NFL: NFC Championship Game-Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints

Los Angeles Rams linebacker Dante Fowler pressures New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees during overtime of the NFC Championship game. Brees threw an interception on the play, which set up the game-winning field goal. Fowler, a midseason acquisition from Jacksonville, has troubled the Patriots in the past.

ATLANTA -- It'll be tough for the Patriots to play the underdog card this time.

After their dominant performance against the Chargers and their thrilling AFC Championship win at the Chiefs, the Pats are the clear favorite in Super Bowl LIII against the Rams.

Of course, this was the case a year ago versus Nick Foles and the Eagles. And Philadelphia played nearly a perfect game, at least offensively, to outlast Tom Brady and Co.

What must the Rams do this year to pull off the upset?

Here are five things to watch from the Los Angeles perspective...


The late-season decline in Jared Goff's production could be due to the absence of receiver Cooper Kupp, who suffered a torn ACL in November.

Or it could be because of Todd Gurley's status. The star running back suffered a knee injury in December, and its effects appeared to linger into the playoffs. Gurley has taken a back seat to veteran backup C.J. Anderson, who leads the Rams backfield with 40 touches in the postseason.

Anderson, a bit beefed up from his days in Denver, is a strong between-the-tackles runner, but he's not nearly as dynamic as Gurley. The former University of Georgia star is a matchup problem for the New England linebackers, who have played well but can be exploited if forced to run sideline-to-sideline. Getting Gurley into the flat and letting him work after the catch seems like the best course of action for Sean McVay's crew.

The Rams almost exclusively run '11' personnel, or three receivers with a halfback and a tight end. To counter, the Patriots must play at minimum five defensive backs. They've struggled at times defending the run when facing '11' personnel. This issue flared up in Weeks 14 and 15 against the Dolphins and Steelers, respectively.


When we discuss the Rams' ferocious defensive front, the conversation starts with the superstar duo of Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh.

Recent addition Dante Fowler Jr. has made a major difference in recent weeks, too.

Acquired from the Jaguars in a midseason trade, Fowler is a speed rusher off the left edge. He dropped Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott for a third-down sack in the divisional round. He hit Drew Brees to force an enormous interception in overtime of the NFC Championship. He has set the edge well, and has delivered more big-time plays than Donald and Suh over the past few weeks.

Patriots right tackle Marcus Cannon figures to draw Fowler.

Although the Pats haven't faced the Rams since 2016, they've seen Fowler twice since last winter. He roasted LaAdrian Waddle for a strip-sack of Tom Brady in the fourth quarter of the Patriots' Week 2 loss to the Jags.


Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has a long history against the Patriots. And in recent years, Phillips has been fairly successful.

The 2015 Broncos, led by Phillips, overwhelmed the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, hitting Brady 20 times in a 20-18 victory.

Much of that was personnel-based, though. The Pats were limping into January. Their running game had been wrecked by injuries, causing them to become one-dimensional to an unsustainable degree.

For Phillips, this year's challenge is much different. The Patriots have aided Brady with a power-rushing attack that ranks up there with any in the league. The offensive line regularly clears massive lanes for Sony Michel, and Brady has hardly been touched when he drops back.

How can Phillips scheme to combat the Patriots running game? And if the Rams struggle to generate pressure with their front four, will Phillips commit an additional rusher?

The Rams allowed a league-high 117.1 passer rating when blitzing this year, according to the NFL's Next Gen stats.


Julian Edelman shreds defenses in the playoffs.

In his past 10 postseason games, dating to the epic divisional round win over Baltimore in the 2014 season, Edelman averages 102.3 receiving yards per contest. He matched a career-high with 151 yards against the Chargers this year, then dominated down the stretch in the AFC title game at the Chiefs.

Will the Rams have any answer for him?

The Patriots seemingly have the advantage if slot corner Nickell Robey-Coleman is on Edelman duty. Robey-Coleman, who began his career in Buffalo, hasn't been successful in the past versus the Pats. Outside cornerback Marcus Peters, previously of the Chiefs, also has had issues when facing Edelman.

But the numbers suggest he's one of the better slot corners in the league. Over his last five games, Robey-Coleman has allowed 12 completions on 26 targets (46 percent) for 90 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.


Looking for some surprise impact players on the Rams side? Second-year receiver Josh Reynolds fits the bill.

Reynolds walked into a prominent role in the offense when Cooper Kupp tore his ACL. He's fared well as the No. 3 receiver behind Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, averaging 52.4 yards over his past five games. Reynolds will likely avoid Stephon Gilmore, which greatly enhances his chances of making an impact. If the Pats stick Gilmore on Robert Woods and give Brandin Cooks the Tyreek Hill treatment (doubling him with a fast cornerback and Devin McCourty), that could leave Reynolds matched up one-on-one with J.C. Jackson.

Jared Goff should take a few shots against Jackson, who was flagged twice in the AFC Championship Game.