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David Silverman/New England Patriots

Super Bowl LI Breakdown and Prediction

After a solid regular season (151-100-2) and a strong playoff (8-2) for game picks, I’m going to breakdown our Super Bowl matchup between the Patriots and Falcons. Who has the advantage at each position, and who will win?





Aaron Rodgers was unbelievable down the stretch this season, but Super Bowl LI probably has the matchup between the best two quarterbacks overall in 2016-2017. The MVP race seems to be a two-man competition between Tom Brady and Matt Ryan, with early indications showing Matty Ice is probably going to be taking home his first award. The Falcons quarterback has been great all season, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes for 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns, and just seven interceptions.


Tom Brady, on the other hand, came back from his four-game suspension with a vengeance. Brady completed over 67 percent of his passes for 3,554 yards and a 28:2 touchdown-interception ratio, which broke Nick Foles’ record set in 2013 with the Eagles (27:2 ratio). This will be the first matchup all season that Matt Ryan doesn’t have the advantage, because it’s simply not possible to give the advantage to someone other than the four-time champion and three-time Super Bowl MVP.


Advantage: New England Patriots




Dion Lewis is literally undefeated as a Patriot, with the team going 16-0 over the last two years when he’s on the field. The versatile back is New England’s not-so-secret weapon, and he could form a one-two punch with LeGarrette Blount this Sunday to keep Atlanta’s offense on the sidelines. The Pats also have James White to split out wide to find a mismatch with a linebacker. One of the best parts about the Patriots offense is that they send players in motion to try to determine if the defense is in man or zone.


The Patriots three-headed backfield is tough to top, but Atlanta’s dynamic duo is something else. Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman add a never-before-seen dimension to the offense for Atlanta, with both backs being exceptional in a lot of areas. Devonta Freeman gets most of the publicity (I’ve heard a handful of people not even remember Coleman’s name in interviews this week), but Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia should really worry about #26. The second-year back is an absolute nightmare for the defense, as he can run between the tackles, get to the perimeter, convert at the goal line, and even go to work as a wideout. I haven’t even brought up his toughness; Coleman rushed for 2,000 yards in his final season at Indiana—with a broken foot.


Advantage: Atlanta Falcons




These teams are just so evenly matched. So far, the advantage hasn’t been given to this year’s likely MVP and a running back that hasn’t lost a game with his team. Don’t let people tell you that New England doesn’t have a star receiver, because Julian Edelman proved in in Super Bowl XLIX that he is among the game’s greats. This postseason, Edelman has games of 8/137 and 8/118/1 to help the Patriots reach another Super Bowl. Chris Hogan has been a surprise vertical threat for Brady all year, and Danny Amendola seems to always make a big play when they need it. If Martellus Bennett is a little healthier, he might be the difference in this game.


Julio Jones. That’s almost all that needs to be said for Atlanta’s wide receiver group, but they are more than just Julio; Mohamed Sanu has been a reliable target for Matt Ryan, and Taylor Gabriel has been a game-breaker at times. The tight end position isn’t a big threat, but Austin Hooper and Levine Toilolo could become a factor if New England takes the biggest threats away, as expected. The balance of the Patriots makes this close, but Julio Jones might be the best receiver in the game.


Advantage: Atlanta Falcons




Both teams have had huge acquisitions this season to bolster the offensive lines. For Atlanta, it was signing center Alex Mack, formerly of the Cleveland Browns. In New England, it was actually a re-acquisition, as former offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia returned to fix the woes the Pats had last postseason. Scarnecchia’s return—plus health of the line—has kept the pressure out of Brady’s face for the most part, but teams still get penetration up the middle at times.


Each team has two solid tackles (LT Jake Matthews and RT Ryan Schraeder for Atlanta; LT Nate Solder and RT Marcus Cannon for New England), so the quarterbacks should have mostly a clean pocket on Sunday. However, since the pressure up the middle is more of a concern for Brady, Atlanta gets the edge. [Update: With Alex Mack dealing with a broken leg–but playing–there is a chance he is forced out of the game. Players have played with similar injuries in the Super Bowl before, so the edge will stay with Atlanta.]


Advantage: Atlanta Falcons




The Patriots have the league’s #1 scoring defense, and their strong run defense is one of the many reasons for it. Versatile linebacker Don’t’a Hightower is able to clean things up behind run stuffers Alan Branch and Malcom Brown, both of whom are among the best defensive tackles in the NFL when it comes to stopping the run. New England also has guys that will come up and hit from the second-level and on the perimeter.


Allowing just 3.9 yards per carry this season, New England ended up in the top-10 for that category. The same cannot be said for Atlanta, as the Falcons allowed a healthy 4.5 yards per carry this season, which was 26th in the NFL. Their poor defense has been masked by the offense’s ability to score at will, but I don’t think that will happen against Belichick’s team. Analysts have been hyping up the Falcons’ speed on defense recently, but it’s easy to play fast when you have a huge lead thanks to the offense. We’ll see how things shake-up in Houston.


Advantage: New England Patriots




Where the speed of the Falcons does come into play is when they are getting after the quarterback. Former Clemson standout Vic Beasley led the NFL in sacks this season as a second-year pro, and has also made big plays in big moments. Beasley has definitely benefitted from Dwight Freeney joining the Falcons, more so for his tutelage than for his play. The future Hall of Fame pass rusher could be playing his final game this Sunday, and what better way to go out than to get a win over his long-time rival in Tom Brady?


New England brought in Chris Long to help bolster his pass rush, and he’s had a nice bounce back after his time with the Rams ended with two quiet, injury-riddled seasons. Long signed with the Patriots for this exact reason (playing in a Super Bowl), going as far as saying he would have signed for nothing. Trey Flowers has shown flashes this season, and he or Jabaal Sheard might need to step up to slow down the Falcons.


Advantage: Atlanta Falcons




Atlanta lost top corner Desmond Trufant late in November to a torn pectoral muscle, but the defense has actually gotten better since then. The young secondary of Robert Alford and Jalen Collins at cornerback, along with Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal have labeled themselves “The Misfits.” Dan Quinn’s unit is better than their nickname suggests, though, with Alford and Collins providing stringy perimeter coverage, and Keanu Neal—who has been compared to Kam Chancellor—laying the boom.


Bill Belichick’s interchangeable secondary gives the Patriots a lot to work with every week, and it’s hard to predict what kind of coverage they will play in any given game. Malcolm Butler will probably be matched up on Julio Jones most of the time with help over-the-top, leaving Logan Ryan manning the slot and former-Eagle Eric Rowe on the outside. Rowe has been sensational for the Patriots after Philly gave up on him and sold-low, giving New England three above-average corners to go along with their star safety duo of Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung. If any secondary can go toe-to-toe with Atlanta’s wide receivers, it’s this one.


Advantage: New England Patriots




A lot of people watching Super Bowl LI might be watching for the commercials, or they just wanted to go to a party, or whatever reason. Point being, they might not know there are stars on special teams, too, particularly for New England. Matthew Slater is perhaps the best special teams player in the league, as he made the Pro Bowl for his sixth consecutive season and was named an All-Pro for the fourth time in his career after another standout year. Jonathan Jones has also emerged as a star for the Pats, and the unit is coached better than anyone.


Atlanta also has some good special teams players, including Eric Weems, and both teams have really good kickers in Matt Bryant for Atlanta and Stephen Gostkowski for New England. If the game is on the line for either team this weekend, they should be confident that their kicker will do the job.


Advantage: New England Patriots




Two years ago, in Super Bowl XLIX, Bill Belichick and Dan Quinn faced off when Quinn was the DC for the Seattle Seahawks. Holding the Pats to 14 points until midway through the 4th quarter in that game, Quinn had a solid game-plan before Tom Brady cemented his legacy with two straight touchdown drives to win his fourth Lombardi Trophy. The Falcons head coach has quickly established himself as one of the top coaches in the league, but it’s Bill Belichick on the other side of the field we’re talking about here.


A six-time Super Bowl champion (he won two as an assistant), Belichick is arguably the greatest coach in the history of sports. If the past is any indication though, Atlanta getting off to a hot start would be huge, as New England has never scored in the 1st quarter of a Super Bowl in the Belichick era. I would guess that streak is snapped, and the coaching staff for New England will have a good strategy to stop Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense.


Advantage: New England Patriots





I have given New England the edge in five out of nine categories, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I am picking the Patriots…


But I am.


The #1 scoring offense against the #1 scoring defense has won six of the last seven Super Bowls, and although this is a whole new game and obviously previous games don’t matter, I do think Belichick figured some things out over the two-week break. I am hoping for another 4th quarter thriller, but I honestly think New England has a chance to win by double-digits. The absence of Rob Gronkowski could be a big factor if the Pats struggle on offense, but angry Tom Brady could probably have success throwing to anyone at this point.


Matt Ryan has been sensational, and I haven’t even mentioned Kyle Shanahan and the job he has done, but the Falcons always seem to get someone open. And that is not a knock on Matt Ryan at all; he’s been insanely accurate, especially on deep balls. The Patriots, though, will play their assignments and make things tough on Matty Ice.


If he comes through and gets his first Lombardi Trophy, Ryan will have proven he deserves that nickname. If not, Tom Brady will be undoubtedly the greatest quarterback of all time.


Final score: Patriots 31, Falcons 26

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