3 surprising x-factors that will lead the Patriots to a Super Bowl 53 victory
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3 surprising x-factors that will lead the Patriots to a Super Bowl 53 victory

Stephen Gostkowski, Kyle Van Noy, David Andrews, Patriots

Back in Super Bowl 49, the New England Patriots were on the cusp of seeing a Vince Lombardy Trophy completely slip away – until Malcolm Butler happened. It took just one bad decision by the Seattle Seahawks and a smart read by Butler for the cornerback to have access to free beer in Foxborough for the rest of his life.

We retell this iconic play from the Patriots’ history to remind everyone that not all Super Bowl heroes have supermodels as wives. For every Tom Brady, there’s some underappreciated offensive lineman ready to make a great difference. For every Rob Gronkowski, there’s an overlooked linebacker, eyeing for an opportunity to create a momentum-swinging play.

In just a couple of days, the best of the AFC in the Patriots and the best of the NFC in the Los Angeles Rams will duke it out in Super Bowl 53 in Atlanta. It’s a matchup filled with game-changers from top to bottom, but we usually just hear about the faces of the franchises when most people talk about the matchups. It’s high time to discuss some of the Patriots with the potential to become this year’s version of Malcolm Butler.

Kyle Van Noy

Van Noy has been one of the Patriots’ key players on defense all season long. And he’s aiming for a much better performance in Super Bowl 53 than the last time the Patriots won on the grandest stage of football. Two years ago, when New England pulled off a miraculous come-from-behind win over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51, Sports Illustrated gave Van Noy just a “C” grade.

Had his moments dropping into Tampa 2 coverage but was largely lost against the run and was often in the middle of the Falcons’ big scampers.

Last year, in a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl 52, Van Noy was a non-factor, generating only one pressure.

Having said all of that, it seems that Van Noy is a completely different – and better – player this season, especially since the playoffs kicked off. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, Van Noy is the highest graded linebacker in the postseason with an 87.2 rating. He stepped up big time in the AFC title game against the Kansas City Chiefs in which he had two sacks, 10 total tackles, and a forced fumble.

That’s the quality of havoc on the defensive end of the field the Patriots are hoping Van Noy can come up with in Super Bowl 53 in order to contain and slow down Jared Goff in the pocket.

David Andrews

The Patriots will go as far as where Tom Brady takes them, but he’s also going to be just as good as his protection unit. Enter New England’s airtight offensive line, which has yet to allow a sack in the playoffs. Andrews is a big part of that unit, one that will face an acid test in the form of the Rams’ defensive line that features a pair of behemoths in Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh.

Donald is going to be the most notable source of headaches for the Patriots in the trenches. He owns the highest win rate as a pass rusher this season with a 25.9 clip. It’s an exceptional feat for an interior player, as edge rushers usually top that particular stat category, but that’s just Donald in a nutshell. Andrews will have a busy night on Sunday, and he’s likely going to need some painkillers after dealing with Donald and Suh, but a win is going to make all the blows he’ll take worth it.

Stephen Gostkowski

There’s no middle ground for fantasy football managers’ feeling about kickers. It’s either they hate kickers to the core or they love them like they’re their dogs. The same is true in real life, especially in this season in which kickers have frequently grabbed the headlines for the wrong reasons. For Gostkowski, he’s going to be either embraced or banished by Patriots fans, depending on how he fares in Atlanta.

He’s got a spotty resume in big games, having missed extra points back in the 2016 AFC title game against the Denver Broncos and in Super Bowl 51. Last year, he missed a 26-yard field goal in New England’s Super Bowl 52 loss to Nick Foles and company.

Still, New England trusts Gostkowski and the team is hoping he’s going to be the same player on Sunday who finished the regular season 49 of 50 on extra-point chances and has yet to miss a field goal try (3 of 3) and extra point kicks (9 of 9) in the playoffs.