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Inside the Matchup
Super Bowl LIII

By: Andy Swanson | Jason Katz


NE vs. LAR
- (Swanson) | NE @ LAR - (Katz)

- Green highllight indicates plus matchup (top eight)
- Red highlight indicates negative matchup (bottom eight)

Patriots vs. Rams - (Swanson)
Line: NE -2.5
Total: 56.5

Passing Game Thoughts: Tom Brady and the New England Patriots return to the Super Bowl for the third consecutive year and ninth time overall after defeating Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game.

Brady completed 30-of-46 passes for 348 yards against the Chiefs, with one passing touchdown and two interceptions. Although he has just two passing touchdowns and two interceptions this postseason, the five-time Super Bowl champ continues to dominate with a quick passing attack and a high completion percentage of just over 70%.

Head Coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels neutralized the pass rush of the Chargers and Chiefs by calling for quick passes and a run-heavy approach. The plan has worked flawlessly so far, with opposing defenses failing to sack Brady in either of the two games. While the Rams do not have the same edge rushing stars of the Chargers or Chiefs, they do excel at rushing the passer and disrupting the run with all-pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald. Look for Brady to once again use quick passes to Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Rob Gronkowski, and James White, to get the ball out of his hand quickly and help the middle of the offensive line against Donald and Ndamukong Suh.

Although he is a shell of his former self and used almost more as a decoy and a blocker, Gronkowski may once again see a heavy dose of shadow coverage from Aquib Talib like when the two faced off in the AFC Championship game in 2015. Wade Phillips was the defensive coordinator for the Broncos at that time and made a point to use the lanky cornerback against the 6’7” tight end.

Another aspect to watch will be the Patriots taking advantage of cornerback Marcus Peters on double moves. Peters is not the greatest coverage corner, but he is very aggressive and makes the majority of his picks jumping routes and pulling off of his assigned coverage. Look for McDaniels to use that aggressiveness against him, with a few deep passes to Hogan or Phillip Dorsett on sluggos and other double-move routes.

After a slow start to the season, highlighted by a 422-yard, three touchdown game to Kirk Cousins, the Rams turned things around as the team got healthy on the defensive side of the ball. Not counting the three-touchdown game by Nick Mullens in Week 17 when the Rams were resting players, Phillips’ defense allowed a total of two passing touchdowns since Week 13.

LAR FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.15
LAR FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.16
LAR FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.12
LAR FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.9

Running Game Thoughts: Sony Michel finished his rookie season as the No.24 ranked running back in fantasy points per game (10.3). The former first-round pick from the University of Georgia rushed for 931 yards and six touchdowns on 209 carries, with seven catches for 50 yards in 13 games.

Although his regular season totals were good, but not necessarily eye-opening, he has been nothing short of dominant in the playoffs with five rushing touchdowns and 242 rushing yards against the Chargers and Chiefs.

The Patriots used Michel and Rex Burkhead to control the clock and limit the number of possessions for Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City offense. That same game plan will be used once again in the Super Bowl as Bill Belichick does not want to get his team in another shootout vs. a high scoring offense.
The Rams finished the season as the No.16th ranked team against the run, allowing 1635 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns to opposing backs. Considering the amount of money and talent the Rams used to bolster their defensive front, it was somewhat surprising that Los Angeles was not better at limiting the run for opposing backs. Twelve players in 16 games against the Rams reached at least 10 fantasy points, including a three-touchdown performance by Alvin Kamara Week 9.

But the Rams appear to have shored up their rush defense in the playoffs after limiting Ezekiel Elliott to 47 yards on 20 carries in the divisional round and Kamara to just 15 yards on eight carries. If the Patriots find it difficult to run between the tackles with Michel and Burkhead, look for Brady to rely more heavily on White on passes out of the backfield that are essentially extended handoffs outside the tackles to give White the ball in space.

Passing Game Thoughts: Jared Goff finished the 16-game regular season as the No.6 ranked fantasy quarterback, ahead of Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson, and his Super Bowl LIII opponent, Tom Brady. He set career-highs in every single statistical category, including completion percentage (64.8%), passing yards (4,688), and passing touchdowns (32).

Although Goff ended with an impressive point total for the season, a closer examination of his game log reveals more than a few head-scratching performances sandwiched between some monster games. In just two games against the Vikings and Chiefs, the former first overall pick logged just under 1000 passing yards with nine touchdowns, only to follow up with a 201/0 line against the Broncos.

The most interesting aspect of this Super Bowl matchup will be the chess match between Rams head coach Sean McVay, the young and brash offensive mind going up against the greatest coach and defensive mind the game has ever seen.

One of the things that McVay focuses on is running multiple plays out of the 11 personal grouping. Not only does the use of three wide receivers, a tight end, and one running back force opposing defenses to play both the pass and run more evenly, it opens the box for the running game and gives his slot receivers advantageous matchups against slot corners and linebackers.

Look for McVay to use this strategy, along with a ton of motion to get mismatches for wide receivers Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks. The Rams used the same play against the Vikings to get Cooper Kupp and Woods open on post and seam touchdowns against Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr. No other team in the league uses more 11 personnel than the Rams, and Belichick’s ability to develop a scheme to beat it will be crucial for the success of the Patriots.

Another matchup to watch will be the pressure put on Goff by blitz packages with Kyle Van Noy, Dont’a Hightower, and the other Patriots linebackers. The Chiefs offensive line struggled to protect Mahomes in the AFC championship game, and the line appeared to be confused at times by the blitz scheme employed by Belichick. The Rams boast a far more talented and experienced offensive line, and their ability to identify and respond to blitzes will be imperative for the Rams.

NE FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.12
NE FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.21
NE FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.21
NE FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.15

Running Game Thoughts: Todd Gurley’s performance against the Saints and an apparent benching by Sean McVay in favor of C.J. Anderson was one of the more shocking turns of events in the 2018 post season. After another season in which he finished as the RB 1 in fantasy football, Gurley has been awful in the playoffs, dropping easy passes that led to turnovers and missing blocking assignments. Perhaps the knee injury that Gurley suffered at the end of the season continues to hamper the all-pro back. But regardless of the reason, Gurley has not come up big for the Rams when they needed him most.

Anderson , on the other hand, has been a revelation, rushing for at least 123 yards and a score in three of his last four games, including 123 yards and two touchdowns in the divisional game against the Cowboys. Considering the veteran back was cut by the Broncos, Panthers, and Raiders in the last 14 months, it is impressive to see what he has done with the Rams in crunch time.

Both players will be in the mix with Gurley continuing to be the starter. But if he continues to struggle with the mental side of the game, don't be surprised to see McVay use Anderson more and more as the game progresses.

You can run on the Patriots, a team that ended the regular season as the No.21 ranked team in fantasy points allowed to running backs. Like the Rams, 12 running backs in 16 games reached the double-digit plateau against New England, including Jaylen Samuels in Week 15, with 172 total yards.

Although only six rushing touchdowns were scored against the Pats this season, the team did allow the ninth-most receiving yards to running backs, and four different players scored a receiving touchdown out of the backfield.

As the No.26th ranked team in total number of passes to running backs this season, the Rams are not built to take advantage of the relative weakness of the Patriots in the passing game out of the backfield. Perhaps McVay will create a game plan that does feature more passes to running backs as a way to confuse the Patriots and give them a taste of their own medicine.

Prediction: Patriots 31, Rams 28 ^ Top

Patriots vs. Rams - (Katz)
Line: NE -2.5
Total: 56.5

Passing Game Thoughts: Tom Brady threw for over 300 yards just five times during the regular season with his 358 yards in Week 14 a season high. Coming in second and third are both of his playoff performances of 343 and 348 yards. Brady will never be an elite fantasy QB again, but he’s proven that has nothing to do with a lack of ability. At over 40 years old, Brady goes on cruise control in the regular season and turns on the afterburners in the playoffs. His 90 pass attempts in his two postseason games are more than any two regular season games combined.

It is difficult to use information from the season to support what is going to happen because the Patriots are a different team in the playoffs. I don’t think anyone will argue that the Rams are the more talented team. I don’t think it’s particularly close. But the Patriots are winning this game because that’s what they do.

Conventional wisdom suggests that Bill Belichick will employ a quick passing attack to neutralize Aaron Donald and the Rams’ pass rush. That typically means a lot of Julian Edelman and a lot of James White. The Rams ranked 28th in DVOA against opposing WR1s, but were 4th in covering running backs out of the backfield. White was the game plan against the Chargers, but was an afterthought against the Chiefs. He certainly won’t see 17 targets again, but I expect double digits. Julian Edelman will remain the rock and Brady’s safety blanket. He’s seen 23 targets over the Patriots’ two playoff games.

This will be Rob Gronkowski’s last game in my opinion. He’s still a massive human and always a threat to score a touchdown, but he’s not a deliberate piece of this offense. Unfortunately, regardless of what type of fantasy you’re playing, you don’t really have another option at the position. Phillip Dorsett is rarely targeted, but he’s managed to score in both games. He’s a sneaky contrarian play as he’s been all throughout the playoffs.

LAR FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.15
LAR FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.16
LAR FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.12
LAR FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.9

Running Game Thoughts: I touched on James White above so the focus here will be on Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead. There’s no clear starter or workhorse. The split between Michel, White, and Burkhead against the Chiefs was 35%, 34%, 31% of the snaps. Belichick just does what he wants. Burkhead has three touchdowns this postseason while Michel has five. The difference is Michel has seen 53 carries. He’s the clear preferred option even though Burkhead remains a threat to vulture him at the goal line.

Unfortunately for Michel, he is less than zero in the passing game as he is vastly inferior to both White and Burkhead. The Patriots have played in a blowout and a shootout where Michel’s usage has been no different. The Rams have a top 10 run defense, but the Patriots’ run success has more to do with scheme and confusion than trying to pound the ball into an eight man front. Belichick is smarter than that. The Patriots will run exactly as much as they need to and the players scoring the touchdowns could be anyone, including James Develin, which is always fun.

Value Meter:
QB1: Tom Brady
RB1: Sony Michel
RB1: James White
WR1: Julian Edelman
TE1: Rob Gronkowski
Flex: Rex Burkhead

Passing Game Thoughts: Jared Goff was better than Tom Brady this season. Goff looks like a younger, faster version of Brady. He’s a true pocket passer capable of making extremely high difficulty throws. Goff also has a propensity to throw the ball into danger but if the Rams want to win this game, it will be on the arm of their third year quarterback.

Fortunately for Goff, the Rams sport three excellent receivers in Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, and Josh Reynolds. Cooks is playing in his second consecutive Super Bowl, exiting early with a concussion for the Patriots last year. You have to think he’s anxious to put on a show. Unfortunately, he will likely see a lot of Stephon Gilmore.

The key to the Rams passing attack will be Woods, who has caught six balls in each of the Rams’ two playoff games. Woods has caught at least five passes in all but four games this season. The Patriots have an average pass defense and Woods will avoid Gilmore in the slot making him the preferred member of this passing attack.

And given how often the Rams run 11 personnel, Josh Reynolds deserves consideration, coming off an impressive 4-74 outing in the NFC Championship game. He won’t be a popular play, which makes him interesting in a game where he should see six or seven targets.

Neither Gerald Everett nor Tyler Higbee is of much use at the tight end position. Higbee is in there to block and occasionally leak out for a reception in the flat or a short touchdown. Everett is an athletic move TE that just isn’t a great pass catcher.

NE FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.12
NE FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.21
NE FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.21
NE FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.15

Running Game Thoughts: Todd Gurley claimed he was benched for C.J. Anderson due to poor play. No one will deny that Gurley was dreadful when he was on the field against the Saints, but it’s hard to dismiss the notion that Gurley’s knee injury was and still is far more serious than the team let on. If Gurley is healthy this week, I can’t fathom why he wouldn’t see his regular season workload. It’s the Super Bowl and he’s Todd Gurley.

CJA has showed well, but come on, let’s be serious, he’s not even 1/100 the player Gurley is. Running backs don’t matter in real football so the Rams will be fine regardless, but for fantasy purposes, it’s impossible to trust Anderson. People are going to be scared off of Gurley, making him a contrarian play – something he is quite unfamiliar with after being the chalk play all season. The Patriots run defense has been below average, but even if they step up like they did against Damien Williams (10-30) last week, Gurley is an adept pass catcher and can accumulate stats in that area as long as he is on the field.

Value Meter:
QB1: Jared Goff
RB1: Todd Gurley
WR1: Robert Woods
WR3: Brandin Cooks
Flex: Josh Reynolds

Prediction: Patriots 30, Rams 27 ^ Top