ATLANTA — 11Alive Sports offers five juicy storylines for this year's Super Bowl, pitting the Rams (NFC champion) and Patriots (AFC champion).
Before we proceed, though, here are three fun facts about the upcoming clash in Atlanta (Feb. 3 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium):
a) This marks the ninth Super Bowl for the tandem of quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick (easily an NFL record).
b) The Los Angeles vs. Boston showdown should be familiar to baseball fans ... since this was the same market matchup for the 2018 World Series (Red Sox toppled the Dodgers in five games).
c) On Sunday, the Patriots became the third AFC champion in history to reach back-to-back-to-back Super Bowls, joining the Dolphins (1972-74) and Bills (1991-94).
Strangely, no NFC franchise has ever accomplished this feat.
SB LIII: LOCAL STORYLINES
1. Todd Gurley and Sony Michel will make history on Super Sunday
From our research, Super Bowl LIII shall mark the first-ever championship game with both starting running backs hailing from the University of Georgia–Todd Gurley (Rams) and Sony Michel (Patriots).
What's more, in 2014, Michel (then a precocious freshman) and Gurley (911 yards rushing, 9 TDs in just six games that year) graced the same backfield at Georgia.
Shortly thereafter, Gurley declared early for the NFL, got drafted high in Round 1 (10th overall) ... and the rest is history.
By the way, neither Michel nor Gurley were the Dawgs' leading rusher in 2014. Due to Gurley's four-game absence (suspension), Nick Chubb ended up carrying the proverbial mail for UGA, racking up 1,547 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns as a freshman.
Gurley would likely rate as the NFL's most prolific back over the last two seasons, averaging 1,977 total yards and 20 touchdowns during that span.
However, it's also fair to wonder if the Rams have been concealing the seriousness of Gurley's knee injury from early December.
On Sunday, Gurley logged only five touches against the Saints (13 total yards, 1 TD). If he were completely healthy, that number would typically be four or five times as high–especially a high-stakes playoff thriller.
Michel, on the other hand, enters Super Sunday on a high note, averaging 102 rushing yards and 1.5 touchdowns in his last four outings.
Of equal importance, Michel has apparently earned Bill Belichick's complete trust during crunch-time moments.
Bottom line: The football gods might have gone the extra mile here, ensuring an all-Georgia-backfield Super Bowl ... right down the road from Athens.
2. Good luck breaking this year's record involving the head coaches
At 32 years old (and change), the Rams' Sean McVay will become the youngest head coach in Super Bowl history.
Adding to the fun, McVay was a local prodigy during his high school days, leading The Marist School to great heights a decade ago.
How good was McVay as a high schooler?
McVay beat out future Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson for Georgia Player of the Year honors in 2004.
On the flip side, at 66 years old (and change), Bill Belichick has broken his own age record for coaching in a Super Bowl.
In case you're wondering, before Belichick established this record at last year's Super Bowl, the oldest SB head coaches were Tom Coughlin, Dick Vermeil, Pete Carroll and Weeb Ewbank.
Counting Belichick, this quintet of head coaches has cumulatively claimed 10 Lombardi trophies.
3. Can you believe we've gone this long without discussing Tom Brady in great detail?
No reasonable person could dispute Brady's status as the NFL's greatest quarterback of all time:
**Three-time NFL MVP
**Four-time Super Bowl MVP
**Five-time Super Bowl champion (highest among QBs)
**Nine-time AFC champion
**Most QB victories in NFL history
**Greatest touchdown-to-interception ratio in NFL history (28/2)
**70,000-plus passing yards
**500-plus touchdown passes
However, the general public is free to play the timeless game of guessing when Brady will retire ... or when does he register that final Super Bowl appearance?
Just for kicks, I'll predict Brady retires after the 2021 season; and the Atlanta Super Bowl won't be his last chance at Super Sunday glory.
That aside, it'll be fascinating to see how Brady, Belichick and the Patriots address the media crush during Super Bowl Week.
**Before the Divisional Playoff round, the Patriots were quietly seething about being popular pundit picks to lose to the seemingly "more talented" Chargers–despite having home-field advantage.
(New England led 35-7 at halftime and subsequently cruised to victory.)
For Championship Sunday, the Patriots reveled in being underdogs to the powerful Chiefs. Their disdain even inspired a #BetAgainstUs hashtag for the Twitter masses.
But ay the rub: Unlike the AFC playoffs, VegasInsider.com has the Patriots installed as 2-point favorites over the Rams.
4. Will Mother Nature play a disheartening role in the run-up to Super Sunday?
Let's see. Atlanta has hosted the Super Bowl twice (1994, 2000); and in both instances, a blast of blustery winter weather wreaked havoc with the masses.
For the second Big Game (January 2000), a four-day ice storm basically paralyzed the city, preventing fans and media from getting around to various events.
Even worse, the media used various platforms to let everyone know about their misfortune ... thus casting a pall over the Super Bowl experience.
Luckily for Atlanta, though, the Rams and Titans treated millions of viewers to a fabulous ending, with Tennessee receiver Kevin Dyson falling one yard short of tying the game as the clock struck zero.
(FUN FACT: The Rams have participated in the last two Atlanta Super Bowls.)
Regarding next week: Preliminary forecasts call for sunny skies, but chilly temperatures (low-to-mid 40s) during the week.
For Super Sunday (Feb. 3), the forecast looks demonstrably better, with temps hovering near 60.
5. The Brady-Belichick era of dominance coincided with the Spygate scandal
Seventeen years ago, Brady was a merely a humble backup quarterback on a cap-strapped, overachieving team; and if it wasn't for starter Drew Bledsoe absorbing one of the most punishing quarterback hits of the last quarter-century, Brady likely rides the pine for most of that 2001 campaign.
After all, Brady was only the 199th overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft.
When New England took a flier on the Michigan product in Round 6, no one could have known it would become the greatest sleeper pick in draft history.
Fast forward to that year's Super Bowl (No. 36): The Patriots entered the game as prohibitive underdogs to the high-scoring Rams, who were led by future Hall of Famers Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk.
There were even concerns that Brady–who injured his knee in the AFC title game–wouldn't suit up on Super Sunday (the Superdome in New Orleans).
However, Brady rose to the challenge of cultivating one of the great upsets in Super Bowl lore.
The Patriots sprinted to a 17-3 lead, only to see the Rams square the score in the final seconds.
Instead of settling for overtime, though, Brady quickly marched the New England offense downfield ... setting the stage for Adam Vinatieri's championship-clinching kick from 48 yards.
Seemingly overnight, Brady had become the toast of the NFL, in terms of commercial endorsements and wall-to-wall media coverage.
Six years later, however, rumors began circling of the Patriots secretly recording the hand signals coming from the opposing team's sidelines.
As part of that NFL probe, there were serious allegations of New England staffers taping the Rams during their pre-Super Sunday walkthrough at the Superdome.
Were the Patriots guilty of such a serious charge? To this day, the NFL has provided little insight to investigation details; but at least the media came away with a memorable tag for the experience: The Spygate scandal.
Fast forward to the present: Of the Rams and Patriots players and coaches from 2001, only Brady and Belichick have stood the test of time with their respective clubs.
As their, uh, reward for such attrition, the duo will likely field a handful of Spygate-related questions during Super Bowl Week.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story misreported Gurley and Michel as quarterbacks for the Rams and Patriots, respectively. This article has been updated to reflect that.