As the Patriots head into Super Bowl LI, they are looking at a Falcons team that ranked 3rd in the NFL in passing yards per game as well as 5th in rushing yards per game. They’ve been led to the Super Bowl by Matt Ryan, the 2016 NFL MVP, and are predicted by many to take the field in Houston and torch the Patriots defense due to the fact that they “haven’t faced a real QB yet”. However, before you start engraving the Falcons name on the Lombardi trophy, take a second to think about how these teams compare on both sides of the ball.
First let’s look at the offenses. The Falcons offense was #2 in the NFL in yards per game during the regular season, but the Patriots weren’t far behind at #4. Take into consideration that they were missing Mr. Thomas Edward Patrick Brady for the first 4 games of the season, and you could even say that the Patriots offense would’ve beaten out Atlanta’s.
In the passing game, assuming both quarterbacks play like their usual selves, the Falcons have Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu, who have the size and athleticism to draw attention any defensive coordinator. Not to mention, both of their running backs, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have proven to do some damage catching passes out of the backfield. On the New England side of things, everyone knows how reliable Julian Edelman has been, hopefully Chris Hogan can come close to matching his ridiculous numbers from the AFC Championship game, and maybe Martellus Bennett can push that ankle a little harder knowing that this game is all or nothing. James White and Dion Lewis have done more than enough to prove that they should be considered threats in the passing game, but we didn’t see that impact this past game. If Brady needs to get the ball out of his hands quickly, I suspect to see the ball come their way more often.
As far wrunning the ball goes, both of Atlanta’s backs averaged over 4 yards per carry this season, so it’s going to be quite the battle between them and the Patriots big guys up front. For the Pats, I expect to see them continue to use Dion Lewis primarily in the first half and Blount more so in the second. It makes much more sense to use a player of Blount’s style in the second half when the opposing defense is tired. Not to say that if there’s a 3rd & 1 or they need a yard or two to get into the endzone that they won’t bring him out, but Blount isn’t the type of player who will run right by guys and beat them with speed. That being said, he’s much better suited to get more carries as the Falcons defensive backs get tired.
It is indisputable that the Patriots have a huge edge when it comes to the defensive side of the ball. The Falcons allowed the 6th most points per game and the 8th most yards per game in the NFL this season. In the Patriots case, they allowed the LEAST amount of points in the NFL and only the 25th most yards per game. Yes, the Falcons faced a tougher schedule this year. But it wasn’t tough enough to make up for that significant of a difference. I think that the Patriots defense is going to be able to contain Julio Jones the same way that they’ve contained DeAndre Hopkins and Antonio Brown the past 2 games, and they’re going to make the Falcons rely on their role players to shine under the bright lights in Houston. And one last note on the Falcons defense: They allowed the 5th most passing yards in the NFL this year, so you know Tom Brady’s going to be ready to sling the ball all over the field.
Offensively each team has their own strengths and weaknesses, so we’ll call that a push. That being said, the deciding factor of this game will be the defense. Due to the Patriots astronomical advantage on defense, they deserve to be considered the favorite to win this game. And above all else, they have the X-Factor. They have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick gunning for their 5th Super Bowl ring in 7 tries. This one may even be the most special since they will have Roger Goodell handing them the trophy so they can promptly return it to him and tell him shove it where the sun don’t shine. It’s far too early to get into score/stat prediction now, so I’ll leave it at this. Advantage, Patriots.
Photo Credit: (Boston Globe)