The Super Bowl is set.
Sunday’s conference championship slate boasted two overtime thrillers that ended with both road teams conquering the odds — and their opponents.
Now, it’s old school against new school as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick lead the Patriots into battle at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta against a young squad featuring QB Jared Goff and Sean McVay at the helm for the Rams for the Lombardi Trophy.
Here are five things to know heading into Super Bowl 53 on Feb. 3:
Age isn’t just a number
It’s one of those instances where experience heavily outweighs inexperience, and it will be a huge factor.
Brady and Goff share the largest age gap (17 years, 72 days) of any starting quarterback matchup in Super Bowl history. The next-closest is Super Bowl 50 at the conclusion of the 2015-16 season when Peyton Manning guided the Broncos to victory over the Cam Newton-led Panthers (13 years, 48 days).
And it’s not just the marquee positions. Belichick and McVay have the largest age gap (33 years, 283 days) of any head-coaching matchup in Super Bowl history. The next-closest goes all the way back to Super Bowl 3 in 1969 when Jets coach Weeb Ewbank and Colts coach Don Shula (22 years, 243 days) faced off.
A dynasty on the verge of (more) history
The Brady-Belichick era has given New England five Super Bowl rings and eight AFC titles. Now, the Patriots enter an NFL-record 11th Super Bowl and ninth under the QB/coach duo in search of a sixth championship.
With Sunday’s victory, the Patriots tied the Steelers for most all-time playoff wins and set a league record for most playoff wins in a decade. New England now joins Miami and Buffalo as the third team to reach at least three straight Super Bowls.
Brady and Belichick will also look to become the sixth MVP player and head coach duo in the NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB with six titles together. They’d be the first to accomplish the feat since Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson in 1998.
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are trying to become the 6th MVP player and head coach combo in the NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB with 6 titles together.
They’d be the first such combo since Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson. pic.twitter.com/i19cyPCZUL
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 21, 2019
Gurley in his groove
Rams running back Todd Gurley packed a punch this season, and a Patriots defense that ranked 11th in rushing yards (112.7 allowed per game) this season will have to do better in order to stop him.
Gurley finished first in rushing touchdowns with 17 and third in rushing yards with 1,251 this season, but was on the sideline for most of Sunday’s NFC championship against the Saints. When asked if he was healthy, Gurley told reporters, “Yeah. I was sorry.” He finished with four carries, three targets, 13 total yards and a score.
If Gurley is on his game and Los Angeles can get going on the ground early (throwing in some C.J. Anderson touches, too), then it could go a long way toward keeping the ball out of the hands of Brady and his offensive weapons.
Patriots have a run game, too
New England ran 97 plays against Kansas City in Sunday’s AFC title game as Patriots running back James White and rookie rusher Sony Michel put in a heavy workload.
Michel logged 29 carries, 113 yards and two touchdowns on 34 snaps. White wasn’t as productive with six rushes for 23 yards and four receptions for 49 yards, but his timing was crucial.
James White’s six touches in the first half:
5-yard run on third-and-4
2-yard run on third-and-1
4-yard run on third-and-4
9-yard catch on third-and-7
5-yard catch on third-and-4
— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) January 21, 2019
The Patriots ranked fifth in the NFL in rushing (127.3 yards per game) this season, but White and Michel are the silent killers in New England’s offense.
Does defense really win championships?
Don’t count on it in this contest.
The over/under for Super Bowl 53 opened at 57.5, which is the highest in Super Bowl history.
57.5 is the highest opening total in Super Bowl history.
— OddsShark (@OddsShark) January 21, 2019
With two high-powered offenses going head to head, big numbers are to be expected. In 2018, the Rams offense ranked second in scoring (32.9), fifth in passing (281.7 yards per game) and third in rushing (139.4 yards per game). On the other hand, the Patriots ranked fourth in scoring (27.2), eighth in passing (266.1 yards per game) and fifth in rushing (127.3 yards per game).
Still, don’t rule out some big plays by NFL Defensive Player of the Year favorite Aaron Donald and teammate Ndamukong Suh.