- The Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots will meet in Super Bowl LIII on Sunday.
- Both teams are stocked with talent on both sides of the ball, but it is clear that some players will be more vital than others to their team’s success or demise.
- Below we ranked the 28 players who will determine the outcome of Super Bowl LIII.
- Follow all of our coverage of Super Bowl LIII here.
This Sunday the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots will meet in Super Bowl LIII, playing for the right to lift the Lombardi Trophy and call themselves champions.
Both teams are stocked with talented players on both sides of the ball. For the Patriots, it was a bumpier year than usual, but the outcome was the same, riding Tom Brady and the most reliable roster of role players in the NFL to their third straight Super Bowl. For the Rams, an offseason buying spree and a wunderkind head coach helped turn-around the perennial also-rans into Super Bowl contenders in just two years.
There’s no telling what moments will sway the big game until the opening kickoff, but knowing how these teams are built and who they rely on, we can make our best guesses as to which players will decide the outcome on Sunday.
Below are the 28 characters that will determine the outcome of Super Bowl LIII.
28. Johnny Hekker
Johnny Hekker will have two significant roles to play in Super Bowl LIII.
First, he’s the Rams punter, and will be charged with flipping the field should the Los Angeles offence falter in their territory. Hekker also serves as the holder for kicker Greg Zuerlein, meaning his hands will need to be steady in some of the highest-pressure moments of the game.
Hekker is also a trick play savant and has been used by head coach Sean McVay when the team is in need of a spark. Should the Rams have their backs against the wall in the first half, don’t be surprised if Hekker makes a move with the ball in his hands.
27. Devin McCourty
Devin McCourty has teased a potential retirement at the end of Super Bowl LIII. But before he makes that decision, he’ll be a vital last line of defence for the Patriots against a Rams offensive attack that has five or six players who could break free for a score at any moment.
26. Trey Flowers
The Rams’ defensive line will earn the majority of headlines leading up to the Super Bowl, and rightfully so, but the Patriots’ pass rush will also be a significant factor in whether or not Los Angeles quarterback Jared Goff can find his rhythm. If Trey Flowers can bother Goff throughout the game, the Rams will be in for a long day.
25. Patrick Chung
Patrick Chung is another vital part of the Patriots secondary and should have his work cut out for him as he attempts to keep pace with the Rams flying down the field. Chung had 10 combined tackles last year against the Eagles, and another five in the Patriots Super Bowl LI win over the Falcons.
24. Chris Hogan
Chris Hogan is rarely Tom Brady’s first look downfield, but he has shown an uncanny ability to come up with a big play when needed. He’s also an undervalued part of an offence who can attack from anywhere. If Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman are slow to get going, don’t be shocked when Brady aims for Hogan on a deep crossing route.
23. Rex Burkhead
The Patriots always employ a rotating cast of running backs that seem to regularly ebb and flow regarding importance depending on the game plan. That said, Rex Burkhead was a vital part of New England’s AFC Championship win over the Chiefs, rushing for 41 yards and two touchdowns as a featured back in the red zone.
22. Stephen Gostkowski
Stephen Gostkowski is known as one of the best clutch kickers in the NFL. If the game comes down to a field goal, the Patriots will be confident.
21. Robert Woods
Robert Woods is the first of a triumvirate of Rams receivers charged with undoing the Patriots defence to keep pace with the prolific scoring of Tom Brady and the New England offence. After averaging more than 76 yards per game over the regular season, Woods has been rather quiet so far in the playoffs, but there would be no better time for him to have another breakout game.
20. Dont’a Hightower
Dont’a Hightower is one of the centerpieces of the Patriots defence, and will often be the second level that meets running backs Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson on early downs. Their head-to-head battles will be the difference between second-and-short and third-and-long.
19. C.J. Anderson
C.J. Anderson is nominally the Rams’ second running back, but after Todd Gurley’s unexpected disappearance from the AFC Championship, there’s a chance that Anderson will once again be asked to carry the load for Los Angeles. Though he’s only played four games with the team after joining Los Angeles before Week 16, Anderson is averaging 116 rushing yards per game, and now has the chance to be a game-changer in a Super Bowl.
18. James White
James White led the Patriots with 87 receptions through the 2018 regular season. If New England believes the way to beat the Rams involves misdirection and quick passing plays, White will be getting a lot of looks on Sunday.
17. Josh Reynolds
Josh Reynolds stepped up after Cooper Kupp went down with an injury, filling a vital role for the Rams offence. He’s also been used as a rusher in end-arounds and other trickery looks from the Los Angeles attack.
16. Aqib Talib
Aqib Talib has already won a Super Bowl and provides an important aspect of veteran calm to a defence that features many players in their first deep playoff run. Breaking up a few of Brady’s passes at the right moments could go a long way towards the Rams lifting the Lombardy Trophy.
15. Greg Zuerlein
Greg Zuerlein came up huge for the Rams in the NFC Championship, and will likely need another big game on Sunday if Los Angeles is to prevail. The Patriots have proven the past two years that if you want to beat them, you need to score every chance you get, and Zuerlein has the distance that can turn a questionable drive into three points – as long as he can keep things down the middle.
14. Rob Gronkowski
Rob Gronkowski was a sleeping giant all season, only to erupt in the AFC title game with six receptions for 79 yards, including a few huge must-have grabs on the Patriots’ final drives. If he can keep the run going for one more day, his dialed-down year will have been more than worth it.
13. Ndamukong Suh
With Aaron Donald commanding a double-team on most of his defensive snaps, Ndamukong Suh has had more opportunity than ever before in his career to bring havoc into opposing backfields this season. Getting Tom Brady off-balance will be critical to the Rams success on Sunday, and Suh could be the man for the job.
12. Sony Michel
Through two postseason games, Sony Michel has already rushed for 242 yards and five touchdowns – the most consistent running back in recent Patriots memory. The Rams defence will be the toughest test he’s faced yet, but the rookie seems more than up to the challenge.
11. Brandin Cooks
Brandin Cooks will be facing off against his former team on Sunday and represents the Rams’ best big-play threat on the field. Expect Los Angeles to look for him early on a few play-action deep balls with the hopes of catching the Patriots flat-footed.
With a win, Cooks will get to raise the Lombardi Trophy with the added delight of knowing he took down his former employers to do it. With a loss, he’ll gain the unfortunate distinction of having lost back-to-back Super Bowls with different teams. The stakes could not be higher.
10. Wade Phillips
Wade Phillips is the defensive yang to head coach Sean McVay’s yin. He’s an elder statesman of the NFL and has coached numerous defences to great success over his 43 years in the league. Many great coaches have tried and failed to devise a plan to slow down Tom Brady on football’s biggest stage, but if you had one pick on who to draft the blueprint of his demise, Phillips would likely be the guy.
9. Patriots offensive line
Trent Brown, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, and Marcus Cannon. These players are charged with the task of slowing down Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald on Sunday. If they can hold firm as they have so far this postseason, the Patriots might be able to coast to victory, but should they falter, the Rams’ two biggest defensive playmakers could swing the game at any moment.
8. Julian Edelman
Tom Brady seems to know where to find Julian Edelman on the field down to the square inch. Edelman is Brady’s favourite target and is as sure-handed as it can be when it matters most. If the Rams ever are in need of a stop on a crucial third down, containing Edelman will be a top priority.
7. John Parry
While football fans never want to see a game decided by a referee’s decision, the NFC Championship made clear that sometimes that can be the case. Even if the game doesn’t come down to one dramatic call or no-call, referees go a long way towards setting the tone of the game, with players taking cues from the officials early to see how tightly penalties will be called, and what they will be able to get away with.
Parry hopefully won’t be the deciding factor in Super Bowl LIII, but he’s undoubtedly one of the key players.
6. Todd Gurley
As the Rams’ most dynamic offensive weapon, Todd Gurley represents his team’s best chance at delivering a dominant performance that would be difficult for the Patriots to match.
That said, his disappearance in the AFC Championship was baffling. While C.J. Anderson is capable of carrying the load when necessary, the Rams offence would be much better served with both of its standout backs in top form.
Gurley might have the highest ceiling of any potential game-changing player putting on pads on Sunday, but it’s also possible that he’s once again sidelined as a nonfactor. We won’t have our answers until Sunday.
5. Bill Belichick
Bill Belichick has seen it all before. Coaching in the Super Bowl is just another day at the office.
After years steering the ship, the Patriots appear to run themselves – a continuously self-replicating body of unstoppable football force. But at the center of that constant push forward is Belichick and the “Patriot Way.”
Belichick’s plan will be a good one on Sunday, and it will be up to the Rams to keep up with him.
4. Aaron Donald
Defensive players have won Super Bowl MVP in two of the past five title games, and this year, no player has a better potential to flip the entire script in a single moment than Aaron Donald.
Donald is one of, if not the, most dominant defender in the NFL, drawing a double-team on nearly every snap and often still bothering opposing quarterbacks and running backs behind the line of scrimmage.
Donald’s prowess as a rusher will force the Patriots to be near-perfect on every protection, and if he can break through a few times to cause chaos in the backfield, he could be the difference in the game.
3. Sean McVay
Plenty has been written about Sean McVay, coaching wunderkind that turned the Rams around in a matter of months despite entering the league as the youngest head coach in NFL history.
On Sunday, the Super Bowl, and Bill Belichick on the opposing sideline will offer the biggest test yet in his young career.
As Doug Pederson and the Philadelphia Eagles proved last year, you need to take a few risks, and get a little lucky, to beat the Patriots in the biggest game of the year. What’s left for McVay is to pick his spots, and take to risks at the right moments. One fourth down play call, one thrown challenge flag, one long field goal, or one fake punt, could make all the difference.
2. Tom Brady
There’s nothing left to say about Tom Brady.
The man is a machine, and will only stop dominating the NFL when he decides he’d rather do something else. On Sunday, we can expect his best – 350 or so passing yards, at least 30 completions, maybe one interception that really wasn’t his fault when you see the replay, and however many touchdown passes it takes to put the Patriots in position to win.
Whether or not Brady shows up is not the question – it’s whether the Rams will have enough to keep things close.
1. Jared Goff
Ultimately, the outcome of Super Bowl LIII will come down to Rams quarterback Jared Goff.
It’s a lot of responsibility for a young quarterback to take on, but when a team goes all-in on a Super Bowl run thanks to the financial advantage a rookie quarterback contract presents, getting to the big game with a young QB is the price of doing business.
There’s no doubt that if he plays his best, he’s up to the task – in a year that saw an explosion of scoring throughout the NFL, the Rams offence has looked like one of the most dominant in the league.
Goff is not afraid of the moment. His best games all season have come against some of the toughest teams in the league – 465 yards and five touchdowns in a win against the Vikings, 391 yards and three touchdowns in a nail-biter in New Orleans, 413 yards and five total touchdowns in a win over the Chiefs.
If that Goff shows up on Sunday, the Rams will have a shot.
That said, Goff has had his fair share of off games as well – as any young quarterback does – and if he’s slow to get going against the Patriots, by the time he’s up to speed, it may already be too late.
Jared Goff holds the fate of the Rams in his hands. We’ll find out where he can take them on Sunday.
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