By Steven Marowski
The Atlanta Falcons are making their first Super Bowl appearance on Sunday, Feb. 5, and they’re looking to win the city of Atlanta’s first major championship since the 1995 Braves’ World Series victory.
However, they’re going up against arguably the best coach-quarterback duo in history with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady leading the charge for the New England Patriots. If Brady takes the Pats to victory, he will be the first quarterback ever to win five Super Bowl championships in his career.
With two of the most potent offenses the NFL has ever seen, many experts are saying this match will come down to the final play. Here’s a preview and prediction of the outcome of Super Bowl LI.
In their last meeting in 2013, the Patriots defeated the Falcons 30-23; however, it seems Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is more comfortable than he has ever been in his career, and he has offensive weapons all around him. Wide receiver Julio Jones is one of the best at his position, and in November 2016, Jones recorded his 465th catch, the most in NFL history in a player’s first 75 games. If the Pats have any shot at winning, cornerback Malcolm Butler will need to be on top of his game to contain one of the league’s top receivers.
Along with Ryan and Jones, the Falcons have running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. According to NFL Research, Freeman and Coleman are just the third pair of running backs to have double-digit touchdowns in a Super Bowl season. Freeman, the smaller of the two, is elusive and can make defenders miss easily. Coleman, opposite Freeman, is taller and faster than Freeman and is a threat to run as well as receive passes.
When thinking about defense, the main problem for the Patriots is coverage. If they put more defenders on the line, they run the risk of Jones making big plays. But if they leave the line open, they’re allowing Ryan to use both Coleman and Freeman as offensive weapons just as he has this season. If the Patriots’ defense is as stout as they’ve been in past games this season, it should post an interesting matchup for the Falcons’ offense.
New England Patriots
The Patriots have arguably the greatest quarterback in history leading their offense. Brady is making his seventh Super Bowl appearance, and even though he’s 39 and doesn’t run all that well anymore, he can run any offense. The Patriots are able to change their offensive strategy to throw their opponent’s defense off, and this will be a factor to beat the Falcons’ defense.
The Falcons have scored on their first possession in the last eight consecutive games. For the Falcons, this gives Ryan and his offense a rhythm to work with for the rest of the game. In many sports, not just football, the team that scores first generally has a better chance of winning. Therefore, the Patriots must stop the Falcons on their first possession. They need to disrupt the rhythm, and since they’ve scored early and often, a four-and-out first possession might rattle the Falcons’ offense.
Bill Belichick has been known for throwing monkey wrenches in his opponent’s play-making. He loves to play mind games with the coaches of the opposition, and Belichick won’t let it be easy for the Falcons. Atlanta has been cruising through whoever they play, but it’s expected that Belichick won’t let that happen to his Pats.
If there’s one thing that New England has that Atlanta doesn’t,, it would be all-around experience. As I’ve stated, Brady is appearing in his seventh Super Bowl, and this will be Matt Ryan’s first rodeo. Including his two playoff wins this season, Ryan has a 3-4 career record in the playoffs; however, compared to Brady’s 24-9 playoff record in 33 games, this alone could tempt one to argue for Brady and the Pats as a heavy favorite going into Super Bowl LI.
With everything added up, this game could come down to the final play, as many are predicting. On one hand, there’s a part of me that wants to see Ryan and the Falcons take down the Patriots’ dynasty, but it’s hard to bet against whom the Patriots have at the helm of their ship.
Score: 38-36, Patriots def. Falcons
MVP: Tom Brady
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.