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.
The Los Angeles Chargers fell into an early 7-0 hole against the New England Patriots on Sunday, but Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen quickly got them out of it.
After the Patriots chewed up half of the first quarter with a methodical touchdown drive, the Chargers responded with a 43-yard touchdown from Rivers to Allen. The score was made possible with a fantastic double-move from Allen, who completely fooled Patriots All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
Phil to Slayer for six. pic.twitter.com/hXdZ2miARb
— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) January 13, 2019
It’s possible Gilmore was supposed to cover the inside move and safety Devin McCourty should have helped over the top, but either way Bill Belichick won’t be pleased with the result. Here’s another look that shows how hard Gilmore bit on the fake:
Beautiful how @Chargers schemed up that bomb to @Keenan13Allen They knew Gilmore would drive on the dig route when he @TyrellWilliams_ run a drag across the field. That’s how you scheme teams up in the playoffs! #Chargers pic.twitter.com/EG5XQlFDfk
— Tank Williams (@TankWilliams13) January 13, 2019
The Patriots can’t allow many more of those.
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The Patriots have a much different style than the Jaguars when it comes to talking trash about opponents. For the most part, the Jags talk smack and the Pats don’t. Ironically, one New England Player took part in it this week while sharing his thoughts on Jalen Ramsey’s affinity for running his mouth.
Before Jacksonville took on the Kansas City Chiefs last week, Ramsey made headlines when he said Tyreek Hill is a “return specialist” and not a true receiver. With New England set to host the Chiefs this Sunday, Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore was asked for his thoughts on Ramsey’s assessment.
Basically, he talked trash while saying he doesn’t like to talk trash.
Stephon Gilmore was just on @ZoandBertrand and was asked about Jalen Ramsey’s comments about Tyreek Hill last week. Not his style. “A lot of guys that talk are mostly zone guys so they have a lot of energy to do that.”
— Phil Perry (@PhilAPerry) October 10, 2018
Ramsey plays a lot of press and man-to-man coverage, so Gilmore’s shot may be a little off-base. Regardless, it would not be a surprise if Ramsey fires back. He never turns down an opportunity to engage in a war of words, and it wouldn’t be the first time he has gone after a Patriots player.
Super Bowl LII will see many talented players take the field from both the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles. The Patriots, as we know, boast a lot of talent led by one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, while the Eagles have a lot of talent themselves, including a rather fearsome defense.
Who are the best players going to be during this game? Let’s take a look at 15 of them from both teams.
1) Tom Brady, QB, Patriots
He’s the best. The legend only grew in the AFC championship when Brady led New England to yet another comeback win in the playoffs with a stitched-up throwing hand. The 40-year-old threw another 32 touchdowns in 2017 to just eight interceptions, good for 4,577 yards and, quite possibly, another MVP award. That remains to be seen, but he’ll certainly prefer another Super Bowl. Whatever happens, he’ll be the best and most important player on the field when Super Bowl LII kicks off; everything the Patriots do revolves around him.
2) Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots
The Patriots sound optimistic that Gronkowski will be good to go for the Super Bowl, which is great news for the Patriots. He was his usual self this season, staying healthy after a difficult 2016 and leading the team in receptions (69), yards (1,084), and touchdowns (8). He’s a matchup nightmare for opponents and probably the game’s best tight end. As long as he plays, he’ll probably play a big role in any success the Patriots have against the Philadelphia defense.
3) Fletcher Cox, DT, Eagles
The 2017 NFL regular season is nearing the end with only three games remaining. With so many games having been played, evaluating previously signed free agents becomes a bit easier. And more often than not, the mid-season and post-season grades for such signings vastly differ from their pre-season grades.
Case in point: Wide receiver Terrelle Pryor signed a one-year, $6 million deal with the Washington Redskins. It didn’t appear to be much of an investment on the surface, and some could have considered the deal a steal. But after substantial struggles early in the season, Pryor was lost to injury and the Redskins were out $6 million. Needless to say, not every high-profile deal is a good one.
Though the Pryor signing turned out to be a bust, many others yielded excellent results for their teams this season. Here’s a look at 20 free agent signings that have paid off this season (in no particular order):
20. Barry Church, S, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars have been wheeling and dealing in recent years, so they’ll be well featured on this list. First up is safety Barry Church, who was signed to a four-year, $26 million contract this offseason. Although he’s playing slightly worse than a season ago, he’s still been a solid addition to Jacksonville’s defense. In 13 games, Church has recorded 60 tackles (47 solo), one sack, five passes defensed and two interceptions. He’s also warranted a 83.7 Pro Football Focus grade.
19. Rick Wagner, OT, Detroit Lions
Wagner signed a five-year, $47.5 million deal this offseason and has rewarded the Lions with 12 starts through 13 weeks. And while he hasn’t been perfect, he has earned a 81.7 PFF grade, which is good for 10th-best among tackles in the NFL. Needless to say, for a team that struggled along the offensive line in 2017, Wagner has helped provide some much-needed stability.
The 2017 regular season has been packed full of surprises. From a team perspective, the Los Angeles Rams and New York Giants stand out for being so much better and so much worse than we expected, but it’s not just limited to those two organizations.
Yes, the Rams and Giants have gone in totally different directions than expected, but units like the New England Patriots defense have been worse than expected, and the the New York Jets have even found a way to open eyes.
But what players have contributed to all these surprises? Well, here’s a look at every NFL team’s most surprising player, good or bad, so far this season.
Arizona Cardinals – Adrian Peterson, RB
After appearing in only 20 games over his final three seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, many believed the career of Adrian Peterson had reached its end. Even with another opportunity given to him by the New Orleans Saints, little changed for Peterson. He appeared in four games, gaining just 81 yards on 27 carries. Then came the trade to Arizona. Although he hasn’t exactly returned to Hall of Fame form, he has gained 369 yards in five games, providing the Cardinals with an unexpected spark on the ground.
Atlanta Falcons – Matt Ryan, QB
A year after winning the NFL MVP Award and leading the Falcons to the Super Bowl, Matt Ryan has hit a bit of a wall. He’s returned to 2015 form and seen his completion percentage, yards per game, touchdown to interception ratio, yards per attempt and quarterback rating all drop — some of those considerably. He threw for 38 touchdowns last season and has just 15 in 10 games this season. His passer rating has dropped from 117.1 to 95.7. To cap it off, the Falcons are 6-4 and are no shoo-in to make the playoffs.
- Adrian Amos, Adrian Peterson, Alex Collins, Alex Smith, Alvin Kamara, Calais Campbell, Carson Wentz, Case Keenum, Chris McCain, Demar Dotson, Demarcus Lawrence, Deshaun Watson, Domato Peko, Eddie Lacy, Jamal Agnew, Jared Goff, Jason McCourty, Jay Ajayi, Jeremy Hill, Josh McCown, Julius Peppers, Kevin Byard, Landon Collins, LeSean McCoy, Marquise Goodwin, Marshawn Lynch, Martavis Bryant, Matt Ryan, Rashaan Melvin, Stephon Gilmore, Terrelle Pryor, Ty Montgomery
Week 4 featured a few surprises — hello Houston! — while some teams continued impressive trends of winning or disappointing trends of losing. You had the Titans get blown out, the Dolphins’ offense fail to produce once again, and four teams slipped to 0-4. Some team units had abysmal performances on Sunday, and some star players had down days.
Here’s a look at the 15 biggest disappointments of Week 4 in the NFL.
Amari Cooper, WR, Raiders
The Oakland Raiders’ offense was anemic for the second week in a row, and Cooper was at the center of the disappointment. Cooper had just two catches for nine yards on eight targets. He dropped a pass in the fourth quarter, giving him an NFL worst seven drops on the season. Then when the Raiders were making a final effort late in the game to try and take the lead, a pass intended for Cooper was intercepted. One could argue he could have done more on the play.
After consecutive 1,000-plus yard seasons to start his career, Cooper has been a total disappointment this season with just 12 catches for 110 yards and one touchdown. That’s the kind of stat line fantasy football players were hoping to see weekly from the receiver!
New England’s defense
The Patriots were hoping that Dont’a Hightower’s return would help stabilize one of the NFL’s worst defenses, but it was not to be as New England once again struggled to stop an opponent at home. Cam Newton’s Carolina Panthers entered the game looking like an inferior opponent, having struggled with inconsistency during the season. But they came into Foxboro and posted 444 yards on a comparatively modest 60 plays. New England forced two turnovers, but it wasn’t enough, as they still lost 33-30. There has to be serious concerns about how bad this unit has been all season.
Nick Folk, K, Buccaneers
Let’s give some credit to where it’s due: yes, Nick Folk did make the game-winning kick for the Bucs on Sunday to help them win 25-23. But the game wouldn’t have come down to that kick if Folk hadn’t made so many errors earlier in the game. The 32-year-old missed a 46-yard field goal early in the second quarter, a 49-yard field goal attempt early in the third quarter, and he missed an extra point in the first quarter. That’s seven points he left on the table that he is expected to convert. “It’s probably the worst you can feel after a game-winner,” Folk said of his feelings following the game.