After a very up and down season and a very lackluster NFL playoffs we have finally made it to the grand finale of the NFL Season. While we can all agree that other than maybe two games, this postseason has been mediocre at best, but there is reason for optimism for Super Bowl LI.
#1 Offense vs. #1 Defense
We have the league’s top scoring offense per game (34.44) in the Atlanta Falcons taking on the defense who has given up the least amount of points per game (15.75) in the New England Patriots. Throughout the playoffs we have seen those statistics prove to be accurate, with Atlanta scoring over thirty points in both of their matchups and New England holding their opponents to under twenty points in each of their contests. But when it comes to Super Bowl 51 you can throw stats out the window. It comes down to who wants it more and who can handle the spot light the best.
As I mentioned earlier, the offensive advantage goes to Atlanta, but not based solely on the statistics. This team is loaded with playmakers. It starts at quarterback with likely MVP Matt Ryan, then goes to Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman, and finishes with Tevin Coleman and Mohamed Sanu.
Too Much Offense
On top of that you can sprinkle in Taylor Gabriel and Austin Hooper. New England has a very fundamentally sound defense, yes, but they don’t have enough guys to account for every player on this offense. They have a solid defensive back field with guys like Devin McCourty and Malcolm Butler, but Atlanta has the potential of around seven or eight guys who can make plays in the passing game. This is a team that was second in pass yards per game (302.22) and second in total yards per game (420.44). It is going to be tough for not only New England’s secondary, but for their linebackers as well in covering both Freeman and Coleman in the passing game. This season Freeman and Coleman were third and fifth respectively on the Falcons in receiving yards combining for 85 catches, 883 yards, and five touchdowns. That could be the wild card for this offense.
Matt Ryan’s success with both Jones and Sanu has leaked into the postseason and they have been scary good as a trio. Ryan threw for a shade under 5,000 yards, 38 touchdowns, and only seven interceptions. This postseason he has thrown for over 700 yards for seven touchdowns and zero interceptions. He has been locked in like never before. Las game both receivers lit up the end zone, Jones finished with 170 yards and two touchdowns and Sanu had 52 yards and a touchdown. This is the most explosive offense in the NFL and has been all season. I see it continuing for the most part in the Super Bowl. The matchups are there for the taking. They have the probable MVP along with the best receiver in the NFL in an offense with more weapons than any other team in the league.
Could Offense Slow Down?
As we saw last season though, the top offense in the same division as the Falcons was shut down in the Super Bowl. They too blew out a team with atop offense at the time. That being the Panthers and the team they beat up being the Arizona Cardinals. In all fairness, they ran into the Denver Broncos, who had one of the best defenses of all time.
While the New England Patriots of 2017 do not have an all-time defense, they do have a consistent, solid, fundamentally sound defense. They all do their jobs and they make very little mistakes. Yes they do bend sometimes, but hardly ever break. The matchup they will need to win is in the trenches. They were second this season in rush yards per game against giving up only 87.50 yards per game.
They will be going up against the fifth best rushing offense with the Coleman and Freeman two headed monster. They averaged 118.22 rush yards per game. In the post season it has been a much different story and it is an alarming trend. They have only run for a total of 100 yards per game and New England has only given up 77.5 rushing yards per game. If New England can win in the trenches that can really change the effectiveness of the Atlanta passing game.
This is by far the best defense that Atlanta will be matching up against. Seattle’s defense was not what it has been and without Earl Thomas they ranked 31st in pass defense. And as everybody probably knows Green Bay’s defense was nothing to write home about. It does not seem as though Atlanta will have the sustained offensive success that they had against Seattle and Green Bay. New England was twelfth in pass yards per game giving up 239.06 yards per game.
While it isn’t elite, it is a solid statistic in today’s NFL. Like is aid they bend and don’t break. What it could ultimately come down to is the red zone. New England ranked seventh in red zone defense this season. They only allowed opponents to score touchdowns 50% of the time in the red area. If they can hold Atlanta to field goals that could be all Tom Brady needs to win this game.
Speaking of Tom Brady, after missing four games to start the season, he has dominated NFL defenses. He’s thrown for over 3,500 yards, 28 touchdowns, and only two interceptions. This post season he has thrown for 671 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. This season they were third in points per game with 28.34, fourth in pass yards per game with 275.72, and fourth in total yards per game with 379.76. So, in retrospect they were not very far behind the Falcons offense and they didn’t have Brady for a quarter of the season.
Many people have been trying to give the Falcons the drastic nod on offense, but in reality by the numbers it is not the case. Roster wise it is drastic, but not statistically speaking. Yes they lost Gronk, but the Patriots seem to have a new guy pop up weekly. In the divisional round Dion Lewis stepped up with a kick return touchdown, he then added a rushing and receiving touchdown later in the game. In the AFC championship game New Jersey’s very own Chris Hogan had 180 yards receiving and two touchdowns. It isn’t always the brand name that does it for the Patriots.
On top of these emerging stars, the Patriots throw Edelman at you who had over 1,100 receiving yards and three touchdowns. They throw Martellus Bennett at you who had over 700 yards and seven touchdowns. They also have LeGarrette Blount who rushed for over 1,100 yards and an alarming 18 touchdowns. They may not have the over the top play makers that the Falcons have but they have a lot of gritty and athletic players that can beat you in a lot of different ways. They also have Tom Brady who is playing in his record seventh Super Bowl. There is a little bit of experience on that resume of his. If New England is able to run the ball at a decent clip and dominate in that short passing game they will have a great night on offense.
Atlanta’s defense will have to bring their A-game to this one like they have done the last couple of weeks. This season they ranked 23rd in points against giving up 24.83 per game. That is more than a touchdown more than what the Patriots have given up this season. They also ranked 22nd in total yards giving up 367.44 per game. This defense is not anything to write home about. The Falcons were also in dead last in red zone defense. They gave up a touchdown 72.13% of the time. Against Tom Brady and Blount in the backfield they will have to be way better than that.
They are without their top corner back Desmond Trufant and one of their better pass rushers Adrian Clayborn. They also have a corner back in Robert Alford who has had 14 penalties called against him. Eleven were accepted and on was an offsetting penalty. They will have to get a pass rush on Tom Brady in order to have any chance at keeping their offense in this game. They were tied with the Patriots along with other teams in sacks with 34. They do also have the sacks leader in Vic Beasley who had 15.5 sacks this season. Getting pressure on Brady could be the key to victory on defense for the Falcons.
Too Hot to Stop
To Atlanta’s credit they have played as close to lights out for them these last two playoff games. Yes Seattle’s offense was not anything to write home about, but Green Bay lit up the Giants and Cowboys like it was the fourth of July in back to back weeks. Really Green Bay did not score much until the game had already been decided.
Tom Brady’s only failures in the Super Bowl came at the hands of an elite pass rush in the Giants. Brady’s worst game this season was against the Texans in the playoffs because of the pass rush. The key to victory has been and will continue to be getting pressure on Brady. If you can hit him consistently even if you aren’t necessarily getting sacks, it will throw off the timing and make him get rid of the ball much faster than he would like to. If you can get in the back of his mind it helps out the back end of your defense. They do not have to be perfect, but they just have to give their offense an opportunity to put points on the board.
Super Bowl 51 Prediction
I believe this will be a classic Super Bowl game. I think the poor play in the playoffs to this point was only set up for what should be an outstanding Super Bowl. You have two top notch quarterbacks playing within explosive offenses. The Patriots may have the edge on defense, but the Falcons are on a tear that we may have never seen before heading into the Super Bowl.
We have experienced veterans taking on young up and comers. Will the experience on offense be too much for Atlanta? Will the Falcon’s speed on defense be too much for New England’s offensive line? Will Atlanta’s offense light up the score board? Will The Patriots defense reign supreme?
There are so many questions heading into the big game which makes this even more intriguing. If this is anything like the Patriots last six Super Bowls where the winner takes it by one score late in the ball game, we should have a classic. I like the Falcons in this, but if I were a betting man I am not sure you can go against the Patriots with their pedigree. I’m going with Atlanta 31-27. The hot team usually prevails. Who are you taking?