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Tom Brady will face off, once again, against a Wade Phillips defense on a path to a title.EXPAND
Tom Brady will face off, once again, against a Wade Phillips defense on a path to a title.
Photo by Eric Sauseda

Five Matchups That Will Define Super Bowl LIII

Last season, the only matchup that mattered for me at the Super Bowl was the subzero Minneapolis weather versus my nasty sinus infection. Well, it ain't exactly tropical here in Atlanta this week — snow is expected tomorrow... in Georgia... SNOW! — but it's freaking paradise compared to the Twin Cities.

Thankfully, I can actually focus on football matchups this season, and not focus on merely surviving the feeling of my inner nasal passage being stabbed by a machete. So, that said, here are five matchups that have me pumped for the game this Sunday:

5. Brandin Cooks versus his old teammates in the Pats secondary
Brandin Cooks has one of the stranger career trajectories in NFL history. He was a first round pick for one of the most-happy teams in all of football, the New Orleans Saints, back in 2014, and from 2015 through 2018, he's gone over 1,000 yards receiving for THREE different teams. He was traded by the Saints to the Patriots for a first round pick after 2016, then traded by the Pats to the Rams for a first round pick after 2017. The Rams proceeded to give him a five year, $80 million contract this past spring. So Cooks is well thought of enough to be traded TWICE for first round picks, and enough to be highly paid. Yet some would say he was the Rams' best receiver on the Rams at times this year, behind Robert Woods and (pre-ACL tear) Cooper Kupp. At the very least, the Cooks matchup is interesting on Sunday because he will be going against his former teammates, and one of the two teams that traded him. (Interesting, too, that Cooks beat the other team that traded him last Sunday, so this is sort of the Brandin Cooks Revenge Tour.)

4. Me versus CBS Sports
So, despite the fact that there will be roughly $6 BILLION wagered, legally and illegally combined (according to surveys), on the Super Bowl this Sunday, CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus says that the broadcast will not acknowledge the existence of gambling even one iota:

“Gambling is legalized in a few states now. It’s not widespread across the entire country and our policy has been that in our football telecasts, including the SEC on CBS and the NFL, we don’t discuss gambling information, lines, over/unders. We don’t do that. That’s our policy.”

It's fascinating watching two successful, multi-billion dollar entities, CBS and the NFL, willfully NOT giving their customers what they want. So for the third year in a row, I'll see exactly how much CBS actually listens to my radio show when I turn my Sunday night national show on CBS Sports Radio into the Super Bowl GambleCast. Yes, I'll spend my 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. nationally syndicated show tracking prop bets and gambling angles the entire game. I'm a renegade!

3. Todd Gurley versus rust... or performance issues... or whatever the hell is going on with him
There was a point about midway through the regular season where Todd Gurley was the leading non-QB MVP candidate in the league. Then in Weeks 14 and 15, against Chicago and Philadelphia, he combined for 76 yards on 23 carries. Something was clearly wrong. As it turns out, he had a knee issue, and despite coming back strong in the divisional round against the Cowboys (115 yards on 16 carries), he was benched for long stretches against the Saints last week. I'm not sure how long this C.J. Anderson renaissance is going to last for the Rams, and they will likely need Gurley to recover strong from whatever it was ailing him last week. Gurley says he feels fine. The proof will be in the number of productive touches on Sunday against New England.

2. Brady versus Wade
The last time these two faced off in a big game was in the 2015 AFC Championship Game in Denver, with the Patriots coming into that game as a small favorite. That afternoon, Wade Phillips surprised everyone by mixing in a ton of zone coverage in place of his usually man-to-man heavy scheme. The Broncos won that day, and went on to win the Super Bowl. It should be fun to see how Wade plays it this Sunday. If his choice of attire is any indication, it doesn't seem like Wade Phillips is sweating this matchup very much...

1. McVay versus Belichick
The wunderkind, 33 year old, coaching-tree-in-full-bloom head coach of the Rams versus the old, sage, ruthless, possible-Sith-Lord 66-year-old O.G. head coach of the Patriots. Youth versus age, offense versus defense, new blood versus the greatest ever. This is going to be fascinating.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.

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