Sunday, at 6:30 PM, The Falcons will play the Patriots in the most meaningful game of the NFL season. The Falcon’s will look to win the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history in front of an estimated 114 million viewers watching from home. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick will be looking for a Super Bowl ring for the thumb. Belichick has more Super Bowl appearances than any other head coach. Falcon’s head coach Dan Quinn isn’t unfamiliar with the Super Bowl either, as this will be his 3rd visit in the past 4 years. The Falcons and Patriots matchup is expected by many to be a dog fight. MVP candidates Matt Ryan and Tom Brady have had two spectacular seasons and this will be their first time facing off since 2013. Matt Ryan has never defeated Tom Brady in his career. The only other quarterback he has never once defeated is Ben Roethlisberger. Ryan looks to scratch Brady off his list of QB’s that have his number and bring home the title Atlanta has long been waiting for. Take a glance at these key factors that will determine which team will become champs Sunday.
Falcon’s offense: Belichick and the Patriots have seen many great offenses through their multiple appearances in the Super Bowl. This could be the Patriot’s toughest test, as Belichick has never faced an offense averaging more points than Atlanta’s 33.8 in a Super Bowl. 33 sounds like a ton of points, but if you look at Atlanta’s last 6 games that number is even higher at 39. It’s no question that the Patriot’s defense is going to need quite the scheme to even come close to slowing down the Falcons. Through the course of the season, Atlanta has proved there’s no weak point to their offense. Ryan is finally showing he can be an elite quarterback. It also doesn’t hurt that he has numerous threats at WR, including perhaps the best receiver in the NFL, Julio Jones. Julio has had 4 straight seasons where he’s averaged over 100 yards a game. Malcolm Butler may want to reconsider his tweet that he’d like to face off with Julio 1 on 1. If the Pats choose to use multiple players to guard Julio, expect Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Austin Hooper, and possibly others to step up and have a big day. At running back, dual threats Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman prove very dangerous. Freeman is averaging nearly 5 yards a carry and Coleman has 8 rushing TD’s on the year. The offensive line has been a huge help and looks to continue their dominance. After being one of the worst O- lines last year, the Falcons now have the 6th ranked O-line in the league. With all these stats going Atlanta’s way, look for a strong offense like Atlanta’s to power through the tough defense of the Pats.
Patriots offense: Led by Tom Brady, the Patriots have one of the best offenses in the league. The Patriots averaged 27.6 points a game, 3rd in the league for the regular season. Even though Tom Brady missed 4 games to start the season, he’s still an MVP candidate because of his stellar performance after the suspension. Brady is considered by many to be the all-time best Quarterback. He’s looking for Super Bowl win number 5 out of what will soon be 8 appearances. Even without elite TE Rob Gronkowski for most of the season, Brady still showed he can perform great with just about anybody. New England’s most dangerous receiver is Julian Edelman. He averages about 70 yards a game and is a reliable target for Brady. The now starting TE and replacement of Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett has proven to be a reliable target as well. The Patriots have done very well offensively without “big-name” players besides Brady. No matter if the Patriots have big name threats or not, they still find a way to score many points with a great offensive scheme. Powerhouse running back LeGarrette Blount helps them score points too. Even though Blount doesn’t record many yards and only averages 3.9 yards a carry, he’s the perfect goal line back. He leads the league with 18 rushing TDs on the season. The Patriots have a tough task trying to outscore the Falcons, but they’re certainly capable of doing so.
Falcon’s defense: The Falcons’ defense is as confident as ever heading into the Super Bowl. After what they did to Green Bay, why wouldn’t they be? It’s not just the one Green Bay game either, the Falcon’s D has been improving by the week since the week 11 bye. In the past 6 games, Atlanta’s defense has given up an average of 19 points. Leaders such as Vic Beasley and Keanu Neal have helped the defense by creating big plays (11 Turnovers). Vic has made an impact by leading the league in sacks. Atlanta’s reputation for having a weak defense is a thing of the past. Although Atlanta may be ranked 24th in pass rush and 25th in rush defense, the Falcons’ defense has done what it needs to do to give Atlanta its best chance to win. With an offense that has been extremely successful, you don’t always need a shutdown defense. You need a defense that makes plays and comes through when you need them. So far this season they’ve done that, so expect for the same type of play this Sunday.
Patriot’s defense- New England has the NFL’s #1 ranked defense. If you believe defense always wins championships, you’re probably predicting New England to win. They only give up an average of 15.6 points a game. Pro Bowler Devin Mccourty is a leader on the defense and has 78 tackles in 2016. Malcolm Butler is New England’s number 1 corner and will likely be guarding Julio. Butler has had a good year; his INT total is 4 as of now. New England hasn’t seen an offense like Atlanta’s all year. However, if they can make Atlanta one dimensional and relying solely on the pass, they’ll stand a good chance. Their rush defense ranks 11th in the NFL. That number isn’t bad, but it’s certainly not extraordinary and they’ll have a tough task against a strong Falcon’s O-line. The Falcon’s offense against New England’s defense is the matchup people expect to decide the game.
Special Teams Breakdown- Falcons’ kicker Matt Bryant is the reliable kicker you always want by your side in the Super Bowl. Bryant has made 91.9% of his field goals and is as consistent as any other kicker in the NFL under 55 yards. If Atlanta needs a last second field goal to win the game and are in Bryant’s range, I won’t even be holding my breath. That’s the kind of confidence most Atlanta fans’ have in 15 year veteran Matt Bryant. Patriots’ kicker Stephen Gostkowski has a reputation for being a great kicker. Gostkowski has gone to the pro bowl 4 times. This year Gostkowski made 84.4% of his field goals, close to as reliable as Matt Bryant. Patriots’ Punter Ryan Allen punts an average of 44.7 yards with a long 58 yards. Falcons’ punter Matt Bosher averaged 46.8 yards a punt and has a long of 68 yards. Although New England has a good special teams unit, It’s clear the Falcons have the advantage.
Prediction: Falcons: 30 Patriots: 27
Falcons Injury Report(via atlantafalcons.com)
DE- Dwight Freeney(calf)
WR- Julio Jones(toe)
C- Alex Mack(fibula)
Patriots Injury Report(via Patriots.com)
TE- Martellus Bennett(knee)
DT- Alan Branch(toe)
DB- Nate Ebner(concussion)
MLB- Dont’a Hightower(shoulder)
WR- Chris Hogan(thigh)
WR- Malcolm Mitchell(knee)
DT- Vincent Valentine(back)
Image one retrieved from: http://www.opptrends.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/BEST-OFFENSE-ATLANTA-FALCONS.jpg
Image 2 retrieved from: http://cdn-s3.si.com/s3fs-public/styles/marquee_large_2x/public/2016/10/31/midseason-patriots-defense.jpg?itok=Oa22ZHUf
*All stats taken from ESPN sources