The spotlight of the Super Bowl puts a great deal of pressure on everyone involved. Still, some players are under quite a bit more pressure than others.
Super Bowl LIII is no different. Tom Brady definitely wants to win this game in a big way. But for a man in his ninth Super Bowl, it’s close to another day at the office. We can’t say the same for one of his best targets, or the man who’ll be lined up behind him. We also can’t call this another day at the office for Brady’s counterpart with the Los Angeles Rams. A year after losing the Super Bowl with the Patriots, Brandin Cooks has a chance to beat his old team. In the secondary, he might see a lot of another player under a lot of pressure. And thanks to a rocky finish to the year, Todd Gurley is under an intense spotlight.
These 10 players are facing the most pressure in Super Bowl LIII.
Rob Gronkowski, tight end, New England Patriots
From an individual standpoint, the Super Bowl marks the last chance Gronk will have to show his worth to the Patriots. Given that his future in New England seems quite unsettled at the moment, it’s important that he not waste that opportunity. From a team standpoint, it’s awfully hard to imagine the Patriots winning this game without a big contribution from Gronkowski. Brady will certainly look to get Gronk in the game as much as possible. So, come Super Bowl Sunday, the spotlight will be squarely on the big tight end.
Nickell Robey-Coleman, cornerback, Los Angeles Rams
Given that Robey-Coleman was the perpetrator of the infamous pass interference no-call in the NFC Championship Game, he was always going to be in the spotlight on Super Bowl Sunday. But instead of lying as low as possible, he doubled down, saying that age as slowed Brady down. It may be that the comments were taken out of context, as Robey-Coleman has claimed. Even still, that’s a heck of a thing to say. Brady is smart enough that he won’t go out of his way to attack Coleman. But if the opportunity is there, watch out. Coleman put a big target on his back. Now he has to step up.
Trent Brown, left tackle, New England Patriots
If Brown gets the better of his matchup with Dante Fowler Jr., then the Patriots won’t have to use Gronk as a blocker and could use him primarily as a receiver, challenging a shaky Rams secondary in the process. They could also consistently double-team Aaron Donald with two of Joe Thuney, David Andrews, and Shaq Mason. But if Fowler, who has had a good postseason, wins the matchup against Brown, then the Pats would have to sacrifice Gronk as a receiver and/or the double-team on Donald. Otherwise, they’d risk Fowler wrecking the game from Brady’s blindside.
A left tackle won’t win Super Bowl MVP. But if Brady has a big game and New England wins, Brown will likely be as responsible as anyone. Of course, Brown’s performance would also probably have a lot to do with Los Angeles keeping Brady in check and winning, should that happen. This really shapes up as the potential bellwether matchup for Super Bowl LIII.
Jared Goff, quarterback, Los Angeles Rams
Make no mistake, Brady wants to win. But what happens if he doesn’t? It’s not like his status as one of the greatest players in NFL history is on the line. Conversely, a great game isn’t going to do much to increase Brady’s already esteemed legacy. But for Goff, it’s a different story. His career is off to a great start, but he’s still a young quarterback. What happens in his first Super Bowl could well tell us a lot about how Goff’s story is ultimately written.
Now obviously, even if he has a bad game and the Rams lose, Goff will have a lot of time to rewrite that legacy. But not everyone gets to be John Elway, who ended his career with two Super Bowl wins after three frustrating losses. After losing the Super Bowl in his second season, Dan Marino seemed destined for several more big games. But he never got back. We don’t know what the future will hold for Goff. This could be his only Super Bowl appearance. It’s important that he not waste it.
Sony Michel, running back, New England Patriots
Aside from the aforementioned Brown winning his matchup, a good way for New England to negate Los Angeles’ strong pass rush would be a solid running game. Michel will be a big part of that. On balance, the first-round pick had a good regular season, In the playoffs, he’s gone to another level. In two postseason games, Michel has 242 yards rushing and five touchdowns. By comparison, he had six touchdowns in 13 regular season games. If he continues to play this well, it’ll keep the Rams pass rushers off balance, opening up the offense for Brady. If the Patriots are going to win, that will be a huge part of it.
Brandin Cooks, wide receiver, Los Angeles Rams
The redemption stories are plentiful for Cooks. A year after having a bad Super Bowl experience, he’s back with a chance to make things better. Not only is he back, but he’s back and playing against the team he played for last season. Cooks has had a nice postseason, catching 11 passes for 172 yards in two games. If he’s doing that again, the New England defense will have to respect the pass, opening the Los Angeles rushing attack. We won’t say that the Rams can’t win if Cooks has another poor Super Bowl and can’t get open for Goff. But the path to victory will be a bumpy one.
Cordarrelle Patterson, wide receiver, New England Patriots
When Patterson has the ball, he has the potential to be a game breaker. He can make big plays as both a receiver and a running back. A solid game from Patterson on special teams would also greatly influence the always important field position battle. Patterson won’t be as consistently involved in the Patriot offense as guys like Gronkowski, Michel, James White, and Julian Edelman. But that will make how Patterson does when he is called on to make a big play all the more important.
Ndamukong Suh, defensive tackle, Los Angeles Rams
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Brown will dominate the aforementioned matchup with Fowler and that the Patriots can double-team Donald all game. While that’s bad for the Rams, it won’t spell complete doom. While he’s not Donald and not as dominant as he once was, Suh is still capable of taking over a game. And if Suh plays well, it will make it harder for New England to double-team Donald all game. Conversely a bad game from Suh probably means stupid penalties. Those mean second chances for the Patriots and if Brady is getting those, we might as well hand him the Lombardi Trophy now.
Super Bowl LIII will give Suh a big chance to thrive. If he can do it, his team will be in with a really good chance.
J.C. Jackson, cornerback, New England Patriots
Jackson had a rough AFC Championship Game, and that’s putting it mildly. Patrick Mahomes went after him throughout the second half and generally, the results were not pretty for the Patriots. Now, he’s going up against another potent offense. He’s going to see the likes of Cooks, Robert Woods, and Josh Reynolds coming at him. That’s no easy task. We’d suspect that Goff will test Jackson, much like Mahomes did. How Jackson handles that test will tell us a lot about who wins Super Bowl LIII.
Todd Gurley, running back, Los Angeles Rams
After looking like the MVP for more than half of the season, Gurley didn’t finish the year terribly well. He’s well aware of that, too. Gurley was decent in the divisional round win over the Dallas Cowboys, but outshined by C.J. Anderson. In the NFC Championship Game, he had nothing more than a cameo. It’s possible that the Rams could win with another down performance from Gurley. But we wouldn’t call it terribly likely. That’s not how Gurley wants to end this season, anyway. Gurley will be under a lot of pressure to finish this season in grand style rather than disappointment.