The biggest sporting event of the year is only two days away, which means it’s the perfect time for another edition of the Check Down Roundtable!
Will Matt Ryan outduel Tom Brady? Can either defense put up a fight? Those answers and more, as JMac, Fronte, Jacob, Colin, and Darren make their predictions for Super Bowl LI.
Super Bowl LI will be a shootout–I don’t think there’s a legitimate argument to say otherwise. However, I don’t think we can expect to see a two-sided aerial attack from Tom Brady and Matt Ryan.
That’s not to say I don’t expect some insane passing numbers, particularly from Brady. However, Atlanta benefits from a plethora of running talent, and I expect them to use this asset as much as possible over the course of the game. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are durable backs that could make life difficult for the Patriots front seven. But my bold prediction is this: I think the Pats will succeed in limiting Julio Jones. They’ll likely cover the standout receiver by putting in Logan Ryan for Malcolm Butler (Ryan’s bigger than Butler, creating a more even matchup), while also double-teaming Jones as much as possible. On the other side of the ball, I trust Brady to find holes in the Falcons secondary, including using Martellus Bennett in the red zone.
Whoever has the ball last will win this game. Atlanta will push New England to its wits end, but I expect the Patriots to walk away with an incredible fifth Super Bowl title in 16 seasons.
New England 44, Atlanta 37
When it’s all said and done, I believe that Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons will hoist the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday. Main reason being that the Falcons boast one of the greatest offenses in NFL history. But the Patriots defense allowed the fewest points in the NFL this season! Well, sure. But have you taken a look at their schedule? The Pats played a plethora of below-average offenses during the regular season and were lucky enough to play a Landry Jones-led Steelers team in Week 7. According to Football Outsiders, their defense’s DVOA rating places them just outside the top 10 in the NFL. Yes, the Patriots have a solid defensive unit, but it’s not capable of stopping Matt Ryan & Co.
Aside from being the best offense the Patriots will face this season, the Falcons may very well be the best offense the Patriots have ever faced in Super Bowl history. Their 540 points during the regular season trumps that of the 2001 St. Louis Rams, and they ranked higher in offensive DVOA, too. Aside from their MVP-caliber signal caller, the Falcons offense also receives constant production from their star wideout Julio Jones, who is fresh off two monstrous playoff performances. The Patriots have been known to shutdown the opposition’s number one wide receiver, but that shouldn’t be a problem for Matt Ryan. The Boston College product loves to spread the wealth and has thrown a touchdown pass to thirteen different players this year.
This game has the potential to be a shootout, but I believe that Atlanta’s offense will be too much for the Patriots to handle.
Atlanta 31, New England 24
The Atlanta Falcons have been dominant of late, as they dismantled the Seahawks and Packers in the NFC Playoffs; but somehow, the Patriots have looked even better. I was expecting an AFC Championship game in which Pittsburgh would hang close, but eventually fall by about ten to a superior New England team. Instead, the Patriots throttled the Steelers. Every throw from Ben Roethlisberger was contested, and Antonio Brown finished with an un-spectacular 7 catches for 77 yards. The Patriots will beat the Falcons in the Super Bowl by employing the same strategy: Limit the run game through physical defensive tackle play and disrupt the rhythm of the passing game with tight man to man coverage. Oh, and add a healthy dose of Tom Brady.
Matt Ryan will probably play well–maybe even great–in Super Bowl 51. I expect him to throw for around 300 yards and 2 TDs, but on upwards of 50 attempts. Moreover, Julio Jones is too fast and too strong to get shut down by the Patriots secondary, but he won’t be able to convert five-yard crossing routes into 30-yard gains like he did against Green Bay. I just can’t see a Bill Belichick defense getting picked apart like that on the biggest stage. This Patriots defense is their best since 2006, when Asante Samuel and Tedy Bruschi were still around, and now it’s Malcolm Butler and Dont’a Hightower who are making the plays.
Yards may come easy for the Falcons. Touchdowns will not. Tom Brady won’t get off to the slow start like Aaron Rodgers did at the Georgia Dome–he will shred Atlanta’s zone with short passes to Dion Lewis and Julian Edelman. Plus, when the Seahawks faced the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX, Dan Quinn was Seattle’s defensive coordinator. Quinn wasn’t able to stop the Patriots then, and he won’t be able to stop them now. The Falcons simply ran into the wrong team.
New England 31, Atlanta 23
While not many people expected Atlanta to make it this far, they managed to breeze through the playoffs with flying colors. Their unstoppable offense, along with their young, energetic defense propelled them to two easy wins against Seattle and Green Bay. Meanwhile, the Patriots have, as expected, conquered the AFC for the seventh time in the Brady-Belichick era, exhibiting one of the most unique defenses seen in the past decade. So who has the edge?
The Falcons offense has been lethal during the playoffs, but Green Bay’s defense was pathetic while Seattle was without one of their most impactful defensive players in Earl Thomas. In addition, three of their five losses in the regular season came against strong defenses (Kansas City, Tampa Bay, and a Healthy Seattle), and the Patriots have the top-scoring defense in the league. Atlanta will have to make more stops on defense than they have all season in this game, and I do not like their very young secondary’s chances of doing that against the greatest quarterback to ever play the game.
New England 31, Atlanta 27
If you’re a Falcons fan and think history is a good predictor of future success, you should probably bring a box of tissues to your Super Bowl party because Tom Brady is 4-0 in his career against Atlanta. But I suppose that’s all old news because these teams are dramatically different from when they last met in 2013.
The spotlight is definitely on the offenses, with particular attention paid to Brady and Ryan, who are both top contenders for MVP. As for each team’s receiving core, New England has depth with the likes of the reliable Julian Edelman and an emerging Chris Hogan. However, they don’t have a freakishly athletic talent like Julio Jones. I know that Hogan and Jones’ stats were the same during championship weekend, but Jones was consistently double-covered and was still able to make plays and catches most receivers in the league could only dream of. As for the running game, both teams have strength and talent on the ground, but I would like to point out that the Patriots are undefeated when Dion Lewis is active. Nonetheless, expect each side to put points on the board nearly every time they have possession: The Gronk-less Patriots haven’t shown many signs of weakness and the Falcons have been consistent scorers all season.
Yet as with any shootout, this game will come down to defense. This is where the Patriots have the edge over Falcons. New England has not given up more than two touchdowns in ten games this season, including last week’s win against the “weapon-heavy” Steelers’ offense. I still expect a close, high-scoring game, but the Patriots’ defense will make a few key stops to slow down Atlanta. Call me biased either because I really want to see Brady win his fifth ring and stick it to Goodell, or because I just want to rub it into my fellow Georgians’ faces, but the Lombardi trophy is going to New England.