When the Rams run: Todd Gurley looked like an MVP candidate early in the season, but skepticism about his health (he missed the final two games of the regular season with inflammation in his left knee) grew during the NFC Championship Game, when he played just 32 snaps and finished with just five touches for 13 total yards. Coach Sean McVay has said Gurley is 100 percent leading into this game, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see C.J. Anderson get as many or more carries. Anderson has been a great fit in the Rams’ outside zone running scheme. He’s excellent at finding cutback lanes, which the Rams’ scheme is designed to do. Gurley, on the other hand, excels on runs to the outside. The Patriots, however, do an excellent job of setting the edge against the run, which forces things inside. EDGE: Rams.
When the Rams pass: Quarterback Jared Goff uses play-action better than anyone in the NFL. The Rams’ top two receivers are Brandin Cooks and old friend Robert Woods, who has thrived in his hometown. Woods has raved about Goff’s ability to stay cool under pressure, but that will be put to the test on the game’s biggest stage. The loss of slot receiver Cooper Kupp has been tough for Los Angeles, which runs three-receiver sets nearly exclusively. Gurley is one of the best pass-catching running backs in the NFL, although he’s been limited to just three catches for 6 yards in two playoff games, another reason his injury status has been questioned. The Patriots finished third in the NFL with 18 interceptions and held opponents to a 61.2 completion percentage, second in the league. EDGE: Rams.
When the Patriots run: New England has been dominating on the ground lately, including in the AFC Championship Game against the Chiefs. The Patriots gained 176 yards on 48 carries against Kansas City. That followed 155 yards on 34 carries against the Chargers in the divisional round. In those two wins, New England has 25 first downs rushing the ball and eight touchdowns. Rookie Sony Michel is the lead back. He had 113 yards on 29 carries against the Chiefs. The Rams gave up 5.1 yards per rush in the regular season, worst in the NFL, despite having Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh in the middle of their defense. It’s been better in the postseason, though, including in the NFC Championship Game when Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara combined for just 46 yards on 17 carries for the Saints. Edge: Patriots.
When the Patriots pass: It starts up front with the offensive line, which hasn’t given up a sack in the playoffs and allowed just 21 in the regular season. That group will be tested by Donald and Suh. New England quarterback Tom Brady’s legend grew in the AFC Championship Game, when he completed three third-and-10 passes on the game-winning touchdown drive. The loss of Josh Gordon has taken away one of his top weapons, but Julian Edelman, Amherst native Rob Gronkowski and running back James White can still get it done. White is probably the best pass-catching running back in the NF. The Rams have a pair of stud cornerbacks in Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. EDGE: Patriots.
Special teams: Los Angeles was ninth and New England was 10th in Rick Gosselin’s annual special-teams rankings, which are accepted as the league standard. Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein, who hit a 57-yard field goal to win the NFC Championship Game, isn’t listed on the final injury report after dealing with a left foot injury. Don’t be surprised if the Rams go to a trick play, like when they ran a fake punt against the Saints. Punter Johnny Hekker finished second in the NFL in net average (43 yards). The Patriots have a dynamic kickoff returner in Cordarrelle Patterson. New England has seen two punts get blocked this year, and kicker Stephen Gostkowski is just 2 of 5 on attempts from 50-plus yards. EDGE: Rams.
Coaching: The matchup of 66-year-old Bill Belichick against 33-year-old Sean McVay is the most intriguing of this year’s Super Bowl. This is New England’s ninth Super Bowl in the Brady-Belichick era, so they have a massive advantage when it comes to experience. McVay, though, is the toast of the NFL at the moment, with teams scrambling to follow his offensive blueprint. Will a passing of the torch occur? It will be fun to find out. EDGE: Patriots.
Prediction: Rams 27, Patriots 24.