The AFC champion New England Patriots and NFC champion Los Angeles Rams will battle for the Super Bowl title at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA on Feb. 3. Here are five notable storylines for Super Bowl LIII.
The Patriots and Rams faced off in Super Bowl XXXVI on Feb. 3, 2002 at the Superdome in Louisiana, which determined the champion of the 2001 NFL season. The Patriots, quarterbacked by Tom Brady in his first year as a starter, defeated the Kurt Warner-led Rams. The Rams—then based in St. Louis—were known as the “The Greatest Show on Turf” and were 14-point favorites. In terms of point spread, the Patriots’ victory was the second-biggest playoff upset in NFL history (the New York Jets beating the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III as 18-point underdogs was the greatest postseason upset in league history).
Cornerback Ty Law intercepted Warner in the second quarter and returned it for a touchdown in one of the most memorable plays of the contest.
Adam Vinatieri kicked a game-winning 48-yard field goal as time expired in New England’s 20-17 win as the Patriots captured their first Super Bowl title in franchise history. Brady had a quiet game—completing 16 of 27 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown—but was named Super Bowl MVP after leading the Patriots down the field in the waning moments to set up Vinatieri’s game-ending field goal.
Exactly 17 years removed from their previous Super Bowl matchup, the Patriots and Rams will square off in Super Bowl LIII with the victor being crowned the champion of the 2018 season. The Rams are currently 1.5-point underdogs.
The age difference Brady (41) and Rams QB Jared Goff (24) will likely be discussed throughout the Super Bowl. It’s the largest gap between starting quarterbacks in Super Bowl history. The age disparity between Rams 32-year-old head coach Sean McVay and Bill Belichick, the 66-year-old five-time champion coach of the Patriots, is also noteworthy.
Rob Gronkowski is reportedly considering retirement. His numbers were down considerably in the regular season. He caught 47 passes for 682 yards and three TDs in 13 games played.
Despite Gronkowski’s quiet regular season, he has played a pivotal role in the Patriots’ playoff victories. His blocking expertise has been on display and he managed to catch six passes for 79 yards in the AFC Championship against the Kansas City Chiefs. Two of those receptions came on critical third-down plays—one late in the fourth quarter and another during the Patriots’ game-winning drive in overtime.
The 29-year-old tight end has the chance to ride off into the sunset with his third Super Bowl title.
The Patriots traded Cooks to Los Angeles last offseason for a first-round draft pick. The wide receiver spent one year in New England, where he accumulated 1,082 receiving yards. Cooks left last year's Super Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles after taking a vicious hit from Malcolm Jenkins and was unable to return in the Patriots' loss.
In his first season with the Rams, Cooks racked up 80 receptions, 1,204 yards and five TDs. He logged a game-high 107 receiving yards in the Rams’ victory over the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship.
Cooks will look to make a bigger impact in this year’s Super Bowl, and succeeding against the team that got rid of him would make the win all the more sweeter for the wideout.
The Patriots' offensive line has been tremendous in the postseason. They have yet to give up a sack and have created plenty of room for Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead to run wild. Michel has scored five TDs and rushed for 242 yards in the Patriots’ two playoff contests, while Burkhead has registered three rushing scores.
Aaron Donald, likely to win Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season, is tasked with breaking through the Patriots’ stout O-line. Donald recorded a league-best 20.5 sacks in the regular season.
Donald and teammate Ndamukong Suh, both defensive tackles, must create a strong interior pass rush. Putting pressure on Brady, who has yet to be sacked during the playoffs, will be instrumental in the Rams’ upset chances.