The only certainty is that Malcolm Butler isn’t going to play.
Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess what to expect in Super Bowl LIII between the Patriots and Rams Sunday night. Maybe this will be the first time New England handily beats an opponent for the Lombardi Trophy. Maybe the Rams will be the second coming of the Chicago Bears with their own blowout, or worse yet, another representative of hard-luck twice handed down by the New York Giants.
For all the sustained greatness over the past 17 years, these Tom Brady-Bill Belichick Super Bowls have been anything but leisurely, one-sided affairs. After decades of the Super Bowl delivering an overhyped bore, the past 20 years have instead promised considerable drama, with the Patriots delivering most of the memorable showdowns. Consider that of the nine times the Patriots have been here since 2001, they have played in five or six of the greatest Super Bowls ever. Not in franchise history, but in all NFL history.
Will this be the year Brady (finally) scores a Super Bowl touchdown in the first quarter? Will Belichick find another player on his staff to inexplicably remove from the proceedings? And will Patriots fans actually get to relax with a post-halftime score comfortable enough to start planning Tuesday’s parade day sick story?
Yes, no, and hell, no.
But at least the Patriots’ presence guarantees another admission to the ultimate football theater, something the Super Bowl lacked for years.
Super Bowl LIII predictions:
Greg Cote, Miami Herald: Patriots 31, Rams 24. “Do you suffer from Super Bowl Week Syndrome? This is a medically recognized malady that causes headaches and victims’ eyes to glaze over from the the incessant parade of media hype for the big game. Do you suffer from Patriot Fatigue? Symptoms of this diagnosis — prevalent to nearly epidemic levels outside of Massachusetts — include acute irritability over the very idea of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick winning yet again. Either way, folks, for better or worse, it’ll all be over soon!”
Tecmo Bowl simulation: Rams 24, Patriots 21.
ESPN staff: 45 of 72 pick the Patriots.
Bill Barnwell, ESPN.com: Patriots 27, Rams 23. “I lean toward the Patriots, ever so slightly. They’re well-positioned to attack the weakest components of the Rams’ defense with their weapons in the slot, as was the case for the Eagles, who scored 66 points on offense in beating the Rams twice over the past two seasons. There might very well be a scenario like that Seahawks-Broncos game in which Donald makes a big play early and it seems to set the tone for the entire game. It would hardly be shocking if Gurley, healthier after resting for two weeks, punished the Patriots as a receiver. The Rams have tons of top-tier talent. With Belichick and Brady focused on identifying and exploiting the weaker spots in their lineup, though, I think we see the latter become the first player in NFL history with six Super Bowl rings.”
Neil Greenberg, Washington Post: Rams. “The Rams are the better team — at least on paper. Los Angeles was the second-best team during the regular season according to Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average metric, which measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent; New England finished at No. 7. The game charters at Pro Football Focus ranked the Rams at No. 1, three spots higher than the Patriots, but there was as much of a difference between the total rating score for the Rams and Patriots as there was between the Patriots and the Houston Texans, PFF’s ninth-best team of 2018.”
Benjamin Hoffman, New York Times: Rams. “It is tempting to believe Brady can keep up even if the game turns into a shootout, but Aaron Donald, the Rams’ standout defensive tackle, is perhaps the perfect disrupter for New England’s offense. If Donald can generate consistent pressure up the middle, forcing even mild mistakes from Brady, then McVay, a coaching mind who has already been hailed as the future of the N.F.L., would be ready to be crowned king of the league’s present. The game will undoubtedly be close — the Patriots always seem to make it close — but the Rams should win.”
MMQB staff: 10 of 14 like New England.
Twinkie, the Balloon-Popping Dog: Patriots.
CBS Sports staff: Seven out of eight pick New England (Rams +2). Seven of eight also like the Pats straight-up.
Sean Wagner-McGough, CBS Sports: Patriots 34, Rams 24. “When in doubt, don’t bet against Belichick and Brady. I ignored that very simple rule earlier in the playoffs, foolishly thinking the Chargers and Chiefs — both better teams than the Patriots from September through December — would beat the Patriots. I was wrong, twice. And so, I’m done picking against the Patriots. Until the empire finally collapses, I’m done doubting them.”
John Breech, CBS Sports: Rams 30, Patriots 27. “After watching Millennials kill most of the economy, including department stores, chain restaurants, the diamond industry, the cereal industry and I think even American cheese, I think we’re about to watch a Millennial kill one more thing: the Patriots dynasty.”
Bubbles the Elephant: Rams.
Don Banks, patriots.com: Patriots 27, Rams 23. “These Patriots know the terrain and tenor of a Super Bowl better than anyone ever, and when the turning point arrives against the talented but less-experienced Rams, they’ll make the play that saves the day and delivers a record-tying sixth ring. At that point, the parallel tracks these two teams have been on for weeks now will finally diverge. And then we can all get back to obsessing over the question of when the dynasty might end? But first, Sunday will provide a familiar answer: Not yet.”
Ric Flair, wrestling legend: Rams 35, Patriots 28.
SB Nation staff: Five out of six pick the Patriots.
FiveThirtyEight: New England with a 53 percent chance of winning.
Komodo dragon: Rams.
Peter King, NBC Sports: Patriots 37, Rams 33.
NFL Network staff: 11 out of 20 pick the Patriots.
It says here: Patriots 35, Rams 31. The Chiefs were better. The Rams are better. The Patriots will win. Wash. Rinse.