It all comes down to this. After 270 NFL games, the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons face off in Super Bowl 51. Matt Ryan looks to join the ranks of elite NFL quarterbacks, while Tom Brady looks to cement his legacy as the Greatest Quarterback (and potentially player) of All Time.
It has been a surprisingly quiet two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl because there is very little animosity between these two teams. The players and coaches from both sides seem to have a great deal of respect for their opponents. While that’s all well and good, it’s a slight let down for fans because you really want to despise your opponent going into the Super Bowl, and there’s really no way for me personally to despise the Falcons. They have incredible talent and class on both sides of the ball, and play tough football. They have some of the most entertaining players in the league to watch play in Julio Jones, Matt Ryan, and Devonta Freeman, and as a team they have been playing at a high level all season. It’s actually pretty frustrating, because I’d probably be rooting for the Falcons if they were playing any other team besides the Patriots.
Atlanta comes into the Super Bowl after finishing the season at 11-5, atop the NFC South. They defeated the Seahawks in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, and then dominated the Packers in the NFC Championship to punch their ticket to Houston. A lot of talk the past two weeks has been about their high-flying offense, and rightfully so. They are the number one scoring team in the league, averaging over thirty points per game. Between Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Mohammad Sanu, and the emerging Taylor Gabriel and Austin Hooper, Matt Ryan has weapons galore and has been able to put up a record season for himself that will most likely earn him the Most Valuable Player Award. The Falcons weakness has been their defense, which is giving up an average of over 24 points per game. They are also in the bottom half of the league in opponent passing and rushing yards per game. Had it not been for Matt Ryan’s offense, the Falcons would might not have entered the playoffs as the number two overall seed.
One of the keys to beating the Falcons is putting up a lot of points. In each of their five losses this season, the Falcons’ opponents have scored more than 24 points. The Patriots are not at a severe disadvantage there, as they are close behind the Falcons as the third best scoring offense in the NFL. Defensively, the Patriots are in for one of their most challenging match ups of the season. Stopping Matt Ryan has proved nearly impossible this year. He put up over 250 yards in each of their five losses, and was even more dominant in the team’s wins. However, every team has weaknesses, and the Patriots are more than capable of being the team to exploit the Falcons’. Here are my keys to the game for New England:
– Many have been downplaying the skill of the Patriots defense this week, claiming that they haven’t played a top quarterback all season. While that may be true, they have played top-level running backs and haven’t let up a 100 yard rusher in 25 straight games. They are a legit unit, and will have the skill to take on the Falcons.
– Stopping Julio Jones is pretty obvious, but much easier said than done. He is one of the most physically gifted receivers I have personally ever watched play. His routes are immaculate, and his size and strength allow him to snag anything in his vicinity. Realistically, he can’t be stopped completely. Many people are looking at the matchup between Malcolm Butler and Julio Jones this week, but that may not be what ends up happening. Malcolm Butler is a smaller, quicker cornerback who fares better against receivers like Antonio Brown who rely on speed and quickness rather than brute strength. Logan Ryan might end up being a better matchup against Jones because he is bigger and plays better press defense which could throw Jones off his game (slightly). Butler is a better natural cornerback than Ryan, but Jones might be the better matchup, with safety help over the top.
– The Patriots linebacker play is also going to be crucial because of the receiving skills of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Both are extremely capable in the open field, and the Patriots will need to prevent them from exploding into the open field.
– The Patriots defense will also need to be aware of screen plays from the Atlanta offense. Taylor Gabriel has great vision on the field, and explodes through holes. The Patriots tackling will be crucial so that they prevent the Falcons playmakers from bursting through into the second level.
– As always, the defensive line play will be a factor. Forcing Matt Ryan into quick, uncomfortable throws could prevent Julio Jones from getting the chance to make plays down the field. Vincent Valentine and Trey Flowers will need to attack the Falcons interior offensive line. Chris Long may also come in clutch, playing in his first Super Bowl.
– Patrick Chung will be one of the most important defensive players for the Patriots. The Falcons have solid tight ends with Jacob Tamme and Austin Hooper. Chung will be tasked with covering them, and if he gets beat Matt Ryan will be able to carve the Patriots defense apart.
– Offensively, one of the most important things for the Patriots is going to be the run game. This is for two reasons: first, it will enable the play action pass that New England loves, and second, it will keep Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense off the field. That’s an odd thing to think from the Patriots perspective, because usually other teams are trying to keep the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands. Limiting the Falcons’ offensive possessions will be crucial to keeping the score down. LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis will play a major factor in the game, and I expect them to rack up solid stats.
– In the passing game, the Patriots will be most effective if they spread the ball around to as many players as possible. Between Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchel, Martellus Bennett, Chris Hogan, and potentially Michael Floyd. Edelman is usually Brady’s go-to, so the Falcons will certainly key on him. However, if the Patriots can spread the ball around, Atlanta’s defense will not be able to focus on everyone.
– Martellus Bennett in particular will play a crucial role in this game, as he has all season. The Patriots will need to target him over the middle of the field and expose holes in the Falcons defense.
– Last but not least, Tom Brady will be playing in his record 7th Super Bowl. Not much more to say than that.
This is going to be an exciting matchup between two highly talented and well-coached teams. In the end, the New England Patriots will be victorious, and win their fifth Super Bowl. There are a lot of reasons why the Falcons could win, but from my experience, in the playoffs defense always beats out offense (see: Patriots losing to the Giants in 2007, Broncos losing to the Seahawks in 2013). The Patriots also have much more playoff experience, and will be ready for the spotlight.
And Tom Brady is going to become the only quarterback with an entire hand full of Super Bowl rings.
New England 24 Atlanta 17
It’s been a fantastic season, and I appreciate you all reading my work!
Until next time- B$