Houston, we have take off.
In four days the time will come for you to sit back and relax on yet another Super Bowl Sunday. This Sunday could be the biggest one all year for fellow New England Patriots fans as the team will go head-to-head against the Atlanta Falcons in the 51st edition of the big game. You may think you have prepared all week and have crunched every single statistic possible, but it does not matter until 6:30 p.m. comes around on Sunday, and it can’t come soon enough.
First and foremost, let’s backtrack to how both teams got here.
The Falcons won the NFC South division and NFC Championship by dismantling the Green Bay Packers 44-21. At 11-5, they are led by former Boston College standout, Matt Ryan. Ryan is having an MVP season and his numbers prove it. He has thrown for 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. He will be the MVP of the NFL this season based on his consistency from start to finish, plus the fact he did not miss four games.
What makes them dangerous? Every time Ryan and star wideout Julio Jones are on the field, the team has a great shot at finding the endzone. Add two highly-skilled running backs like Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman into the equation and moving the chains becomes simple. The team has had hot starts in their last eight games, scoring a touchdown on their opening drives. They have not lost since Week 13 and their offense most definitely will show up to play in the biggest game of the year.
What hurts Atlanta? Defense and lack of experience. This is only the second time in franchise history they have ever made it to the Super Bowl (lost Super Bowl XXXIII to the Denver Broncos in 1998). More importantly, their defense is sub-par, ranking 27th after allowing 25.4 points per game.
The Patriots went 14-2 and won another AFC East title. They were able to win three games without quarterback Tom Brady (sorry, Roger). They were able to move on from players like Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins. Finally, they found a way to win without tight end Rob Gronkowski. After beating the high-powered Pittsburgh Steelers 36-17 in the AFC Championship game, the Patriots are poised heading into their ninth Super Bowl appearance and seventh under head coach Bill Belichick.
What makes them dangerous? Having a four-time Super Bowl winning quarterback and a genius Hall of Fame coach helps. Yet, I believe the defense going into this game is stronger than in the past. Most people know the offense will perform just fine with Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Martellus Bennett catching the ball from Brady and they will balance it off with a strong running attack from Legarrette Blount. Dion Lewis will also provide energy being someone Brady can dump the ball off too in high-pressure moments.
What hurts New England? Their defense as well. Jones is stronger and a lot taller than Malcolm Butler. Sure, Butler helped contain the Steelers’ Antonio Brown, but Brown does not have the size that Jones has. Plenty of cornerbacks can challenge Jones, but he will find a way to beat you. I think it will come down to coverage over the top from safeties Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon. Look for Eric Rowe to be a factor as well. The secondary will decide the fate of the Patriots on Sunday. If caught vulnerable, Matt Ryan will eat them up.
This is a No. 1 scoring defense versus a No. 1 offense for all the marbles. This Super Bowl will play out as one of the better ones because of the players taking the field. Yet, I whole-heartedly believe that the Atlanta Falcons are not in the same category as the Patriots. Experience in these games matters and the Patriots have that. In the dynasty era, all the Super Bowls have come down to final drives and last minute heroics that have both hurt the Patriots and benefited them. I think for the second time in Houston, the Patriots come away with a victory and manage to beat the spread. They will get one for the thumb.