New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons
NRG Stadium – Houston, TX
Monday 10:30am AEST on ESPN and 7mate
The big game is finally here!
The wings are hot, the beer is cold and two of the NFL’s elite teams are set to go head-to-head for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
The Patriots head into their ninth Super Bowl chasing their fifth title, while the Atlanta Falcons are playing in just their second, searching for their first title in the franchise’s 50-year history.
Both clubs are evenly matched on paper. New England leads the league in points allowed against an Atlanta outfit that boasts the highest-scoring offence in the NFL for both the regular season and playoffs. The Patriots are going in as a three-point favourite, but it’s not necessarily on merit. Their Super Bowl experience alone gives the Boston-based outfit a narrow field goal advantage.
Battle of Contrasting QBs
Each side enjoy elite quarterbacks coming off strong performances in the conference title games.
Tom Brady, despite missing the first four games of the season, has been in classic form. The veteran is second in yards per game for the post-season and at 39, hasn’t looked like slowing down to play possibly the best playoff game of his career in the AFC Championship decider. Going 32-42 for 384 yards and three touchdowns in the Patriots 19-point dismantling of Pittsburgh, no one can doubt his credentials.
Meanwhile, Matty “Ice” Ryan has put together an MVP calibre season, leading the league in QBR, yards per attempt and averaging over 300 yards per game. Ryan also enjoyed a stellar performance two weeks prior, going 27-38 for 392 yards and four touchdowns in Atlanta’s 44-21 blowout NFC Championship win over Green Bay.
Offensive Power to Burn
Both teams can hurt you through the air and on the ground. New England running back LaGarrette Blount and Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman were eighth and ninth in regular season rushing yards respectively.
Each have strong receiving corps to boot. Atlanta prefer to share the ball with Ryan having thrown a touchdown to an NFL record 13 different receivers over the course of the season. Of course, his preferred target is Julio Jones, who led the league in yards per game at 100.6 and ranked second in total receiving yards with 1,409. Help arrived in the form of Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel to bolster their options.
Likewise for New England, they have a habit of sharing the ball between their many receiving options. Julian Edelman has been their most dangerous receiver but he’s not the only player secondaries need to worry about. Chris Hogan has come out of nowhere to be a great second option for New England. The fourth-year former lacrosse player out of Monmouth has the most yards per game in the playoffs and was tied-first in yards per reception in the league. Tight end Martellus Bennett is in form, slotting into the spot left by the injured Rob Gronkowski without missing a step.
Pats Edge the Defensive End
Defensively speaking, Belichick and the Pats will probably play this much like they did in the AFC Championship. By double-teaming Antonio Brown and keeping him to just 77 yards of seven receptions, they nullified the Pittsburgh Steelers greatest asset.
In that respect, Julio Jones should have two options on him to put their best cornerback Malcolm Butler on Atlanta’s next best option via Mohamed Sanu. This will in turn force the Falcons to beat New England without Jones having a 200-yard game.
Atlanta are suspect defensively, ranking twenty-fifth and twenty-seventh in yards and points allowed respectively. Lacking experience in key positions with four rookie starters, they have improved late in the season as the game slowed down for the youngsters. After all, they did stop two strong offences in Seattle and Green Bay back-to-back to get to this point.
The biggest factor that separates these two teams is experience. This is Atlanta’s first Super Bowl since 1998 and the first for both coach Dan Quinn and quarterback Matt Ryan. This is all new for the Falcons.
The media, the parade, the longer warm up, longer half time; this is all foreign for the roster and can make life difficult in order to find their normal rhythm. For the Patriots, however, this isn’t their first rodeo.
It’s the record seventh time that the tandem of coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady have appeared in the Super Bowl together and they’ll ensure the Pats will be relaxed and ready to go come game day.
Between the suspect defence of the Falcons and the Super Bowl experience of the Patriots, it’s just too hard to pick against them. If Atlanta can find their rhythm early and aren’t shaken by the big stage, it could simply come down to who has the ball last.