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Super Bowl Matchups - Game Breakdowns


Welcome to our Super Bowl 53 playoff matchups analysis and starts/sits column for fantasy football. We'll be covering the only matchup of the week to help you make the best decisions for your fantasy lineups.

If you're in a playoff fantasy league, be it a weekly pick 'em or elimination-style, make sure to set those lineups in time by analyzing the matchups below to gain the best advantage! We'll also be updating this as injury reports come in so check back often.

Check back here each week to get advice for your toughest start/sit decisions and take a look at our consensus rankings each week. Find me on Twitter @pfunk00 for more insight and help to your start/sit questions.

Editor's Note: Get any full-season NFL Premium Pass for 50% off. Our exclusive In-Season Lineup Tools, Lineup Optimizer and over 150 days of Premium DFS Research. Sign Up Now!

 

Matchups Analysis - Super Bowl LIII

It may not be the game everyone wanted (that would have been Rams-Chiefs, unless you're a jilted Saints fan) but it's the game we're getting. A pair of two seeds will meet in a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVI (36) back in 2002. That's right, for those of you too young to remember, Tom Brady beat this team back in 2002 and was MVP of the game despite throwing for only 145 yards and a touchdown. Don't ask why, just accept what has come to pass...

This game also features a high-powered Rams offense that ranked fifth in pass offense and third in rush offense, while the Patriots ranked eighth in pass offense and fifth in rush offense during the regular season. The postseason is a different beast altogether, and these teams have been preparing for each other for two weeks. Will we see a shootout like last year's 41-33 total or will it be closer to the 20-17 score from 17 years ago when both teams struggled to find the end zone?

 

Patriots vs Rams - 6:30 PM EST

Matchups We Love:

Tom Brady (QB, NE)

This is akin to saying "that Jordan fella might be worth watching in the Finals." Brady seems just as fired up to win his sixth championship as anybody on the Rams seeking their first ring. Brady only averaged 272.2 yards per game this season, his lowest since 2014, but in these playoffs he's at 345.5 YPG. He's also on the heels of a Super Bowl record 505 yards last year against arguably a tougher defense. Don't bother with the numbers - Brady in the big game is as safe as you can get, even if he doesn't need to chuck it as often as last year.

Todd Gurley (RB, LAR)

The key to this game and the Rams' hopes for their first championship in 20 years lie with their $60 million man. Many are expressing concern over his ineffective performance against the Saints but there are two factors to bear in mind. First, the Saints did post the best run defense in the NFL this season, limiting opposing running backs to 56 rushing yards per game and 3.21 yards per carry. Second, how quickly can we forget that Gurley looked great the week before, running for 115 yards and a touchdown against a Cowboys defense that finished sixth in run defense? With time to rest and prepare, we should see the Gurley we're used to being utilized early and often, both in the run and pass game.

James White / Sony Michel (RB, NE)

White belongs here for obvious reasons. Let's face it - he was the true MVP of Super Bowl LI against the Falcons and has already racked up 19 receptions in two playoff games this year. If ever an RB2 who averaged six rush attempts per game could be considered a chalk play, this is it. Michel's case is more curious. As a rookie running back with a recent history of injuries and fumbling problems in a sort-of-committee for a coach known to have trust issues, he would seem to be a longshot as the most valuable running back in the Super Bowl. Yet he might be just that. Michel has been the most dominant player of these playoffs with 242 rushing yards and five touchdowns in just two games thus far. The Pats have less firepower than usual at the receiver position and will again try to play ball control to keep Sean McVay's offense grounded. It worked well enough against KC, although they possessed one of the worst rush defenses in the league. The Rams are firmly in the middle of the run defense rankings and have a fearsome D-line duo of Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh, so it would be a stretch to expect 100 yards from Michel but 80-85 yards plus a touchdown could be in the works.

Julian Edelman (WR, NE)

The fact that conversations about Edelman being a Hall of Famer when he retires are even happening is a testament to his crucial role as a go-to receiver for Brady. Edelman's career numbers don't even sniff HOF credentials but that's a debate for another time. In the playoffs, Edelman has already racked up 16 catches for 245 yards in just two contests. He missed last year's playoffs for obvious reasons but in 2016 he averaged 114 yards per game in the playoffs. His matchup with banned-from-New Orleans-for-life slot corner Nickell Robey-Coleman could pose some problems but not enough to keep him out of the top three in WR scoring this week. He's simply too important to the offense and should be targeted at least 10 times.

Rob Gronkowski (TE, NE)

Who knows what next year will bring, but for now we have proof that Gronk is still capable of putting up numbers. In the AFC Championship game, he was targeted a season-high 11 times, hauling in six for 79 yards. While it stands to reason that this game will have less scoring and the Rams certainly have a better defense than the Chiefs, the individual matchup favors Gronk again. If he is covered by linebacker Cory Littleton, that could make for a tough game as Littleton graded out at 84.7 in pass coverage this year, eighth-best among all LB. If he gets deep against safety Marqui Christian or Lamarcus Joyner, the big-play potential is there. We know he's going to be the first choice in the red zone too. Add in the fact Gronk may in fact be playing his final NFL contest and want to go out in style, we've got to love his chances of being an important contributor.

 

Matchups We Hate:

C.J. Anderson (RB, LAR)

It's been a great run but there's no way the Rams can continue to give Anderson more run than Gurley. Right? Anderson has taken full advantage of an injured and then ineffective Gurley but with two more weeks to rest and a huge motivating factor, Gurley should be the one who carries the load. Opponents averaged about 23 rush attempts per game versus the Pats this year and that number has gone down to 11 in the postseason. Assuming regression back to at least 20, Anderson is probably set to take 10-12 carries at most while Gurley also breaks double digits. Unless you believe Gurley is truly hurt and will be a non-factor, despite his claims to the contrary, you are banking on a touchdown or a long run by Anderson.

Chris Hogan (WR, NE)

Aside from Hogan's diminishing role over the last year, he also gets the toughest WR/CB matchup for the Pats. Hogan won't be shadowed but he'll get a lot of Aqib Talib on Sunday. We saw Michael Thomas limited to four catches for 36 yards in the NFC Championship game, so there's really not much hope for Hogan to produce a big game unless he slips by a busted coverage.

Josh Reynolds (WR, LAR)

It doesn't appear the Patriots will use shadow coverage like the usually do, but Reynolds will still be covered primarily by All-Pro corner Stephon Gilmore. He put together a nice game in the NFC championship with 74 yards but 52 of those came in the fourth quarter as the Rams mostly gave up on the running game with Gurley on the sideline. If the Rams fall behind early by multiple scores or are unable to run, Reynolds becomes far more intriguing. I don't expect either of those scenarios, so He's got a 50/50 shot to score a touchdown but likely won't crack 50 receiving yards, so I'm avoiding Reynolds this week.

Gerald Everett / Tyler Higbee (TE, LAR)

This duo averaged 5.25 targets per game this season and combined for six touchdowns between the two of them, including Higbee's short TD reception against the Saints. Each player is completely touchdown-dependent for value as always. The trick is predicting which one might be targeted in the end zone. While Everett was the leading receiver between the two during the regular season, he's caught two passes on seven targets the last three weeks whereas Higbee has been more involved, catching seven of nine targets. Much like we saw two weeks ago, Everett has the better chance to break a big play but Higbee is a better bet to register a quick six points.

 

Other Matchups:

Jared Goff (QB, LAR)

How will Goff handle the biggest stage of them all at just 24 years of age? There are some red flags to be wary of. Although this is a neutral site game, he's been far better at home all season. He is only averaging 236 passing yards over the last six games, reaching back into the regular season when Gurley first starting experiencing injury and effectiveness issues. The Pats have been inconsistent in terms of pass defense throughout their playoff and Super Bowl history, so it's tough to use history as a judge. We didn't expect Nick Foles to go off last year, nor did we expect Russell Wilson to be mostly shut down four years ago. The Rams are going to establish the run rather than relying on their third-year QB to win the game for them, which should limit his attempts as long as they are competitive in this game. Considering the Pats have never won a Super Bowl by double digits, it should remain a fairly conservative gameplan early on. The chance for a fourth-quarter spike in attempts could boost Goff's final stats but he is easily behind Brady when deciding between QBs this week.

Rex Burkhead (RB, NE)

With two running backs already in the mix, Burkhead is a name that would fly under the radar if not for the two scores he produced last week. Burkhead has now scored four times in the last three weeks. Much of that was due to the fact the Pats rolled over the Chargers and faced a terrible Chiefs run D. Still, Burkhead may get the benefit of the doubt near the goal-line given Michel's inexperience and propensity to fumble in college. He figures to be a popular name in deep tournaments.

Brandin Cooks / Robert Woods (WR, LAR)

In the last two Super Bowls, the Pats didn't allow a 100-yard game by a wide receiver (Corey Clement did reach the mark last year at RB). They have allowed an 80-yard and 70-yard receiver in each game though. While it's unlikely either Rams WR will have a huge game, the floor should be fairly safe, especially if the Rams can't run effectively in the first half. Between the two, it follows logically that Cooks has more upside whereas Woods is the safer play. There is a good chance that Cooks won't be the focal point of the Patriots' defense, despite conventional thinking. They take away what you do best and throwing to Cooks isn't really that. It's Gurley and the running game, which means they could keep the box stacked more frequently, leaving Cooks one-on-one in space. Cooks can do damage if he is opposite J.C. Jackson, who had a surprisingly good rookie year but was exposed against the Chiefs. If you believe the Pats are going to have the lead, you should like both receivers. It would be a shock if the Rams deviate much from the blueprint that got them here, which means no unlikely heroes on that side.

Cordarrelle Patterson (RB/WR, NE)

In recent weeks, Patterson's involvement in the offense has been limited. Bill Belichick wants to keep him fresh so he can be more effective as a return man. That said, you never know when a key reverse or trick play with this versatile weapon may be in play. Patterson could even find himself lined up in the backfield on a goal-line play. He's not recommended for standard lineups but could be a differentiation play worth taking in deep tournaments.

Phillip Dorsett (WR, NE)

If there's a sleeper pick on the slate, it's Dorsett. He's been more involved out of necessity since Josh Gordon left the team and came alive right when the regular season was coming to a close. He's now scored in three straight games, averaging 4.3 targets. While his stat line reads more like a big-bodied red zone target, Dorsett possess 4.33 speed and was a prolific receiver at the University of Miami. He could easily take advantage of Marcus Peters, as opponents have done all year, to put up a huge play. The volume won't be there, as Gronk and Edelman are still the main focus of this passing game, but he could easily match someone like Brandin Cooks in fantasy value this week.

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