Tom Brady and his New England Patriots are set to square off against MVP Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons in a bout for NFL supremacy. Not many predicted this matchup heading into the season, but both teams have proven that they are the cream of the crop in their respective conferences after dominating in each of their previous two games. The game will be played in Houston at the Texans’ home field of NRG Stadium, giving no team a distinct home field advantage and setting up a Super Bowl in which anything could happen.
The focus of the game will be on both teams’ high-powered offenses. Atlanta and New England finished as the 1st and 3rd highest scoring offenses of the regular season. Though historically, teams tend to come out flat to open up Super Bowls. Whether that be because of jitters or extra preparation by defenses, great offenses are typically kept in check. As a result, the defenses and special teams of both squads could be the deciding factor.
New England was ranked first in scoring defense by the end of the regular season, and regularly kept teams below their scoring average. Even after trading star linebacker Jamie Collins, the Pats defense still remained one of the best in the league with tremendous talent at all positions. Malcolm Butler, Devin McCourty and Dont’a Hightower lead New England’s great defense, and will have their hands full against Atlanta’s dynamic offense.
Atlanta boasts a league average defense that ranked just 25th in yards allowed and 27th in points allowed during the regular season. Enduring several injuries and having rookies fill in at three key positions, the Falcons defense was just good enough to skate by through a majority of the year. But make no mistake, this defense is improving with each passing week. This team plays far better than the aforementioned stats, and their effort against the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers in the divisional round is the perfect example of their capabilities. Atlanta kept Rodgers and the offense out of the end zone early, and put enough pressure on him to prevent the Packers from gaining any sort of momentum. They’ll have to do the same against Brady if they want any chance at slowing down New England’s offense.
The Patriots defense certainly has the stats to prove how dominant they’ve been, but they haven’t faced a quarterback nearly as prolific as Ryan all year. Watching what strategies Bill Belichick implements to slow down Ryan will be an absolute treat to watch, and will be a deciding factor on the scoreboard by the end of the game.
On offense, New England will have to continue to search for matchup advantages all across the field, putting their playmakers in the best possible position to succeed. Julian Edelman will be keyed in on, and there’s no doubt that coach Dan Quinn has been stressing the importance of keeping breakout star Chris Hogan from making big plays down field. Players like Dion Lewis, James White and Martellus Bennett all have a chance to make a game breaking play, and having that many weapons is what makes New England dangerous.
Ryan’s favorite target, Julio Jones, will see plenty of double teams throughout the game, just like New England did with Antonio Brown in their victory over the Steelers. The Falcons have won games with Julio as a non-factor on the stat sheet though, and may have to do that again if the Pats choose to use their two best defensive backs – Butler and McCourty – on him for most of the game. Mohamed Sanu has proven that he can perform when teams start keying in on the Falcons top receiver, and Taylor Gabriel is an absolute burner that can blow the top off a defense on any given play. Atlanta would love to get Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman going early to wear down a talented New England defense and set up easy passing lanes for their dangerous wide outs.
The teams matchup very well against each other, making for a game that will come down to the wire. New England has historically started off very slow in their past Super Bowl visits, having not scored a single point in the first quarter in any of the six times they’ve made it to this game in the Brady-Belichick era.
Expect that trend to be broken in this one though, as both teams should get on the board early in Super Bowl 51. New England will take an early lead, and have chances to put Atlanta away, but the young and athletic defense will make enough plays to keep the Falcons in striking distance.
With a deficit heading into the 4th quarter, the Falcons and Matt Ryan will start to kick it into high gear. New England’s defense will be tired chasing around the Falcons’ numerous weapons, and Julio Jones will deliver the game-changing play. Brady will respond, like he’s done so many times, putting together a masterful 10-play touchdown drive that ties the game back up just before the two-minute warning.
And this is where Matt Ryan’s legacy will be made. Equipped with a couple of timeouts, Ryan and the Falcons will drive down the field with the clock slowly ticking away. With 30 seconds left, the Falcons will be faced with a 3rd and long just around midfield. Ryan delivers a strike down the seam to unlikely hero Austin Hooper, putting them well into field goal position for kicker Matt Bryant. Belichick elects to not use his timeouts, and the Falcons clock it with just a few ticks left. Bryant confidently steps up and nails a 45-yarder as time expires giving the Falcons their first ever Super Bowl win.
Prediction: 31-28 Falcons
Image Source: Cleveland.com