Super Bowl LIII is just a few short Stephen Gostkowski field goals away, and come this Sunday, the hype will reach fever pitch as the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams battle for NFL supremacy.
But before we get to Sunday, there are a few things to know about the Bill Belichick-led Patriots and the Sean McVay-led Rams.
The two teams, while diametrically opposed in age (Tom Brady and Belichick are the oldest head coach-QB combo in the league, while McVay and QB Jared Goff are the youngest), are extremely similar. The Rams finished second in total yards during the regular season, while the Patriots finished fifth. The Rams scored 527 points, behind the Chiefs, and the Patriots scored the fourth-most in the league, at 436 points. On defense, both teams are middle of the pack, with the Rams ranked 19th in yards allowed and the Patriots ranked 21st.
There's even a connection between McVay and Belichick, with McVay recently revealing that Belichick would text him often during the regular season. The similarities between these two teams are numerous, including who leads them on the field.
So before you get ready to feast on chicken wings, sliders or whatever Super Bowl fare you fancy, here are 5 players on each team to be aware of.
The GOAT. What's left to say about the greatest quarterback of all time that hasn't been already said? Not much, but given that Tom Brady reiterated earlier this week that Super Bowl LIII would not be his last game, it's clear the 41-year-old future Hall of Famer isn't done yet.
Speaking on January 26, Brady said his burning desire comes down to competition and trying to be better than he was previously.
"I just love the competition and I love trying to improve and I think that’s what it comes down to," Brady said in his recent press conference. "Every year has its challenges. It’s very different from my first year to now, things change obviously with yourself, team, personal situations, professional situations. I love competing, I love playing football. I think loving the game and trying to improve and be the best I can be for the team is great motivation for me and I’ve just always spoke about winning and that’s what I love to do."
At a media event on Tuesday afternoon, Brady expanded upon his burning desire, going into detail about how he is preparing for what will be his ninth Super Bowl.
"For me, it's about preparing mentally, physically to be the best I can be," Brady said, according to comments obtained by NESN. "I already watched a lot of film today and I got a lot more this afternoon. I'm going to get — Alex (Guerrero) and I — are going to get all our treatments in see if I can be really fresh and ready to go tomorrow and have a great week of practice."
Perhaps the best tight end in NFL history, Gronkowski's rare combination of size (he's 6'6", 265 lbs.), speed (he ran a 4.68 40) and strength are unmatched on the field. But off the field, "Gronk" is a jovial jokester, a breath of fresh air when his personality is allowed to shine.
When a student at Emory University student invited Gronk, who has been known to party once or twice, to his fraternity house, Gronkowski said: "What are you guys doing tonight? I have curfew or else I would come."
The student followed up by saying that they were having a snow day party on Tuesday, to which Gronkowski responded "Snow day party in the day? I might be able to make that one."
Gronkowski has, on occasion, taken his personality too far. He was criticized earlier this week for making suggestive remarks towards a female reporter.
Speculation has increased that Gronkowski, who has dealt with a number of injuries over the years and had his worst statistical full-season ever in 2018 (47 catches, 682 yards, 3 TDs), will retire, but Gronk said he's taking it one day at a time and will reevaluate his status after the game.
"That's a tricky question," Gronkowski responded when asked what his plans were next season. "He's [the reporter] just trying to get some answers over here, baby, but like I said, I don't know, I haven't done that sit-down yet. I gotta do that sit-down. About two weeks after."
Affectionately nicknamed "The Squirrel" because he once told teammates "Don't let me get squirrely out there," Edelman has transformed himself from a college quarterback with little chance of success in the NFL to a 2009 7th-round draft pick that has become Brady's most trusted receiver.
Head coach Bill Belichick recently praised Edelman's playoff preparation, having once called him the "ultimate competitor." That competitive streak has aided the 5'10", 198 lb. WR from Redwood City, Calif. to become the second leading receiver in playoff history, with 105 catches, second only to Jerry Rice.
The hero of Super Bowl LI, Patriots RB James White has taken his game to a new level this season as Brady's outlet out of the backfield. He finished the year with 87 catches, a career high, to go along with 7 receiving TDs and 12 total.
The Patriots 4th-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, White has stepped into shoes previously filled by Patriots greats such as Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen and become Brady's security blanket.
White set multiple records in Super Bowl LI when he became the first player ever to have 14 receptions in the game and score 20 points, including three touchdowns, the last which proved to be the game-winner in a thrilling game.
Perhaps the least well-known of all the Patriots stars, Flowers has come into his own in the past 2 Super Bowls. In Super Bowl LI against the Falcons, Flowers had 2.5 sacks to lead the team, including one that pushed the Falcons out of field goal range late in the fourth quarter, which allowed the team to complete its comeback that started when the team was down 28-3 late in the third quarter.
In Super Bowl LII, Flowers had 5 tackles in the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Flowers, a 4th-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, is scheduled for free agency after the season is over. ProFootballFocus has him listed as the third-best free agent, behind only Cowboys DE Demarcus Lawrence and Seahawks S Earl Thomas.
A dead ringer for actor Ryan Gosling, Rams QB Jared Goff has the pedigree his counterpart - Tom Brady - does not: No. 1 overall pick, a father who played professional sports and he was entrusted with the franchise in the latter part of his rookie season.
The 24-year-old Goff, who gained notoriety earlier this season when he called an audible using the actress Halle Berry's name, is mature beyond his years, coach Sean McVay has said.
"He's an unfazed quarterback," said McVay, when asked how to describe the rapid success his quarterback is having at such an early age. "I think his way to have success and handle adversity the same demonstrates that poise and confidence you want from your quarterback."
Gurley, who was recently named to his third Pro Bowl and a first-team All-Pro, is perhaps the best RB in the NFL. His rare combination of size, speed and agility make the 224 lb. Gurley difficult to tackle.
After McVay took over the Rams in 2017, Gurley's career really began to take off. Over the past two seasons, Gurley has rushed for 2,566 yards and 40 total TDs. Not just an exceptional, Gurley is a threat out of the backfield, especially when the Rams use their 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs), having caught 123 passes over the past two seasons.
However, the star runner has been stymied in recent weeks, including the NFC Championship game, where he carried the ball 4 times for 10 yards and caught one pass for 3 yards. Gurley, who scored a touchdown on a 6-yard run, said after the game he was healthy amid speculation he was suffering from an injury.
Prior to the start of the 2018 NFL season, Gurley inked a four-year, $60 million contract extension with the Rams, including $45 million guaranteed. That new deal made him the highest-paid running back in the league.
The 25-year-old Cooks is no stranger to the Super Bowl. Last year, he was with the Patriots in their loss to the Rams, but unfortunately only caught 1 ball for 23 yards before leaving with a concussion.
After the season, the Patriots traded Cooks to the Rams in exchange for a first-round pick, marking Cooks third team in three years (he had been traded to the Patriots by the New Orleans Saints). Cooks, who signed a 5-year, $81 million contract with the Rams after the trade, recently said that "God doesn't make mistakes" and he's happy to be with the Rams, despite having traveled around the league so much for a productive player.
“It’s one of those things, ever since that moment, I’ve always thought about, just because … more so for the fact that personally I disappointed my team by not being able to be out there and finish the game," Cooks said, according to CBS Boston. "But it also gave me that hunger, that motivation, to have a better offseason, to work harder no matter what the circumstances are. And I understand that one day, I’ll be back on this stage. And I’m blessed to be here just the following year,” Cooks said. “God doesn’t make mistakes, and it’s not by accident that I’m back here.”
Cooks recently surprised the Rams custodian and his son with two tickets to Sunday's game.
Since Aaron Donald entered the league in 2014 as the 13th overall pick, he has been a terror for opposing quarterbacks and offensive lines. In his five seasons, he has racked up 59.5 sacks, including 20.5 in 2018, on his way to becoming the only unanimous selection to the All-Pro team.
Blessed with incredible quickness (Donald runs a 4.68 40) and strength, the 285 lb. defensive lineman is a force to be reckoned with wherever he lines up on the field. His peers and the media have taken notice, with Donald having been awarded Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2014, the Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2017 and Pro Football Writers Association NFL Defensive Player of the Year this year.
Prior to the start of the season, Donald became the highest paid defensive player in NFL history, signing a six-year, $135 million extension with $87 million guaranteed with the Rams. The distinction of being the highest paid defender in league history would last just 24 hours, when the Chicago Bears inked Khalil Mack to a six-year, $141 million deal.
Playing alongside Donald is Ndamukong Suh, a 6-foot-4, 313 lb. behemoth, that has wrecked offensive game plans since coming into the league as the 2nd overall pick in 2010.
After spending three years with the Miami Dolphins, following prolonged success with the Detroit Lions, Suh was released from his contract. He signed a one-year $14 million deal with the Rams in March 2018 and has formed an incredible duo with Donald, regaining much of the success he enjoyed earlier in his career.
In 2018, he recorded 4.5 sacks and 2 fumble recoveries, to go along with 59 tackles.
Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia