Super Bowl week is here. What do we think will happen, and who do we think will walk out of Houston with the Lombardi Trophy? Here are our game previews and picks:
Jake: It’s what the entire 2016-17 season all comes down to – Super Bowl 51.
On the AFC side stand the New England Patriots, who enter their seventh Super Bowl appearance under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Perhaps the greatest head coach / quarterback duo in history, Brady and Belichick sport a 4-2 record in their Super Bowl appearances, and look to claim an unprecedented fifth ring.
On the NFC side stand the Atlanta Falcons, who are making their first Super Bowl appearance since 1999 and look to win the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy. Head coach Dan Quinn is coaching in his third Super Bowl in four seasons, as he was the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator when Seattle defeated the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 48 and lost to New England the year after. The Falcons offense made history this season, scoring the eighth most points of all time.
Here are the keys to what I believe each unit will need in order to be successful on Sunday.Patriots Offense: I think the key for the Patriots is to stop Vic Beasley. After a disappointing rookie season, Beasley was the 2016 sack leader with 15.5 at the end of the regular season. However, Beasley has yet to sack the quarterback in Atlanta’s two playoff games. Tom Brady is not a mobile quarterback, so keeping him in the pocket will be big for New England. I think the Patriots will be able to do this, as Atlanta’s defense is nothing to write home about.
Falcons Offense: Balance & Spread. This season the Falcons combined for the fifth-best rushing attack and the third-ranked passing attack. 13 different receivers scored touchdowns for the Falcons, and running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman rushed for just under 1,600 yards and 19 touchdowns. If Matt Ryan can keep spreading the ball around, that will open up the running game. Also keep in mind that the “nerve” factor will likely be higher for the Falcons than it will be for the Patriots. Playing mistake-free football will be a more daunting task for Ryan than it will be for Brady, making this another crucial point of emphasis for the Falcons offense.
Patriots Defense: I would say that the key for the Patriots defense would be to stop Julio Jones, but the Falcons just simply have too many other weapons for New England to worry about. Limiting Jones is still crucial, and I believe that Belichick will try to do that. With Jones not being 100%, the Patriots will still be able to limit him. Along with containing Jones, New England should stack the box to try to prevent Freeman and Coleman from busting out a big gain. Ryan will still have other weapons like Muhamad Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, and Austin Hooper to throw the ball to, but if you take away the biggest weapons Atlanta has, that puts more pressure on the players that have made smaller contributions to step up. Unlike a lot of experts out there, I don’t think the Patriots need to double team Jones; I think Malcolm Butler is more than capable of limiting Jones on his own. Simply put, the Patriots will not be able to completely stop this Atlanta offense, but they can limit them by limiting their best play-makers.Falcons Defense: Put pressure on Brady, plain and simple. There really is no gameplan that can completely prevent what the Patriots throw at their opponents every week. If Atlanta takes away the middle of the field, then Brady will find ways to throw deep passes to Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. If you limit the Patriots’ deep passing attack, Brady will burn you in the middle of the field with Martellus Bennett and Chris Hogan (Hogan caught nine passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns in the AFC Championship against Pittsburgh). Brady and Belichick are the best in the business at picking apart a defense, and they will have success again against this Atlanta defense that ranked 25th in the NFL in terms of yardage given up during the regular season. Atlanta was able to limit Green Bay’s offense in the NFC Championship, but they did so by sacking Aaron Rodgers twice and hitting him eight times. Simply put, the Falcons HAVE to hit Brady and hit him often. Atlanta has several players capable of doing this – Beasley, Dwight Freeney, Courtney Upshaw, De’Vondre Campbell, and others. Nobody thought that Rodgers could be stopped, and the Falcons proved them wrong. Can they do it again this Sunday?
I think we are in for a good game on Sunday. The playoffs have been pretty mediocre because of how many lopsided games we have seen, but I think this game will be close. It will be a high-scoring affair, and just like we predicted to weeks ago, the winner will be the team that has the most stops on defense. With that being said, I believe that the Patriots will have more stops than the Falcons. Not only do the Patriots have the better defense, but I think Tom Brady will make less mistakes than Matt Ryan. Being at their seventh Super Bowl, I think Brady will outplay Ryan and Belichick will out-coach Quinn.
Prediction: Patriots 31, Falcons 27
Nolan: Super Bowl Sunday is finally approaching and there a handful of storylines surrounding this year’s big game. No matter what happens on Sunday, I’m just hoping for a close game. So far the playoffs have been far from exciting with many games ending in blowouts. Hopefully the final game of the 2016-17 season is a good one because it’s going to be a long wait before we see real NFL football again.
The big story-line for me is going to be the Falcons offense vs the Patriots defense. I have doubted the New England defense in the past, specifically in the AFC championship game, but they have since impressed me. They are not flashy but they have been getting the job done so far in the postseason. Analysts are commending them for their ability to take the opponent’s best player out of the equation. This week they will face their toughest challenge yet.Atlanta probably has the most high powered offense in the league. With the ability to eat up the clock on long drives or score in a matter of seconds, they are incredibly hard to game plan for. Perhaps the Patriots defense will be able to contain a player like Devonta Freeman or even Julio Jones, but there are just too many other play-makers for Atlanta to stop the entire machine. I will be very surprised if Matt Ryan and company don’t reach the end-zone at least four times on Sunday.
If the Atlanta offense continues to dominate, the game will come down to the shoulders of Tom Brady. When it comes to the Super Bowl, Brady is probably the most relaxed man on the field. He has been here time and time again. With the game on the line I would be a fool to doubt him. My only question is, can he keep up with Ryan in a shootout? This is the difference maker for me.
I like Falcons in the big game. Their offense is just too powerful for me to pick against them. Brady has the experience but there is only so much he can do, especially if he is playing from behind. The Patriots defense is going to have to step up big time if they want to compete come Sunday and I don’t know if any defense can contain Atlanta this year.
Prediction: Falcons 31, Patriots 26
Tyler: I am going to take a slightly different approach with my write-up this week. Instead of focusing on my keys to the game, I will focus on some of the key stats that are swaying my prediction. About halfway through this list of stats, if not earlier, you will know whom I am picking.
- 11 out of the last 12 Super Bowl winners have worn white
- In the previous five Super Bowls that featured the number one offense vs the number one defense, the defense won four out of five
- Matt Ryan is 0/2 against Bill Belichick and the Patriots in his career
- The Patriots are 7-2 in games officiated by Carl Cheffers in the past 10 seasons
- This will be Dan Quinn’s first career game as a head coach against Bill Belichick. Head coaches are 3-22 in their first career game against Belichick since 2010.
- Tom Brady has more Super Bowl experience than the entire Falcons roster (6 to 5) (Credit: CBS Sports)
Prediction: Patriots 26, Falcons 21