After almost five months since the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Atlanta Falcons to kick off the 2018 NFL season, the season will come to a close in Super Bowl 53.

The game will take place Sunday at 5:30 p.m. with the New England Patriots making their annual appearance in the big game. This year’s opponent is the Los Angeles Rams. The two teams come in after controversial calls (and no-calls) from the conference championship games.

New England enters the game following a 37-31 overtime win over the Kansas City Chiefs two weeks ago. Despite a 24-point fourth quarter from Kansas City to send the game to overtime, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense did not get a shot to score as the defense folded like a cheap suit and New England marched down the field to reach their 11th Super Bowl in team history. It is also their fourth in the last five years and third straight. Only the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins have played in at least three consecutive Super Bowls.

This year continued a trend that has happened for the past four or five years. The team will lose a handful of games to someone they shouldn’t, especially when they play at Miami, and we question if the dynasty is done. New England struggled this year on the road with a 3-5 record (and then went 8-0 at home). The five losses were to the Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11), Detroit Lions (6-10), Tennessee Titans (9-7), Miami Dolphins (7-9) and Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6-1). All five teams did not make the playoffs. 

Then Bill Belichick plays 4D chess while the rest of the NFL seems to play Tic Tac Toe in the sand. New England found a way to another Super Bowl with a 41-28 win over the Los Angeles Chargers and the Chiefs win to advance back to another appearance as the AFC champion. Despite his interceptions in the Chiefs game, Tom Brady has looked like a different quarterback, throwing for nearly 700 yards in the two playoff games. 

The team standing in the way of the Patriots’ sixth Super Bowl championship will feature one of the league’s brightest minds helping create one of the NFL’s best offenses.

It is hard to believe that the Los Angeles Rams were 4-12 just two years ago. Jeff Fisher said he was not going 7-9 again during training camp. He was right. They didn’t and he got fired. Instead of hiring another retread coach like they did with Fisher, the Rams hired some young coach named Sean McVay. When McVay was hired, he was just days away from his 31st birthday and became the youngest head coach in modern NFL history. After only scoring 224 points in all of 2016, the Rams surpassed that during their eighth game of the year against the New York Giants. The Rams went 11-5 and returned to the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade before the Falcons would take care of the Rams in the playoffs. The Rams added strong players through trades and free agency with Ndamukong Suh, Aquib Taleb, Marcus Peters and Brandin Cooks joining the team. The Rams started out strong, winning their first eight games before falling 45-35 to the New Orleans Saints. They picked up three wins after the first loss, including a 54-51 thriller against the Chiefs before two consecutive losses to the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles. The Rams entered the playoffs hosting the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round to win their first playoff since 2004 before heading to New Orleans for a rematch with the team that handed them their first loss. The Saints dominated a good amount of the first half and held onto a 10-point lead before the Rams began a comeback to tie the game at 20-20 thanks to a strong performance by the offense and the Saints offense struggling. Then cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman hit Tommylee Lewis on an obvious pass interference, but no flag was thrown. The Saints had to settle for a field goal. The Rams would tie the game and send it into overtime as social media buzzed about the hit. Drew Brees would throw a horrendous interception for the Saints in overtime and the Rams would win the game on a 57-yard field goal. 

While Saints fans will still say the no-call cost them the game, the performance in the fourth quarter and overtime lost them the game. The call was bad, but it was far from the only bad call in that game (or by the refs this season in general). It was also ironic that the team who got caught with “Bountygate” has complained about the integrity of the game being ruined by the no-call. But that is a different discussion. As for the actual Super Bowl, it should be a good one at one of the NFL’s best venues.

I got to see the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons play in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in 2017 and it was one of the best stadiums I have been to. It has a unique look and super cheap food – hot dogs are only $2. The only bad part was the video board. The board itself might be my favorite big-screen ever, even better than the one in Dallas. It is an impressive screen that wraps around the top of the stadium, but the view from the upper seats is obstructed. It isn’t much, but that seems like a design error that shouldn’t have happened, especially in such a modern stadium. Because of that, I still think U.S. Bank Stadium is the NFL’s best, but this isn’t far behind. 

For the game, expect high scoring in this Super Bowl. Both quarterbacks can throw it for a ton of yards due to the high-powered offenses and average defenses. Last year’s Super Bowl broke the record for most combined yards. I expect to see that record broken again. Like last year, the game will come down to a huge defensive play against Brady and the Rams will win 45-42 with Suh winning the Super Bowl MVP. The prediction is a lot different than my Jaguars over Minnesota Vikings pick in September, but this should be a thrilling matchup with McVay and Belichick both trying to out-scheme each other.

Luke Peterson is the sports editor for the Leavenworth Times. Contact him at lpeterson@leavenworthtimes.com