The NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons match up against the AFC Champion New England Patriots in Super Bowl 51.
It is a tale of two franchises, with the Falcons entering their 2nd Super Bowl in franchise history, and the Patriots making their NFL-record 9th appearance. All eyes will be on the quarterbacks with the two leading MVP candidates, Matt Ryan and Tom Brady, facing off. This will be the 6th meeting of the #1 scoring offense (Falcons) and defense (Patriots) in the Super Bowl, with the defenses holding a 4-1 record.
Matt Ryan and the Falcons
Matt “Matty Ice” Ryan makes his 1st Super Bowl appearance with the Falcons, who drafted him out of Boston College to replace controversial star Michael Vick at the quarterback position at 3rd overall in the 2008 NFL draft. Ryan had the best season of his career, posting 38 touchdowns against 8 interceptions and a league-leading 117.1 quarterback rating. This was due in large part to his number one wide receiver Julio Jones, who even after missing two games recorded over 1,400 yards (2nd in the NFL) and six touchdowns. Jones is a big-play threat, with 27 of his 82 catches going for over 20 yards. The two-headed running back monster Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman helped drive the Falcons to 5th overall in rushing this season.
The Falcons had a much more difficult road to the Super Bowl than the Patriots, having to beat two former champions — the Seattle Seahawks and the red hot Green Bay Packers, led by Aaron Rodgers. Not only did the Falcons win; they blew out both opponents winning by 16 points and 23 points, respectively. Even more impressive, the Falcons had the toughest strength of schedule in the NFL in 2016.
Tom Brady and the Patriots
Tom Brady enters his 7th Super Bowl under the helm of coach Bill Belichick. Brady has had a tumultuous year, stemming back to the Deflategate debacle of the 2014 AFC championship game, which after two years of arbitration resulted in a four game suspension. The Patriots went 3-1 in those games starting their second and third-string quarterbacks, showcasing the roster depth and superior game planning that has made them the NFL’s signature franchise of this century. Through 12 games, Brady posted the best touchdown-to-interception ratio in NFL history, 28:2. Although they lost their best playmaker, tight end Rob Gronkowski, for the season due to a herniated disc, other players stepped up in his absence. LeGarrette Blount led the Patriots running attack with 18 touchdowns (led the NFL) and wide receivers Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan and backup tight end Martellus Bennett.
Dan Quinn, head coach of the Falcons enters his 3rd Super Bowl in the past four years. Quinn was the defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks in 2013 and 2014 before leaving to helm the Falcons. Bill Belichick makes his 9th appearance in a Super Bowl, 7th as a head coach.
Keys to the Game
The defenses will play a large role in containing both of these high-octane offenses.
The Patriots will have shown a penchant for single covering the opposing team’s second wide receiver with Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler, and then double covering the number one with Logan Ryan and safety help over the top. This strategy helped to hold superstar WR Antonio Brown to 7 catches for 77 yards in the AFC championship game, and they hope it has similar results against the physicality of Julio Jones.
The Patriots will also have to worry about the check-down pass to both running backs. Atlanta had the least amount of third downs attempted in the NFL, meaning they do their damage on the early downs and move the chains quickly.
The Falcons will need to stop the short and quick passing offense of the Patriots. The strategy of “bend but don’t break” doesn’t work against a team that has crafted its reputation by bending opposing defenses into submission. The best way to do this is by applying constant and unpredictable pressure on the quarterback.
Brady has one of the quickest releases in the game, so if he sees the blitz coming, the Falcons have already lost.
With an underwhelming defense this season, the Falcons will need to beat the Patriots on offense, and then hope for a few turnovers. With only 2 interceptions on the season, Brady won’t give it up easy.
Super Bowl LI Prediction: Patriots 21, Falcons 17
Heading into the game, we are picking the Patriots as a 3-point favorite over the Falcons. The Big Game always proves unpredictable however, as the favorite is 5-5 in the last 10 games.
The Falcons offense shows no signs of slowing down and their defense in the playoffs has stepped up big. The Patriots’ defense hasn’t allowed more than 17 points in their last five games, and the Falcons haven’t scored less than 33 points in their last six games. Something has to give, and in the biggest games, it’s usually the offense.
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