Super Bowl LI: Can upstart Falcons defeat experienced Patriots?
By Brian E Murphy, Packers Insider senior editor
~If you’re sick of the Patriots, it might be because they are almost always in the Super Bowl — seven times now since Bill Belichick and Tom Brady joined forces in Foxborough 16 years ago. That’s almost a fifty per cent rate, better than some NBA player’s free throw percentage.
The Falcons, on the other hand, have made just one Super Bowl in their history. That was their miracle 1998 season, when they won the NFC Championship game in Minnesota against the 15-1 Vikings in a tremendous upset, and come-from-behind thriller.
They went on to get blown out by the defending champion Denver Broncos, in Super Bowl XXXIII.
But this 2016-17 edition Atlanta is much different than the Falcons of 1998.
These Falcons boast the NFL’s best offense, with MVP-favorite Matt Ryan leading the way at quarterback.
In front of him, he has a fine, and luckily healthy, offensive line leading the way. They protect him well, and they run block well for the dynamic duo running backs Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman.
Freeman is a 1,000-yard rusher this season, who found the end zone on 11 runs. Coleman is faster, and led all NFL RB’s in yards per reception. He’s very dangerous.
These two combined for an amazing 24 touchdowns and over 2,400 yards from scrimmage in the regular season.
Of course, wide receiver Julio Jones is the most dangerous player on the field, from either team. He possesses a rare blend of blazing speed with size and strength and precision route-running.
And, oh by the way, he’s no diva. You won’t mix him and his antics up with Odell Beckham Jr. or Antonio Brown.
Jones isn’t the only threat at receiver for the Falcons. Taylor Gabriel, at just 5′ 8″, is even faster and capable of getting behind any cornerback.
Mohamed Sanu is another dangerous wide receiver. He’s got size at 6-2, as well as speed and good hands.
The key, in my opinion, to who wins this game will be how well Matt Ryan plays. New England will do some things that Ryan has not seen. Will he be able to figure it out? Will he have time to get the balls to his secondary receivers?
This season, playoffs included, the Falcons are only 4-4 in the games that Julio Jones goes over 100 yards. They are 7-1 in the games he didn’t. And they went 2-0 in the games Jones missed, scoring a combined 83 points in those two games.
So the only trouble the offense appeared to have was when Jones was force-fed too often.
Predictions from all over are spread across the spectrum.
Some experts thing Belichick and his defensive wizardry will be able to find a way to slow down the Falcons high-octane offense.
Remember, there have been six previous Super Bowls that pitted the top scoring offense against the top scoring defense, and the defensive team has won five of the six. That would lead one to believe New England is going to win.
So does this fact nugget: The Patriots are 12-0 in playoff history (with Belichick and Brady) when facing a team for the first time in that season. They are 12-9 in rematches of games prior. That’s either a lot of amazing coincidences, or there might be something to that stat.
The Patriots and Falcons did not play this season.
In fact, they have only met twice since Matt Ryan has been in Atlanta. Brady and the Patriots have won both games, not surprisingly.
Here’s an amazing statistic that makes the Falcons confident. They have scored touchdowns on their opening drives the past eight games.
What will happen when, if, the Patriots force the Falcons to punt on their opening drive?
The Patriots defense is much, much better than the last defense Atlanta faced, the Green Bay Packers. That defense doesn’t know how or who to cover most of the time.
New England’s breakdowns in pass coverage are few and far between. But they can occur. The key will be will Ryan see it, and will he have time to expose them?
If he does, Atlanta is capable of scoring in buckets even against Belichick. Atlanta led the NFL in scoring this year at 33.8 per game. And in their past six games, that’s up to 39 per game.
Still, it’s very hard to imagine Belichick giving up more than 30 points in a Super Bowl, even to this offense. His defensive backs will grab and hold if they’re getting beaten, and as we know, refs don’t catch them all. See the Dallas-Green Bay game in the NFC Divisional round.
One of the best things about the Super Bowl is all the available props that are available to bet on. From simple things to exotic things, there are endless wagers available.
I don’t believe the Patriots, missing Rob Gronkowski, can match the Falcons if Atlanta lights up the scoreboard for over 30 points.
If I had to put my money on a bet, I would favor Belichick and Brady’s history more than the recent trends of the Falcons offense.