Local Coaches Make Their Super Bowl Picks -- Pats, of Course
LOWELL -- My, how feelings have changed.
Six weeks ago, the New England Patriots were surrounded by questions that made it difficult to view them as a viable Super Bowl threat. Quarterback Tom Brady’s age, tight end Rob Gronkowski’s health, suspect defensive tendencies and poor play away from Foxboro were just a few of the warning signs.
If you watched the team play from September to December, you had your doubts, and you know it. But now, those doubts have been flushed away as if they never existed and they’ve been replaced with that more familiar Patriots Nation swagger. You know, the whole “they hate us because they ain’t us” thing.
The resourceful and resilient Patriots pulled it all together and are back at a ninth Super Bowl under head coach Bill Belichick and Brady. They’ll face the Los Angeles Rams on tonight in Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta. New England has been installed as the Vegas favorite to win the game, and the bulk of talking heads around the country agree that the Pats will take home a sixth Lombardi Trophy.
Here in Pats Country, confidence is through the roof. It feels like you’d have a better chance at winning Powerball than finding someone around these parts who actually predicts the Rams will win the game.
That sentiment was expressed in emphatic fashion this week when The Sun reached out to local high school football coaches to get their predictions on the big game.
Keep in mind, these are men that have been around football most of their lives. They know the sport, they study it, they watch film and notice things that the common football fan might not. Nearly every coach that was reached by The Sun, 15 out of 16, predicted the Patriots will win the game.
North Middlesex’s Ryan DeMar is the lone coach picking the Rams -- he has Los Angeles winning, 31-24.
Many of them think New England will win by double digits.
“I learned my lesson and I won’t bet against Brady and Belichick ever again,” said Greater Lowell head coach Shane Abrams, who forecasts a 31-21 Pats’ victory with receiver Julian Edelman earning the MVP.
Up to this point, the Patriots are 5-3 in the Super Bowl in the Belichick-Brady era. Every single one of those games was decided by one possession. All of them could’ve gone either way, as Sports Editor Dennis Whitton outlined in a story earlier this week.
Yet, folks are all but reserving spots in downtown Boston to watch the championship parade. Of course, when you win as many titles as this region has in the last 17 years, it’s only natural to feel at least a little presumptuous.
That’s not to say there isn’t a little cause for concern amongst the high school coaches. It’s mainly a product of the Rams’ talented defensive line.
“I’m going to go 35-27 Patriots,” said Lowell High head coach John Florence, who says Brady will get the MVP. “I think the biggest concern is the Rams’ interior defensive line -- (Aaron) Donald and (Ndamukong) Suh -- being able to get pressure up the middle and get in Brady’s face.”
Al Costabile, head coach of Shawsheen Tech’s Rams, agreed.
“What worries me is that inside pass rush of the Rams,” said Costabile, who picked the Patriots, 30-24 and believes Gronkowski will capture MVP.
Costabile joked that when he picked the Giants to beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, which the Giants did in fact win, he never heard the end of it from family, friends and colleagues.
“It pains me to go against the Rams in anything as a Shawsheen guy,” Costabile added. “It’s going to be a very competitive game. The experience of the Patriots will show in the fourth quarter.”
Ah yes, the experience factor. When we mention that, we mainly use it as a barometer for two positions -- head coach and quarterback. A very healthy edge in that category goes to the 66-year-old Belichick and the 41-year-old Brady. Los Angeles’ head coach Sean McVay turned 33 on Jan. 24 and QB Jared Goff, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2016, is just 24.
It’s comforting for Patriots’ fans to know the game plan is being drawn up and executed by men who have been there before.
“It often goes the opposite of what everyone is talking about,” said Wilmington head coach Craig Turner. “People have been saying the Patriots have to run the ball to be successful in this game. I think it could be one of those classic Brady game plans where he spreads them out and gets the ball out quickly. Belichick has been very good at taking care of the pass rush. ... I’m not a big believer in Goff as a quarterback.”
During this historic run, the Patriots have been a team that thrives when they feel disrespected or under-appreciated. For years now, the national media has speculated that the run is on the verge of ending, but the Pats are now in their third straight Super Bowl and fourth in the last five years. This season, the Pats once again played the us-against-the-world card masterfully, while doubts surrounded them.
That card, however, doesn’t apply anymore. The overwhelming majority expects New England to win this game, and for a Patriots fan that’s a little scary.
“It’s rare that everybody thinks the same thing and ends up on the winning side,” said Turner. “For it to be so one-sided makes me nervous.”
Follow Matt Langone on Twitter @MattLangone