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Back in September, 32 NFL teams began a journey that they hoped would end with a trip to Atlanta and an opportunity to lift the Lombardi Trophy as the victors in Super Bowl LIII.

After 16 games in the regular season and some hard-fought contests in January, the field has been whittled down to just two. The New England Patriots – back for the third year in a row and for the ninth time in the 21st century – are set to face off against the Los Angeles Rams, who haven’t been to the big game since they lost to these same Patriots back in 2002.

This rematch is to be played 17 years to the day after that one, a New England victory that would prove to be the first championship of the team’s dynastic run.

Obviously, these aren’t the same teams that faced off on February 3, 2002. However, two very important figures from that long-ago Patriots squad remain. Quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick are still here, continuing to build on the astonishing legacy (nine Super Bowls, eight straight AFC Championship appearances and 13 total) that they’ve spent the past two decades burnishing.

On the other side, we have the Rams, representing the new guard in the NFL. Head coach Sean McVay is just 33 years old – half the age of his opponent. Quarterback Jared Goff is 24 years old and in his third season; he was just six years old when Tom Brady entered the NFL. They’re a young and hungry group predicted by some to be the successors to the Patriots atop the football world, but they haven’t won anything yet.

So what’s going to happen?

While I’m not one to give too much credence to the necessity of experience, the reality is that this Patriots team has been in this spot A LOT. Meanwhile, just about everybody on the Rams sideline is new to this kind of big game pressure. Will that make a difference? Almost certainly. The amount of difference will likely determine who ultimately comes out on top here.

Still, it’s all about the matchups on the field. Let’s have a look.

Published in Cover Story

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