(Patriots, continued) Furthermore, New England’s defense, which gave up an miniscule average of 15.6 points per game, will counter the potent Atlanta offense and hold them well below their average of 33.8 points per game. To put this game in perspective of the past fifty Super Bowl champions, fifteen of them lead the league in fewest points allowed per game. Expect the Patriots to both add to that list and take advantage of how inexperienced Atlanta football team is.
In total, the Falcons have five super bowls worth of experience on their roster between defensive end Dwight Freeney, linebacker Philip Wheeler, safety Dashon Goldson, and defensive tackle Courtney Upshaw. As for the patriots, Brady alone is heading into his seventh Super Bowl. Yet, Brady has added motivation heading into this Super Bowl. He has an opportunity to break a tie for most Super Bowl wins with Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana, thereby alleviating any doubt that he is the greatest quarterback of all time.
In summary, the Patriots are playing with the number one scoring defense in the league (in 15/50 Super Bowls that team has won), are pinning an elite offense against a weak defense, are led by a future Hall of Fame quarterback who has more Super Bowls than the entire Falcons lineup and added motivation. For the Falcons to win they would have to score more than their normal rate against the aforementioned dominant Patriots defense. Bill Belichick knows that the Falcons will be relying on their offense to win and will do everything he can to stop All-Pro Matt Ryan. Week in and week out, Belichick takes away his opponent’s greatest strength. Last week, Steelers Pro Bowl receiver Antonio Brown was held to just seventy seven yards. Belichick will minimize Julio Jones’s impact on offense, and attempt to make NFL sack leader Vic Beasley a non-factor on defense. Therefore, the Falcons have little to no hope of beating the Patriots. Their one iota of hope is their league leading offense which should be compromised by the Patriots defense.
As for the final score of the game? I say the Patriots win 38-24 with Tom Brady winning a record fourth Super Bowl MVP award.
Then comes outside linebacker Vic Beasley in 2015, who has recorded the most sacks in the NFL during the regular season. In addition to acquiring Alex Mack (center) and Mohamed Sanu (wide receiver), the team has a great coaching staff. The Atlanta Falcons as a team have risen up to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1998, and are looking for their first ever Super Bowl win. This year has been the best year in a while for the Falcons; the Falcons average points per game scored is 33.8 points (about 5 touchdowns)—1st in the NFL—and the Falcons average yards per game is 415.8 yards—2nd in the NFL. So what’s the difference between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots? Not much statistically! Both teams have some of the best offenses in the NFL. Because the stats are so similar, one really has to look at each individual factor to figure out who has the advantage. Here is why I think the Falcons have the edge in Super Bowl LI:
1) Running Game:
Devontae Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Two ‘powerback’ running backs with two totally different styles of running. Freeman is a much more patient back—similar to Le’veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers—who waits a bit to let the play develop and his Offensive Line carry out the blocks. Freeman is hard to tackle; he often runs over defensive players and is good in the redzone, scoring 12 touchdowns this year while also sharing carries with Tevin Coleman. Not to mention, Freeman was selected for the 2017 Pro Bowl. Meanwhile, Tevin Coleman is a “change of pace” running back who runs hard up the field swiftly, and does a good job running away from tacklers. Most importantly, he is extremely FAST, and really relies on his speed to do the work. He runs a 4.39 40 yard dash (almost as fast as me!), and when he has an open field, he is gone. Both backs are also great pass-catching RBs, and, as the Patriots know, having high quality pass catching running backs adds even more responsibility for the defense. With this tandem comes great success, as the Falcons average 120.5 running yards per game—5th in the NFL—while also only fumbling once for a loss of possession. Give credit to the Offensive Line, as they have done an amazing job this year creating holes for the running game and maintaining their blocks. Head Coach of the Patriots, Bill Belichick, said about the Falcons running backs "They are great running backs. They can get outside. They can run inside. They do a great job of breaking tackles. They make people miss in space. They run over guys. They run through them. They dodge them. They don't fumble. They run with good toughness. They get tough yards around the goal line, short yard situations, digging out that extra yard or two for a first down. These backs are really, really good”. So, if the ‘double headed monster’ of Devontae Freeman and Tevin Coleman get going against the Patriots, the Patriots are going to have some trouble.
2) The Receiving Core + Matt Ryan
The thing I hear all the time from Patriots fans: “The Patriots always take away one weapon.”, and pretty unanimously the ‘weapon’ Patriots fans hope is taken away is Julio Jones, a four time pro-bowler and insanely talented wide receiver. The Patriots are correct to worry! During the Patriots vs. Steelers game, the Patriots largely took away Antonio Brown, a similarly talented receiver. But as cornerback for the Washington Redskins, Josh Norman said himself, playing defense on Julio Jones is "The sweet sensation of death without dying.” Julio Jones may still shine this game, and find away to get open against Malcolm Butler. However, even if the Patriots do find a way to stop Julio Jones, receivers like Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel will break out. The passing game has been very effective for the Falcons, as they average 295.3 passing yards per game—3rd in the NFL. Matt Ryan has become a very accurate passer this year, and has been able to help his receivers perform better by consistently spreading the ball around and finding the open man. Also, Kyle Shanahan, the Offensive Coordinator for the Falcons, deserves a lot of credit for his game time play calling and for instituting a more evenly balanced offense between running and passing, which has been effective to get receivers open against opposing defenses. With these receivers, the deep threat is always an option, as Matt Ryan has thrown for an average of 9.3 yards per play, the highest in NFL history for a 16-game season. He has average pass rating of 117.2 and has a QBR (quarterback ranking) of 83.3, all are the highest in the NFL. Also, don’t forget the weapons Matt Ryan has at running back, as both are great pass catchers. Matt Ryan and the wide receiving core are having the season of their lives, and I do not see the momentum stopping against the Patriots.
3) Along With The Offense, The Defense Is On Fire
Many say that the downfall of the Atlanta Falcons is their Defense. Yes, I understand that the Falcons are 27th (out of 32 teams) for average points allowed per game, at 25.4. However, this statistic is not a good representative of the Falcons Defense. The average points per game scored by the offense is 33.8 points, so when a team is playing the Falcons, they have to try and keep up with their explosive offense and take more chances to get to the endzone then when a team plays a low scoring offense. During the playoffs, the Falcons Defense has done an amazing job keeping Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers (both elite quarterbacks) in check. The Falcons are one of the fastest defenses in the NFL and maintain a “turnover-first” mindset. Dan Quinn, the Head Coach works to make his defense play "fast and physical", which has helped them pressure quarterbacks and disrupt the offense. The Falcons have 4 turnovers (3 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery) over the past two playoff games. In the past six games, the defense has allowed just 19.3 points per game. The secondary has also done a great job during the playoffs, not allowing any receiver to catch more than 83 yards and not allowing any player to rush for over 49 yards. Vic Beasley has done a great job at pressuring the quarterback and leads sacks in the NFL with 15.5 regular season sacks. Linebacker Deion Jones and safety Keanu Neal lead the team with a combined 211 regular season tackles. In the secondary, free safety Ricardo Allen has been effective at stopping big plays, and the cornerback tandem of Robert Alford and Jalen Collins who have surprisingly made up for the loss of Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant. The defense is now starting to get in a groove and the Falcons hope it stays this way against Tom Brady and the Patriots.
As for the score? I think the Falcons win 31-28 on a last second field goal. I believe this game will be very offense oriented and that it will be a close one up until the end. As a Baltimore Ravens fan, I have been devastated by the Patriots too many times, so I hope that the Patriots and their suspiciously large fan base will not have anything to cheer about on February 5th.