So how do you think Super Bowl LIII going to unfold?

Will the New England Patriots’ vast edge over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl experience be the difference? Their players have a combined 86 games of Super Bowl experience, the Rams just five.

Or will the Rams rugged defensive front nullify New England’s suddenly potent running game?

Will Jared Goff succumb to the Bill Belichick Experience as so many other young quarterbacks have?

Or will something inexplicable – a helmet catch, for example – determine the outcome?

You never know what’s going to happen in these games – who would have thought that Malcolm Butler wouldn’t play in last year’s Super Bowl even as the Patriots were getting gashed by the Philadelphia Eagles? – and that’s what makes predicting them so difficult.

Over the years, I’ve gone 4-4 in my Super Bowl predictions. I called the win over the St. Louis Rams back in 2002, coming close to the exact score. I predicted 23-20. The Patriots won, 20-17.

I’ve only picked against the Patriots once. I didn’t think they could beat the Seattle Seahawks in 2015. Butler made the play of a lifetime to prove me wrong.

What about this year’s prediction? We’ll get to that later.

There’s really not much separating these teams. You have two of the best offenses in the NFL going at each other – the Rams averaged 32.9 points (second in the NFL), New England 27.3 (fourth) – and two decent, but not great, defenses.

Each team had a defensive sore spot. The Patriots gave up 246.2 passing yards a game (22nd in the NFL) and that’s not good going against an offense that averaged 281.7 passing yards and features two receivers – Robert Woods and former Patriot Brandin Cooks – who each had over 1,200 receiving yards and a young quarterback with a big arm.

The Rams gave up 122.3 rushing yards per game (23rd). And that’s not good against a Patriots run game that is averaging 165.5 yards in the playoffs.

But here’s the thing: the Rams run defense has been amazing in the playoffs, giving up just 49 yards a game, shutting down the likes of Ezekiel Elliott of Dallas and Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram of New Orleans.

So the Patriots have to ask themselves – are we going to be able to run the ball against the Rams?

They have to. They have to continue to use the same game plan they’ve used to beat the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs in the playoffs. They ran the ball, controlled the clock and didn’t let anyone near quarterback Tom Brady, who hasn’t been sacked in the playoffs.

As former Patriots tackle Matt Light said recently, “They’re healthy and they’re playing physical football. When you get back to old-school football and can go on the ground and pound people … it’s hard to keep up with those 15, 16, 17-play drives. And then they finish them off with touchdowns.”

In the age of high-flying passing offenses, the Patriots have turned back the clock. Their offensive line has been physically dominating. And their well-rested defense has responded, holding the Chargers and Chiefs to just 60 rushing yards combined with six sacks, two each by Trey Flowers and Kyle Van Noy.

Light said the Patriots used the regular season as practice for the playoffs. Teams cannot hit as much as they did in practice when Light played. You learn to be a physical team over the course of a season. As he said, “The recipe for success has been baked the last couple of games.”

They have to do that again against the Rams. It’s not going to be easy. The Rams defense is a different animal. In the Chargers and Chiefs, the Patriots faced teams whose best defensive linemen were on the outside. In the Rams, the Patriots face two of the best interior linemen in the world – Aaron Donald (who had 201/2 sacks in the regular season) and Ndamukong Suh (who has played his best in the playoffs). Linebacker Dante Fowler is tough off the edge and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters are elite defenders. Make a mistake against them and it’s a pick-six.

Running the ball also effectively slows down the pass rush. Give Brady time and he’ll pick apart any secondary.

Defensively the Patriots have to get after Goff. He fumbled 12 times in the regular season, losing five. If they can fluster him, that could lead to turnovers.

Yeah the Rams have talented receivers, but there’s no better cornerback on the field Sunday than New England’s Stephon Gilmore. He’ll lock onto one receiver and leave the other to Jason McCourty or J.C. Jackson.

And the Patriots can’t let Todd Gurley get going. He’s a threat running or receiving – and they don’t match up well with him in the passing game. That’s why they need to get after Goff.

It’s not going to be easy – none of these Super Bowls are – but in the end, it’s still New England, 35-31.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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