It’s going to be a hot time in Atlanta
It seems like football’s biggest event just can’t avoid the cold anymore. After last year’s event in America’s icebox, Minneapolis, I’m sure the NFL was thinking that wouldn’t be an issue this season with Super Bowl LIII — that’s 53 to those of us Roman numeral-challenged — kicking off in Atlanta, but even the Deep South is getting hit with this massive polar vortex.
However, while my home city tries to do its best imitation of the planet Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back, the weather in Atlanta will supposedly reach tolerable levels at kickoff, which is a good thing.
Even though the game should be indoors, trust me when you’ve lost feeling in your fingers walking around the festivities like I did last year, it kind of takes the excitement away. That’d be a shame, because on paper, this year’s game looks like it could be a good one.
There’s a lot of interesting storylines that go along it. The game is back in Atlanta for the first time since 2000 when another uncharacteristically cold snap hit the area. That game was also the (then St. Louis) Rams’ first Super Bowl victory and it helped begin the trend of truly good Super Bowls as the Rams stopped Tennessee one yard short of the end zone on the final play.
The one that’s been talked about at length is that New England’s fortunes as a franchise changed with its first title fight with the Rams back in 2002. Heading into Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans, the Patriots were considered the underdog, but in the eyes of some people, they were one to root for since the Super Bowl was taking place just about five months after the Sept. 11 attacks.
It was also the Rams’ chance to create their own dynasty as they won their first title just two years before and had arguably a much better team than the 2000 version. However, as we all know, New England won the game on a last-second kick by Adam Vinatieri and began its reign of terror on the league, while the Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf held its last performance.
Now the Rams are back, but in a different form, while the Patriots have returned by doing what they do best, winning consistently.
Unlike the previous go-round, New England is favored, but only slightly whereas the Rams were heavy favorites back in ’02.
And with that, here’s some predictions for the big event:
National anthem length — Only twice in the last 12 years has the anthem been completed in less than 1 minute, 45 seconds, and with Atlanta star Gladys Knight doing the honors tonight, it’s probably not going to happen this year. I think she’ll put on a good show and holds that last note long enough to crack the two-minute mark.
Who scores first? The Rams stumbled out of the gates against New Orleans in the NFC Championship and the Patriots started off hot in Kansas City, so I think they get on the board first. However, it’ll be a field goal as the Rams defense stiffens and forces New England to settle for just three points.
Who gets the first touchdown? I’ve gone back and forth with this question. Even though I think the Patriots will score first, I think the Rams will be the first in the end zone. I’m saying C.J. Anderson on a short run. A lot of people seem to think it’s going to be Anderson’s teammate Todd Gurley, but he had such a quiet game against the Saints, I don’t think he’s going to be the first one to get it.
Who commits the first turnover? This one was surprisingly easy to pick. When Brady’s confident, he doesn’t make many mistakes, and like I said, he seems to think he can take on the world. As good as he’s been in the Super Bowl, people tend to forget that Brady threw an awful pick against Seattle deep in Seahawks territory and tossed a pick-six to Atlanta two years ago. I think it happens again right before halftime.
Will there be a fourth-quarter lead change? Of course there will be. The last two games, New England made its huge comeback to force overtime against the Falcons, and last year, Philadelphia took the lead with a little more than two minutes left.
What color will the Gatorade be that gets dumped on the winning coach? This one usually stumps me. I don’t think teams use their own colors as flavors of choice, so I don’t think it’ll be blue or red. I’m going to go orange.
Finally, who wins and who gets MVP? The last two years, I’ve picked against New England and I’ve gone 1-1 with those predictions. Unlike the previous two years where I was confident that the Pats would lose, I’m not so sure with this one.
Up until I started writing this column, I was going to pick New England simply because of the whole “everybody thinks we suck” thing that the Pats keep pushing and that they’ll somehow use that bizarre mindset to earn themselves a victory, probably with the help of a fluke play.
But then something changed. I remembered that New England doesn’t always get the breaks (just look at those two SB losses to the Giants) and to beat Belichick, you have to either think outside the box like what the Eagles did or have a coach that has an almost eidetic memory.
The Rams have that in Sean McVay. I think he’ll recognize some defense that the Patriots used in a game back in 2016 or something, and he’ll manage to exploit it in the final minute with L.A. quarterback Jared Goff earning MVP honors.
The Patriots’ time as the NFL’s premier franchise began with a Super Bowl-winning field goal in a dome against the Rams, but that incredible run won’t end that way tonight.
The way it should end, though, is L.A. kicker Greg Zuerlein nailing the game-winning field goal in the closing seconds and the Rams getting to celebrate in Atlanta again.
Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.