Super Bowl Preview
February 2, 2017
It has been a rough year for the NFL. Television ratings have dipped. The commissioner cannot make an appearance without being booed. It seems like there are three or four concussions every game. The playoffs have not been interesting as the 10 postseason games have been decided by an average margin of almost 18 points.
But there is one game left and it is a game that could wipe the negative thoughts away.
The Super Bowl.
And it features two exciting teams in the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots.
The underdog is the team with one of the best NFL offenses of all time. At 34 points per game, the Falcons scored the eighth most points in NFL history during the regular season. Quarterback Matt Ryan will likely be the league’s MVP after recording the fifth best season ever by passer rating. Defense has long been an issue for Atlanta. And this year was not much different. At least until the playoffs began. Led by second-year pass rusher Vic Beasley, they made two of the NFL’s top quarterbacks, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers, look uncomfortable in the pocket. And if there’s one way to stop the Patriots, it’s to hit Tom Brady.
Hitting Mr. Brady is not easy. The Patriots quarterback came back from his four-game Deflategate suspension and gave an MVP worthy performance of his own. The Patriots have lost just one game with Brady under center and the 39-year old registered the third best scoring offense in the NFL. And it is easy to forget that the Pats have the league’s No. 1 scoring defense. If there is a dynasty left in sports, it is in New England. For close to two decades now, it has been great in every facet of the game. They will be going to their NFL record ninth Super Bowl , their seventh in the 16 seasons since Brady took over as the starting quarterback under head coach Bill Belichick.
This is a match up that could give us a classic. The century’s best franchise going up against one of the little guys in all of American sports. Think about it. Atlanta’s professional sports teams have won just one championship in a combined 168 seasons.
Though New England is favored, it’s easy to see why the Falcons are a popular pick. Atlanta has crushed its opposition in the postseason so far, outscoring Seattle and Green Bay, two of the league’s hottest teams in their own right, by a combined score of 80-41. Ryan has been magnificent in that span, throwing for 730 yards and seven touchdowns with no interceptions. He has the game’s top receiver in Julio Jones. All Jones has done in the playoff is to become the first player in league history to have two playoff games with 150-plus receiving yards and at least two touchdowns.
While most of the talk has centered around the quarterbacks, it could be the running-backs that make the difference.
The Falcons have one of the most talented duos in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Freeman is the better runner, but Shanahan loves to use Coleman as a receiver out of the backfield. The Patriots have a bruiser in LeGarrette Blount and a receiver-type of their own in Dion Lewis. Edge here goes to Atlanta.
If you are into common opponents, they have had five common opponents (Denver, Seattle, Arizona, Los Angeles and San Francisco) and went 4–1 (each team lost to the Seahawks, with Atlanta losing on the road and the Patriots at home). The cumulative scores were 168–88 for Atlanta; 119–82 for New England. The Falcons had an average margin of victory of 20.5 points, and the Patriots were at 11.0. Edge to Atlanta.
A big edge on defense to New England. The old saying is that defense wins championships. If the adage holds true, the Patriots will win going away.
Another edge for the Pats is coaching. Everyone, even the average fan knows Belichick and his staff usually can defend anything with two weeks to prepare.
The over/under line in this game is a very high 59 points. That does not say much for the defenses. It does say a lot for Ryan and Brady. Both will excel unless they face pressure while throwing. New England does not have much of a pass rush and Atlanta has only one true pass rusher in Vic Beasley.
The game may very well be determined by which team is able to dial up the most pressure and make that top quarterback move off his spot in the pocket.
Like close to 75% of the country, I will be rooting for Atlanta. And I think they could win. Still, it is tough to pick against New England. I will take the Patriots based on their defense. I think they will hold the Falcons to more field goals than touchdowns while Brady and company finds the endzone with relative ease against the Atlanta defense.