Super Bowl LI. The #1 points-scoring team in the Atlanta Falcons averaging 33.8 points per game, versus the Defense who allowed the least, in the New England Patriots, averaging 15.6 points per game. In common opponents both went 4-1 against the Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers, both losing to the Seahawks in closely contested match-ups. Which team will prevail in the winner-takes-all showdown? Let’s take a look.
Why the Atlanta Falcons will Win?
Atlanta’s prolific offense not only lead the league in total points with 540, but also lead the league in average yards per catch as well at 9.2, practically a first down on every play. The names that come to everyone’s mind with numbers like that is Matt Ryan and Julio Jones and deservedly so, as each were number two in NFL passing and receiving yards respectively. Although, what many may not realize are the number of offensive weapons Atlanta has in addition to the aforementioned Jones, which has made them so effective. Wide receivers Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel both caught 70% of the passes thrown their way this year and are both capable of making a big play with each having catches of over 50-yards this season. Their backfield duo of Devonta Freeman, who rushed for over 1,000-yards and 11-touchdowns and Tevin Coleman, 520-yards and eight touchdowns have been just as formidable in the passing game, combining for 85 receptions, five touchdowns and over 8-yards per reception. Atlanta’s biggest strength this year and best chance of winning is their diversity on offense and Matt Ryan’s patience as has connected with 13-different receivers for touchdowns.
Defensively, they have to limit the plays in the middle of the field and force Tom Brady to the sideline, shrinking the field of which to work with.
Why the Atlanta Falcons will Lose?
Atlanta ranked 27th in points allowed per game with 25.4 and their Red Zone defense was even worse, allowing an amazing opponent scoring conversion rate of 72%. The Patriots have converted in the Red Zone 63% of the time. The Patriots offense typically is a death-by-a-million-paper cuts type offense. However, this year, the top 5 receivers not named Rob Gronkowski, have all averaged 10.6-yards per catch and Chris Hogan has emerged as a legitimate deep threat averaging 17.6-yards a game, just ask the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Brady to Lewis back to Brady…
DEEP to Hogan!
— NFL (@NFL) January 23, 2017
If the Falcons defense stays true to form, Matt Ryan and company will still be looking for their first Super Bowl Championship since they came into the league in 1966.
Why the Patriots will Win?
Defense. One of Bill Belichick’s and the Patriots hallmark is to take away your biggest threat. Julio Jones seems like the logical choice in Atlanta’s high-flying offense, and while past logic with high profile receivers suggest the Patriots will double Jones, I’m not sure that is the key. Atlanta is 2-4 when Jones collects 110+ yards a game and 7-1 if under 110-yards. I mentioned earlier how effective the tandem of Freeman and Coleman have been in both rushing and receiving. The key for the Patriots to win their 5th Super Bowl, will be taking away Freeman and Coleman. How do the Patriots do this? Enter Patrick Chung. While Chung primarily takes the slot receiver or tight end, I see the Patriots putting Chung on whomever the running back is, rather than a linebacker to neutralize the speed disadvantage Freeman possesses against a linebacker. Regardless who the Patriots put in to cover the Atlanta backfield, this is the key to slowing down Atlanta’s attack and winning the game. In addition, keeping the Atlanta receivers in front of them and solid tackling, from not only the front seven but the secondary, is paramount. Atlanta has only won one game when they have scored less than 30-points. If the Patriots can keep the Falcons to 30-points or less, they will secure their franchise’s 5th Super Bowl and tie the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers in all time Super Bowl victories, trailing only the Pittsburgh Steelers who have six.
Why the Patriots will Lose?
There are two ways I believe this could happen. Turnovers and/or they get caught in a shoot-out. The Patriots demonstrated against Houston that even against a rather inept offense, turnovers can turn the momentum. This same sloppy play, providing short field from turnovers cannot be given to a potent Atlanta offense as it will spell disaster. This seems a rather pedestrian prediction, I know. However, if the Patriots get caught in a shoot-out, this is also in Atlanta’s favor, as the deep ball is still problematic for the Patriots and has been for years, especially in Super Bowls. Remember the “Helmet catch” in 2007? Or the Juggling catch by Jermaine Kearse in 2014? Two weeks ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers had a few shots downfield, which were not converted to Sammy Coates, not necessarily by stellar coverage but rather by drops self-inflicted. Look for DB’s Eric Rowe and Logan Ryan to be targeted repeatedly by Atlanta’s offense.
Prediction: Patriots 34 – 30.
No one believes this is going to be a defensive showdown, by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it is likely it will be a QB showdown between MVP Matt Ryan and 4-Time Super Bowl Champion Tom Brady, but it will be the defense who determines who goes home with the hardware.