The NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons (11-5; not including playoffs) will be taking on the AFC Champion New England Patriots (14-2) in Super Bowl LI (51) on Sunday, February 5th at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX on Fox at roughly 6:30pm (so kickoff will probably be around 8). The Patriots are making their 9th trip to the Super Bowl (an NFL record) seeking their 5th title in franchise history. The Falcons, on the other hand, are making just their 2nd ever trip to the Super Bowl (they lost Super Bowl XXXIII 34-19 to the Denver Broncos).
There are several storylines going into this game (as there always are in the Super Bowl), with probably the most talked about one being the idea of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell potentially having to hand New England quarterback Tom Brady the Lombardi Trophy if the Pats were to win, despite Goodell suspending Brady four games to begin the season for possibly being involved in the intentional deflating of footballs before the AFC Championship Game two seasons ago (do not worry, this blog isn’t about that, nor will I mention it anymore from here on). Personally, I think the biggest storyline should be regarding the two teams that are actually playing in the game (that is what is most important isn’t it?), and not about what might happen after the game is over. So, without further ado, here is why the Falcons will beat the Patriots for their first ever Super Bowl title.
The Falcons’ Offense is Unstoppable
I know this seems like an obvious reason, but there is more to it than the Matt Ryan-led Falcons scoring the 8th most points in a single season in NFL history (540). All the pundits keep bringing up that Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick is a master of taking away on defense the other team’s most dangerous offensive weapon, and they do so with good reason. It is definitely true, and worth bringing up. However, there is a slight flaw in that regard for this game. Yes, Falcons’ wide receiver Julio Jones is without a doubt the most dangerous weapon that Falcons have on offense, but taking him away is a lot easier said than done, despite Belichick being able to accomplish taking away the top threat time and time again. A lot of experts bring up that Patriots defensive back Malcolm Butler was most able to handle Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receiver Antonio Brown in the AFC title game, but Butler and Brown are two similar athletes in that they both are roughly the same size and their speed is their most dangerous asset. Julio Jones is also fast, but he is also bigger than anyone the Patriots can put on him and has arguably the best hands of any receiver in the NFL (New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. would probably challenge for that title, but remember, I said arguably). So, to combat that issue, I believe Butler will cover Mohamed Sanu and then have their number two corner, Logan Ryan, on Julio with a safety permanently keeping watch on Jones to theoretically keep him from being able to make big play of over 20 yards.
All that being said, if the Patriots are wanting to take away the best option on offense for the Falcons, I think they would be better served attempting to take away the run game. Having a good game defensively is always easier if you do not have to attempt to stop the pass or the run on any given play, and let’s face it, taking away Atlanta’s passing game is a fool’s errand; it will not happen. However, trying to take away the Falcons’ run game is also a difficult task, particularly since running back screens work as well as running the ball, and the Falcons’ running back duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are both excellent receivers (the Falcons led the NFL in receiving yards by running backs this season). I know the Patriots led the NFL in points allowed this season, but they never played an offense anywhere close to that of the Falcons this season. And they won’t stop the Falcons’ offense. I think Julio will have his typical game (career averaging 96 yards a game) including a touchdown. Plus, Freeman and Coleman will combine for at least 150 scrimmage yards.
Experience Won’t Matter
The Patriots have made it to the Super Bowl seven of the 15 years that Brady has been their quarterback, which is incredible. I won’t deny that experience is probably something that you would rather have than not, but I think the Falcons have something more important than experience: a hunger. A hunger to win the first title in team history, and the first major sports title for the city of Atlanta since the Atlanta Braves won the World Series in 1995. I find it hard to believe that the Falcons will not be on a mission in this game to bring a title home to Hotlanta.
Additionally, the Falcons do not totally lack experience. Their head coach Dan Quinn has been to the Super Bowl two of the last three years heading into this one (Super Bowls XLVIII and XLIV) when he was the Defensive Coordinator with the Seattle Seahawks. Also, defensive end Dwight Freeney played in two when he was with the Indianapolis Colts following the 2006 and 2009 seasons. I know their experience does not compare to that of the Patriots, but I just do not think that it will be that big of a factor. All the players understand the magnitude of this game and what all is on the line. They do not need experience for that.
Kyle Shanahan is on a Mission
Many are worried about the distraction that Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan might be facing with his expected new role of being the next head coach for the San Francisco 49ers looming. But I think he has something to prove. There is a lot of talk (see above) about how the Patriots will be able to stop the Falcons offense. How they always take away the best offensive option of their opponent. I foresee Shanahan taking it personally. Shanahan has had a great turnaround season this year after Atlanta’s offense struggled much more than they are used to last season in his first season as the OC in Atlanta. Shanahan will have some tricks up his sleeve to throw at that Belichick defense, and I would not be surprised to see him dial-up a home run ball on the first play of the game.
The Underrated Atlanta Defense
All week, all the on-field talk has been about the Atlanta offense against the New England defense as well as how well the Patriot offense has played without Rob Gronkowski. Well what about the Atlanta defense? They mention how they are young (four rookie starters: Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell, Brian Poole; as well as three 2nd year starters: Vic Beasley Jr., Grady Jarrett, Ricardo Allen), but who wouldn’t be upset at everyone telling you that you are too young? Too inexperienced? This defense should come out with a vengeance attempting to prove to everyone that age is just a number. As a team, I am predicting that they will record three sacks and force a turnover (I actually think both teams will turn it over once; both teams tied for the NFL lead with only turning the ball over 11 times this season).
The Secret Weapon
Taylor Gabriel was a secret weapon that was released in the middle of season after the Falcons picked him up off waivers from the Cleveland Browns (those poor Browns). So, who is the Falcons’ secret weapon? Matt Bryant. Stephen Gostkowski is a really good kicker for the Patriots, but for my money, I’ll take Bryant. This season, Gostkowski has missed three PAT’s on 49 attempts, while Bryant has missed just one in 57 tries. Gostkowski also missed five field goals on 32 tries with a long of only 53 yards (his career long is 57). Bryant, on the other hand, only missed three FG’s on 37 attempts with a long of 59 (career long is 62). Obviously, you would rather score a touchdown than a field goal, but if the game comes down to a FG attempt in the final seconds, I would rather have Bryant as my kicker in what would be the clutchest of clutch moments.
Dwight Freeney will have two sacks. The Patriots are going to concentrate on Vic Beasley, as they should, which will free-up Freeney to make his presence known.
Final Score Prediction