVay said after Sunday's game that the reason for the running back rotation was "flow of the game," and that he expected Gurley to play a major role in the Super Bowl. But his performance Sunday, on the heels of a late-season injury, raises fair questions about whether the Rams can count on their best offensive player in the biggest game of the year. — Graziano

Gut-reaction predictions

Our experts lean with New England in early predictions, 5-3.

Mike Clay, NFL writer: Rams. Boston vs. Los Angeles. Brady vs. Goff. Belichick vs. McVay. Michel vs. … Anderson?! This is going to be fun. I expect a nail-biter of a shootout in the dome in Atlanta, but the Rams win it.

Matt Bowen, NFL writer: Patriots. The Pats will continue to use that old-school approach on offense: power football, play-action and the quick passing game. But don't forget about Belichick's defense in this one. It will challenge routes outside vs. the Rams' wide receivers.

Dan Graziano, NFL national writer: Rams. I think Los Angeles has the better defense, and while New England obviously has a massive experience advantage, the Rams have shown the ability to overcome a lot of things — most recently, a 13-0 deficit against the Saints in the deafening Superdome.

Mina Kimes, NFL writer: Patriots. While Donald is an absolute terror, the Patriots' offensive line has been spectacular. And the pass-rush, which has been brilliant throughout the postseason, should apply enough pressure to contain Goff.

Jason Reid, The Undefeated senior writer: Rams. They have more playmakers on offense, and Donald will help provide the necessary pass pressure against Brady.

Mike Sando, senior NFL writer: Patriots. Brady and a balanced Pats offense will make the difference for New England.

Kevin Seifert, NFL national writer: Patriots. If the Pats figured out how to stymie the Chiefs' offense in one week, they can be reasonably counted on to figure out the Rams' in two.

Field Yates, NFL analyst: Patriots. Brady will show that his age (41) is just a storyline. He helps lead the Patriots to a sixth Super Bowl win and does so in MVP form.

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