As we head into the final month of the NFL regular season, the Los Angeles Rams travel east to Foxboro to take on the New England Patriots. Since 1974, these two franchises have met 12 times with the Patriots leading the all-time series 7-5. In more recent times, New England has won the last 4 meetings between these franchises.
These two teams will always be linked by the 2001 NFL Season where, on November 18th 2001, the then St. Louis Rams (8-1) came to Foxboro Stadium to take on an upstart New England team (5-5). Though the Rams won that game 24-17, it would be the last game that the Patriots would lose that season. Later in the season, the two teams would meet Super Bowl XXXVI where the Patriots would go on to stun the Rams 20-17 off of an Adam Vinatieri 48-yard field goal as time expired.
The roads that these two franchises travelled down since then could not be more different. Since the Rams’ Super Bowl loss, they have had only one winning season and have not been to the playoffs since 2004. The Patriots, on the other hand, have gone on to have one of the most successful runs in NFL history which has included five more trips to the Super Bowl capturing three more Super Bowl titles along the way.
This season the Los Angeles Rams looks like they are poised to miss the playoffs once again while the New England Patriots are hoping to put themselves in a position for another playoff run.
So in yet another futile attempt to be non-bias and analytical, both teams were broken down in key areas to see how they will match up against each other and which one may have the key to a victory.
Quarterback – Patriots: The Rams’ Jared Goff makes his third career start on Sunday. There have been many questions surrounding the Rams on why Goff did not start earlier in the season. Though he has shown some flashes of why he was the first overall pick in last April’s draft, he has a long way to go in becoming a long term starter in the NFL. The Patriots’ Tom Brady is coming off his 200th NFL win but has been hampered by a knee injury in recent weeks. Facing the Rams’ defense this week will present one of his greatest challenges of this season so far.
Running Backs – Patriots: From an individual talent and skill set standpoint, there is no one that would put the Patriots’ LeGarrette Blount over the Rams’ Todd Gurley. However, New England’s collective three headed monster of Blount, White, and Lewis have been substantially more productive than their Los Angeles counterparts.
Wide Receivers – Patriots: The Rams have some talent at the wide receiver position in Kenny Britt, Brian Quick and Tavon Austin. However the depth, versatility, and production of the Patriots receivers has been much more prevalent this year. Add in the emergence of New England’s Malcolm Mitchell and the Patriots have the edge in this category
Tight Ends – Patriots: Lance Kendricks has been a solid contributor for the Rams all season and certainly presents a target that the Patriots’ defense needs to account for. The loss of Rob Gronkowski is certainly a devastating blow to the Patriots but Martellus Bennett is more than capable of making big plays for the New England offense when needed.
Offensive Line – Patriots: New England’s offensive line has the bigger challenge this week against the Rams’ Front seven. However at this point in the season, the Patriots’ line has outperformed their Rams counterparts in both run blocking and pass protection.
Defensive Front Seven – Rams: On paper, New England has allowed slightly less rushing yards per game than Los Angeles and are tied with the Rams with 22 sacks on the season. The Rams do get the edge in this category mainly because of their ability to pressure quarterbacks more consistently even though they may not get the sack totals.
Secondary – Push: Though the Rams allow less passing yards per game, both teams have a similar amount of interceptions and the Patriots are holding opposing teams to a lower Quarterback rating.
Special Teams – Rams: Thanks to the low production of the Rams’ offense, they have discovered that their punter, Johnny Hekker, is the best in the NFL at flipping field position on their opponents. Add in the shaky performance of the Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski and Los Angeles has the special teams edge in this matchup.
Coaching – Patriots: Both Bill Belichick and Jeff Fisher are polarizing figures that are both in their 22nd year as NFL Head Coaches. That’s pretty much where the similarities end. In all the years that Jeff Fisher has coach, he has only had 6 winning seasons under his belt. The last time a Jeff Fisher coached team that finished above 8-8 was in 2008 when his Tennessee Titans finished 13-3.
Bill Belichick, on the other hand, reinvented himself after his less than stellar time with Cleveland (37-45) and has gone on to have one of the most successful runs in NFL history with the Patriots.
If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:
Key’s to Victory:
Protect Brady: Knowing that Brady is still recovering from a knee injury, expect the Rams to send lots of pressure at the quarterback. As mentioned previously, the Patriots Offensive Line has the toughest challenge this week so they must utilize the tight ends and running backs to help chip the edge rushers of the Rams to give Brady additional time to get the ball into his playmakers’ hands.
Discovering Life After Gronk: The loss of Rob Gronkowski is a shocking blow to a team that entered this season with Super Bowl aspirations. The bright side is that over the last few weeks, New England has welcomed back Dion Lewis and saw the emergence of wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell as a reliable receiving threat. The Patriots need to trust and try to utilize these two emerging weapons to help offset the Gronkowski injury.
Special Teams, Special Teams, Special Teams: The shaky play of Stephen Gostkowski has taken a once reliable special teams unit and turned them into a potential liability. In a game where defense is going to take the center stage, the Patriots must convert on every scoring opportunity even if those opportunities are longer field goal attempts.
This is a classic matchup of Offense vs Defense where points will be at a premium and field position could very well determine the outcome. Expect a very low scoring game and key special teams plays to determine the outcome.
The Knuckles Prediction: Patriots 19 – Rams 13