Well, that was unexpected. In a Sunday evening double-header in which both home teams easily covered the Vegas point spread, a Super Bowl matchup was set. Both the Falcons and Patriots raced out to 10-0 first quarter leads and never looked back. These are the two best teams in the league, and they proved it Sunday.
The Falcons continued their offensive dominance over an injury-riddled Packers defense. Matt Ryan only solidified his case as the favorite for the MVP trophy with another brilliant performance, lighting up an overmatched Green Bay secondary to the tune of 392 passing yards, 5 total touchdowns with zero interceptions.
The storyline heading into the game was the battle between two quarterbacks playing at the top of their game. Atlanta’s defense did a respectable job against Rodgers, keeping him out of the end zone and getting pressure on him early in the game. Green Bay’s defense on the other hand recorded zero sacks on Ryan, a recipe for disaster when you’re going against the current iteration of Matty Ice and a high-octane Falcons offense. Although the game was more even than the lopsided 44-21 score implied, Atlanta proved to be the better, more well-rounded team.
After such an ugly opening game, it was fair to assume the second conference championship game would be more competitive. Those assumptions were quickly proven incorrect. The New England Patriots once again proved their fully deserving place atop the AFC hierarchy, obliterating a Le’Veon Bell-less Steelers team from start to finish. Pittsburgh looked downright unprepared for the Pats’ fast-paced, well-rounded offense.
Brady put together another masterpiece, spreading the wealth around to his countless weapons, and making Chris Hogan – a former lacrosse player and undrafted receiver that played one year of football at Monmouth – a household name and an instant legend in Boston sports folklore.
For as great as New England’s offense looked after a disappointing performance against the Texans eight days earlier, the true story was how great the defense played. Granted, the game would have played out differently had Bell played more than 11 offensive snaps, but there’s something to be said with the way New England handled Big Ben and company. They showed the blueprint to slowing down star wide-out Antonio Brown, shading the receiver with their two best secondary members (Butler and McCourty). New England dared Eli Rogers, Sammie Coates, Cobi Hamilton and Jesse James to beat them, and Pittsburgh’s less-heralded pass catchers proved unable.
Belichick and his team will have to use those same principles in their upcoming clash with the Falcons for NFL supremacy. Julio Jones is Ryan’s go-to target, and can’t be defended by just one guy – with all due to respect to Malcolm Butler. While the Pats devise a scheme to slow down Ryan, Jones and the two-headed monster at running back, Dan Quinn and the Falcons will be trying to figure out a way to contain Tom Brady and his ever-expanding group of receivers.
In what should be an extremely high scoring Super Bowl 51 featuring the league’s two best offenses, defensive stops will be at an absolute premium. That makes these next two weeks of preparation more important than ever before.
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