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Chad Finn

The 10 (or 11) most important players in the Super Bowl

Jared Goff and Tom Brady chatted during Super Bowl Opening Night Monday.Matt Rourke/AP

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ATLANTA — Who is the most important player in Super Bowl LIII?

I think most of us would come to the same answer there. Hint: He plays quarterback quite well and has been winning Lombardi Trophies since many of his current teammates were dominating in their grade-school gym classes.

OK, so we agree: Tom Brady is the most important player in this game. After all, he’s the most important player in just about every game he plays.

But who is next on the list? And which combination of Patriots and Rams would make up the top 10?


Six Globe writers were polled on this question. Ten points were awarded for a first-place vote, nine for a second, and so on down the line. Not everyone had Brady first — three voters had him second — but he earned the top spot easily.

Here’s how the top 10 shook out (and our list actually goes to 11 since two Patriots tied for 10th). Let us know what your top 10 would look like.

Tom Brady (57 points): He will be playing in his ninth Super Bowl, in pursuit of his sixth victory, with the possibility of collecting his fifth Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award. He is already the most accomplished winner in the league’s history, and he’s out to make more history Sunday. Most important? There can be no other choice.

Jared Goff (49): The third-year quarterback has come a long way in a short time. As a rookie in 2015, he threw just five touchdown passes in seven games, all losses. Now a two-time Pro Bowler, he was often excellent in the Rams’ road win over the Saints in the NFC Championship Game, but facing a Bill Belichick defense with these stakes is by far his toughest challenge yet.


Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh could present a formidable challenge for the Patriots offensive line.Rick Scuteri/AP

Aaron Donald (43): The reminder isn’t necessary, but it’s also unavoidable, because it’s true. In the Patriots’ pair of Super Bowl losses to the Giants, Brady struggled to elude a fierce pass rush up the middle from the likes of Michael Strahan and Justin Tuck. Donald, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, is capable of similar single-handed torment. He collected a staggering 20.5 sacks this year.

Todd Gurley (30): One of the league’s most dynamic backs during the regular season (1,251 yards, 21 touchdowns), Gurley was an afterthought against the Saints, gaining just 13 yards on five touches. He sat out the final two regular-season games with a knee injury, and while he says he’s fine, his usage and results suggest otherwise. C.J. Anderson has been a fine stand-in, but the Rams need a star turn from Gurley.

Julian Edelman (24): There’s been much chatter this postseason about whether Edelman will eventually have a Hall of Fame case. If so, it will be because of his production (105 catches, second only to Jerry Rice) and clutch moments in the postseason. Edelman has been both reliable and dominant during this playoff run, with 16 catches for 247 in two games. The Patriots will require a similar performance Sunday.

Trey Flowers (24): When this all began, with the Patriots’ win over the Rams in a Super Bowl 17 years ago, the pivotal we-can-do-this moment came when Mike Vrabel hit Kurt Warner and Ty Law picked off his misguided pass and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown. Flowers, a relentless pass rusher even if his sack numbers always don’t reflect it, may play that Vrabel role and force Goff into regrettable decisions.


James White and Julian Edelman are in Tom Brady’s circle of trust.Maddie Meyer/Getty

James White (18): It’s hard to argue with Brady’s selection as the MVP of Super Bowl LI after he led the Patriots back from a 28-3 deficit. But it’s also a shame that White — who had 14 catches, three touchdowns, and a 2-point conversion in that game two years ago — didn’t get the honor. That was the game in which he became a full-fledged member of Brady’s circle of trust. Against the aggressive Rams, expect double-digit catches yet again.

Ndamukong Suh (15): No player may be a bigger wild card in the Super Bowl than Suh, who dominates at times — he’s a three-time All-Pro — and disappears at others. In tandem with Donald, he’s capable of giving the interior of the Patriots offensive line all sorts of fits. But he had fewer QB hits this season (19) than Donald had sacks (20.5), and even the Rams probably aren’t sure what to expect.

Kyle Van Noy (11): The former Lions castoff has been a steady presence in his two-plus seasons as a Patriot, but he truly blossomed this season as a do-it-all linebacker in the tradition of Vrabel, Rob Ninkovich, Willie McGinest, and Roman Phifer. He excelled in the AFC title game against the diverse Chiefs offense (10 tackles, 2 sacks) and will need to be at his best again against the talented and creative Rams.


Stephon Gilmore (9): The Rams’ two primary receivers have almost identical statistics. Ex-Patriot Brandin Cooks delivered his typical season (80 catches, 1,204 yards, 5 touchdowns), while ex-Bill Robert Woods has rejuvenated his career in LA (86-1,219-6). If Goff is wise, he will target the one not tailed by Gilmore, a first-team All-Pro who has had the finest season by a Patriots cornerback since Darrelle Revis in 2014.

Sony Michel (9): The Patriots set the tone against the Chiefs in the AFC title game on their first possession, using nearly eight minutes of the clock in pounding their way downfield for a touchdown. Michel was immense on the drive (7 carries, 33 hard-fought yards, including a 1-yard TD run), and has been through the entire postseason: He has 242 yards and five touchdowns in the playoffs.

Others receiving votes: Joe Thuney (7), Shaq Mason (7), David Andrews (6), Devin McCourty (6), Brandin Cooks (3), John Johnson (2), Dante Fowler Jr. (2), Rob Gronkowski (1).

Chad Finn can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.