Key Matchups New England Must Win

The New England Patriots are headed to their third consecutive Super Bowl after needing overtime to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs 37-31 in the AFC Championship game.

This will be the Patriots 4th Super Bowl in 5 seasons and they are eyeing their 6th title in franchise history. New England will be facing the Los Angeles Rams, who also needed overtime to defeat the New Orleans Saints in the NFC title game.

The Rams will be looking to avenge their loss to New England in Super Bowl XXVI back in 2002. This was the Patriots first Super Bowl victory and the win that propelled them to become the dynasty that they have been for the last two decades. 

No one knows if this is Rob Gronkowski’s last year or even Tom Brady’s last as well, but this dynasty spawned from the victory over the Rams 17 years ago, and nothing would be more pleasing than to bookend this run with another win over LA in Super Bowl LIII.

There are many things that go into winning a football game, and trying to predict what the Pats are going to do has put many men in the unemployment line. I believe these matchups will be crucial in the success of New England in their pursuit of 6.

Julian Edelman vs Nickell Robey-Coleman

The haters will say Julian Edelman is just a possession receiver, he’s too small, or he’s not a true No. 1 receiver. There is a little bit of truth to all of that, but there is no denying that he is Tom Brady’s favorite receiver and the guy he trusts the most in crunch time.

That was evident in overtime of the AFC Championship game when Brady hit Edelman twice on 3rd and 10 to keep the game-winning drive alive. He ended the game with a team-high 7 receptions and led the team with 96 yards receiving.

Throughout the years, Edelman has been Brady’s security blanket and arguably the heart of the New England offense. Since 2013, Julian has played in 67 regular season games and has 430 receptions for 4,676 yards with 26 touchdowns.

What will most likely land Edelman in the Hall of Fame are his postseason performances. In 17 postseason games, he has 1,271 receiving yards which is fourth most on NFL history. He only needs 18 yards to surpass Cliff Branch for 3rd place and 44 yards to overtake Michael Irvin for second most all-time. Julian has 105 postseason receptions which are the second most all-time behind Jerry Rice’s 151 receptions.

Julian Edelman may be the NFL’s best slot receiver but his matchup versus Nickell Robey-Coleman won’t be an easy task. Robey-Coleman has solidified himself as one of the leagues top slot corners and does not get the credit he deserves. Pro Football Focus has him ranked as the fifth-best corner with a grade of 83.1 which is top notch. He gave up 393 yards on 38 receptions and was able to handle some of the league’s best wide receivers. While in Robey-Coleman’s coverage Tyreek Hill was held to two receptions for 14 yards, Kenny Golladay had 14 yards on three receptions, and Emmanuel Sanders was held to one catch for 22 yards on seven targets. The only guy to really beat Robey-Coleman was Adam Thielen, who had 103 yards back in Week 4. This will definitely be one of the matchups to watch come Feb. 3.

James White vs Cory Littleton

White is going to be the man in New England’s backfield that Los Angeles will need to stop in order for them to win. While there will be plenty of opportunity for Sony Michel on 1st and 2nd down, White in the passing game will have a huge impact on the outcome of this game.

White was the most targeted running back in the NFL and led all running backs with 7 TD receptions. His 751 receiving yards were second only to Christian McCaffrey’s 825. Two weeks ago in the playoff game against the Chargers, White was targeted 17 times and caught 15 balls for 97 yards. White is arguably Tom’s most reliable pass catcher, even more so than Gronk and Edelman, as he led the team in targets and receptions.

Cory Littleton will most likely be the guy tasked with covering White in passing situations as he was the one in coverage on Alvin Kamara in the NFC title game. Kamara caught 11 of his 13 targets for 96 yards and routinely beat Littleton throughout the game.

Littleton led the Rams in tackles against the Saints mostly because he was left in one-on-one situations with Kamara, who was wide open all day. Littleton had 90 solo tackles which were the 8th most in the NFL this season and he also had 13 passes defended, which was the most among linebackers this year. That total was also tied for the 13th most passed defended among all defensive players in 2018.

Whether Littleton is able to contain White in the passing game will be crucial for Los Angeles’ defense getting Tom Brady off the field. 

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