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Wednesday, April 8, 2020

10 most important players of Super Bowl LIII

Rob Gronkowski

Just as coaching staffs have been analyzing their Super Bowl opponents and formulating gameplans, fans and pundits are looking at matchups and potential talking points for the big game. There’s a lot to digest in a matchup of Bill Belichick and Sean McVay, along with the numerous weapons both coaches have at their disposal.

Which players will matter most, though? There are several names who could flip the game if they play at their best. Here are ten key players to look out for once Super Bowl LIII kicks off.

10) C.J. Anderson, RB, Rams

It’s become abundantly clear over the course of the playoffs that Anderson has a big role in the Los Angeles offense, particularly as a vertical runner. He outran Todd Gurley against the Cowboys and got significantly more carries against the Saints. How they’ll choose to deploy him against the Patriots remains to be seen, but there’s little doubt that Anderson is in line for a major role as they try to keep the New England defense and scheme on its toes.

9) Stephon Gilmore, CB, Patriots

New England’s most important defensive back will have a lot of key duties, though it’s unclear whom he’ll cover in the Super Bowl. He knows former teammate and potential foe Brandin Cooks well, which could be key, but given how New England works its defense it may be that he shuffles around and faces off against multiple Rams receivers over the course of the game. Los Angeles will try to throw a lot, so Gilmore will be need to have a good game.

8) Aqib Talib, CB, Rams

Part of the reason the Kansas City Chiefs lost to the Patriots was their inability to cover Rob Gronkowski, especially when the tight end was shifted out wide to square off against a defensive back. Don’t be surprised if the Patriots try that strategy on the Rams, and it may well be the veteran Talib who draws the responsibility of trying to stop him. The pair famously matched up in the AFC Championship three years ago, with Talib winning that battle. A repeat showing would not be a surprise.

7) Sony Michel, RB, Patriots

A key breakout star in New England’s postseason run, Michel has rushed for a total of 242 yards in two playoff games. After three 100-yard rushing performances during the regular season, he already has two in the playoffs and will look to add a third against the Rams’ sometimes vulnerable run defense. Michel and the run game offer a valuable aid to Tom Brady and the passing game. It’s not coincidental that most of New England’s postseason touchdowns have come on the ground.

6) Jared Goff, QB, Rams

The former No. 1 overall pick has not dominated during these playoffs, taking a backseat to the run game against Dallas and turning in an uneven performance in the win over the New Orleans Saints. Goff doesn’t really have to be dominant for the Rams to win this game, but he needs to take care of the ball, manage the game well, and make some good throws when needed. He essentially did that against the Saints, but if Goff plays well, it’s hard to beat the Rams.

5) James White, RB, Patriots

If the Rams are smart, they’ll play man defense against Tom Brady, but that opens up the potential problem of James White as a receiver. He had 15 catches against the Chargers in the divisional round, but was more limited against Kansas City. If the Patriots can get White matched up against Los Angeles’ linebackers, expect them to try to exploit that for all it’s worth. He should be a huge receiving weapon out of the backfield if Josh McDaniels can engineer those matchups successfully.

4) Todd Gurley, RB, Rams

Gurley was a non-factor in the NFC Championship after his early mistakes led C.J. Anderson to take over. It’s hard to imagine the Rams doing that again during the Super Bowl, and Sean McVay has said as much. At minimum, Gurley has a lot of utility as a receiver, though a guy with a reputation as one of the league’s best running backs probably shouldn’t be easily dismissed. McVay has two weeks to get Gurley where he wants him and to come up with a gameplan to best utilize him against the Patriots. How that ultimately happens is going to be a huge factor in the game.

3) Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots

After a season in which he spent a lot of time looking ineffective, Gronkowski re-emerged at the best possible time for the Patriots, catching six passes, including several key ones down the stretch. He remains a matchup nightmare when put up against a defensive back, even if he’s not the player he once was. The Patriots will look to continue taking advantage of that. The fact is, if Gronkowski produces, it’s a huge boost to New England’s offense and gives them a weapon that opposing defenses just aren’t going to have much luck stopping.

2) Aaron Donald, DT, Rams

One thing the Patriots have done outstandingly for the entire postseason is protect Tom Brady, who was not sacked once by the Chargers or Chiefs, two teams with pretty good pass rushes. However, neither of those teams can boast Aaron Donald. The Rams’ defensive tackle will have his sights set on Brady, and getting pressure on the Patriots’ quarterback remains the best way to disrupt him. Donald can do that better than anyone else the Patriots have faced. In fact, he might have to do it for the Rams to win this game.

1) Tom Brady, QB, Patriots

Brady continues to play at an absurdly high level for his age. He stays on his feet and he makes the throws. No disrespect to either Dak Prescott or Drew Brees, but the Rams will not have seen anything like him during these playoffs. Brady has the experience and talent to win games like this as long as everyone around him does their job. The mental advantage he offers is unmatched in the NFL. He didn’t even play exceptionally well against Kansas City, but he was outstanding when it mattered, and that’s the way it usually is. The Rams are facing an uphill climb against him in a Super Bowl.

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