This should be a phenomenal matchup with several key battles that will determine the outcome.
Here’s a look at the five crucial matchups that will define Super Bowl LIII.
Bill Belichick vs. Sean McVay
The defensive guru who has dominated the NFL for the past 17 years, against the offensive wunderkind who could define the next 17. This is one hell of a matchup.
Bill Belichick’s resume is ridiculous. The 66-year-old has won five Super Bowls as a head coach and two as a defensive coordinator. He’s led the Patriots to nine AFC Championships all while creating the greatest dynasty in NFL history.
Sean McVay has been a head coach for just two seasons and he already has the Rams in the Super Bowl. He’s posted a 24-8 regular season record and division titles in each of his first two years. His success has been so game-changing that guys are getting head coaching opportunities simply by being associated with him. It’s legitimately incredible the impact he’s had.
Belichick has two weeks to prepare defensive looks to throw at McVay and young quarterback Jared Goff. Conversely, McVay is going to pour over tape and find ways to beat whatever Belichick prepares for him.
This is a classic offensive coach vs. defensive coach battle and should be an incredible chess match.
Aaron Donald vs. New England’s offensive line
Aaron Donald might be the best all-around player in the NFL and the Patriots No. 1 job on offense will be containing him. Donald has been named first-team All-Pro in each of the past four seasons and is poised to be named Defensive Player of the Year for the second time in his career. He also led the NFL with 20.5 sacks. He’s an absolute beast.
While there may not be any big names along the Patriots’ offensive front, the unit has developed into one of the NFL’s best. In its end of season rankings, Pro Football Focus had New England’s offensive line third-best in the NFL.
So far in the postseason, Donald hasn’t registered a sack, but he’s still been his normal, disruptive self. On the flip side, the Pats’ offensive line hasn’t allowed Tom Brady to be sacked and has opened up huge running lanes consistently. Patriots runners are averaging more than four yards a carry in the postseason.
This will be strength vs. strength on Super Bowl Sunday.
Todd Gurley vs. Dont’a Hightower
Todd Gurley had the worst game of his career in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, carrying the ball just four times for 10 yards. The Rams managed to win without a big contribution from their two-time, first-team All-Pro, but they won’t beat the Patriots if Gurley is bottled up.
Dont'a Hightower has long been one of the best run-stuffers in the NFL. The 28-year-old is a seven-year veteran and a former All-Pro inside linebacker. He has an innate sense of where the ball is going and his ability to close down running lanes can completely dominant an opposing running game.
The Rams need Gurley to have a big game in the Super Bowl. Yes, CJ Anderson has filled in admirably over the past few weeks, but Gurley can take things to another level. He’s one of the NFL’s best players and LA needs him at his peak. Hightower will do everything he can to make sure that doesn’t happen.
These two are sure to collide around the line of scrimmage repeatedly on February 3.
Julian Edelman vs. Nickell Robey-Coleman
For five seasons, Julian Edelman has been Tom Brady’s security blanket. When he’s absent, New England’s offense is disjointed and just plain looks rough. On Sunday in the AFC Championship Game, Edelman showed what he can do, ripping the Chiefs’ hearts out repeatedly, hauling in seven catches for 96 yards. Included in there were perfect connections from Brady on two separate 3rd and 10 plays in overtime.
Edelman is the perfect example of a modern slot receiver who utilizes the middle of the field to gut opposing defenses. He and Brady have incredible timing, as evidenced by his numbers over the past five seasons. In 67 regular season games since 2013, Edelman has 430 receptions for 4,676 yards and 26 touchdowns. He is the heart of New England’s offense.
Nickell Robey-Coleman has solidified himself as one of the NFL’s best slot cornerbacks. Pro Football Focus has him graded out at 83.1, which puts him as PFF’s fifth-ranked corner. With nickel cornerbacks becoming so valuable, Robey-Coleman is one of the key players on the Rams defense.
Robey-Coleman will likely be tasked with chasing Edelman around the field during Super Bowl LIII. This will be yet another incredible battle to keep and eye on.
Tom Brady vs. Wade Phillips
Tom Brady will be trying to win his sixth Super Bowl title on February 3. Read that again. The 41-year-old has already solidified himself as the greatest quarterback in NFL history, with 14 Pro Bowl selections, three MVPs and five All-Pro selections. Now he’s in position to take home yet another championship.
If anyone had any questions about Brady’s current ability, those should have been answered in overtime against Kansas City on Sunday, when he repeatedly dropped dimes in key situations. He’s still got it.
Wade Phillips (no relation) has been an NFL coach on and off since 1976. He’s consistently been one of the league’s best defensive coordinators. This season, the Rams ranked 14th in passing yards allowed per game (236), but ranked third in interceptions (18) and sixth in yards lost via sacks (326).
That said, based purely on statistics, it wasn’t a great year for LA’s defense. The Rams were involved in a ton of shootouts this season and also had to work in a lot of new pieces. That said, on a man-for-man basis, the Rams have a dangerous defense. When Phillips decides to attack with the insane level of talent he has at his disposal, LA’s defense is at its best.
Phillips has two weeks to plan some looks to throw at Tom Brady and the Patriots. Again, this is another duel worth watching.