February 1, 2019 7:00 am

Rick Zamperin: L.A. Rams look to avenge 2002 Super Bowl loss to New England Patriots

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) will try to lead his team past Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, who are trying to win their sixth Super Bowl.

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We are just a couple of sleeps away from Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, where the battle-tested New England Patriots take on the upstart Los Angeles Rams.

Tom Brady and the Pats are making their ninth appearance in the NFL title game in the last 18 years and are seeking a record-tying sixth Super Bowl victory (Pittsburgh has six Super Bowl titles). Standing in their way are the explosive Rams who last played in the title game in 2002, when they lost to New England.

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The Rams’ lone championship celebration came two years earlier, when the team was based in St. Louis.

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The Patriots are favoured by 2.5 points in Sunday’s matchup at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Vegas oddsmakers are expecting a high scoring affair, having set the over-under for total points at 56.5.

Come Sunday evening, when all the pre-game hoopla is done, which team will raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy?

The New England Patriots will win if:

The Pats offensive line keeps L.A.’s vaunted pass rush away from quarterback Tom Brady. If Brady is allowed to stand in the pocket he will pick apart the Rams defence. But if Aaron Donald, the favourite to win this year’s top defensive player award, and fellow defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh get to Brady, it will be a long night for the 41-year-old QB.

Running backs Sony Michel and James White get into a groove. Michel has rushed for a league best 242 yards and five touchdowns in New England’s two playoff wins, while White has caught more passes (19) than anyone else in these playoffs. White set the record for most catches in the Super Bowl (14) just two years ago and scored three touchdowns in New England’s epic come-from-behind victory over the Atlanta Falcons, including the winning TD in overtime.

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The Los Angeles Rams will win if:

Quarterback Jared Goff can handle the bright lights of Super Bowl Sunday. The 24-year-old has had a fantastic season, but he will have to manage his emotions while trying to solve the defensive game plan that Pats head coach Bill Belichick has devised. Only four of the nine quarterbacks under 25 that have started a Super Bowl have come out victorious. Of even more concern for Rams fans, QB’s under 25 years of age are 15-75 against Belichick and the Patriots since 2001.

Donald, Suh, and pass rusher Dexter Fowler Jr. get to Brady. If the Rams are able to get in Brady’s face with their front four and sack him a few times, it will greatly help Los Angeles’ linebackers and defensive backs in limiting the damage that can be done by Michel, White, receiver Julian Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski. The New York Giants did it to near perfection when they held Brady and the Pats to just two touchdowns in winning Super Bowl XLII 17-14, spoiling New England’s quest for a perfect season.

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So, back to the question: will the Pats raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy once again, or will the Rams be crowned champions?

I have a feeling the game, at least in the early going, is going to be a chess match between Belichick and Rams head coach Sean McVay. They will feel each other out in the first quarter to determine each other’s scheme and then make adjustments as the game progresses. Both teams are capable of explosive plays and I’m sure we’ll see a handful of them throughout the course of the game.

My gut is telling me that L.A. is going to win the Super Bowl because of their unpredictable attack. But my head says the Patriots are just too balanced and well coached to fall flat when the chips are down and will win. It’s always more fun going with your gut, so I say the L.A. Rams will beat the New England Patriots 31-28 in Super Bowl LIII.

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