Super Bowl 51 Preview
New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons
After two methodical destructions in the conference championships, we are left with a Patriots versus Falcons championship game. The way I see this, we have the best team in the league in the Patriots playing the hottest team in the league in the Falcons. Starting with New England, their success in the AFC Championship was very much how they beat everyone along the way. Bill Belichick showed off his game plan and the players did their job. They dismantled the Steelers with check downs and YAC and then when the Steelers defense tried to adjust, they took their shot deep. It’s the same formula they have used for over a decade but if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. While Le’Veon Bell left the game early, the Patriots did a good job in shutting down the run by staying in the gaps and not overcommitting. The defense created a couple turnovers to really lock it in but the Steelers never really produced a challenge in this one.
The Falcons have the best offense in the league and boy was it on display on Sunday. The Packers secondary is going to have nightmares for a few after this one. Matt Ryan (my MVP) played at an MVP level yet again. There is no QB in the league (yes including Brady) that is more dialed in than Matty Ice. The Falcons win by spreading the ball around and by unleashing a two-headedrushing attack that no team in the NFL can match. As good as the offense was in this one, it is of my opinion that the NFC Championship was truly won by the Atlanta pass rush. The question going into the game was about trying to get pressure on Aaron Rodgers and they did that in bunches which created a very difficult time.
When it comes to this game, everyone will talk about the two quarterbacks and rightfully so. I can’t bring myself to choose one or the other. Matt Ryan is as dialed in as I’ve seen a QB play. He is consistently finding the open man and carves up any defense put in front of him. His biggest attribute has been his play on third down. Matt Ryan has a QBR of 120.6 on 3rd down with a completion percentage of 74.15% (the highest of any down). When the play has mattered most, he has earned the nickname Matty Ice. Tom Brady is just simply Tom Brady. He has nothing to prove when it comes to big game moments. Mentally he is the best QB in the game and just flat-out knows how to methodically pick you apart. He’s a surgeon and just when you think you have him, he changes it up and takes a shot downfield. Both QB’s are elite so this is a push.
The running backs in this game will be a huge factor. For New England, it will be the power-speed combination of LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis. Blount is the guy who wears down defenses and he’s the closer at the end of the drives and end of the game. Lewis is a dual threat out of the backfield and can help open the offense up. For Atlanta, they feature the best duo in the NFL with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. While Coleman is a one cut back, he has tremendous vision and can break any run for a touchdown. Freeman is a big time playmaker. He can flip a 2 yard loss into a first down easily. Both RB’s are used very often in the passing game and often it’s in the middle of the field giving them more room to operate. I think Blount could be a major factor in this game but the advantage goes to Atlanta.
Wide Receivers/Tight End:
New England boasts WR who some consider “no name guys”. While they will never be leading the league in any categoryexcept maybe receptions, they are deadly under the Patriot umbrella. Edelman and Amendola fit perfectly with the gameplan because both guys run those 5 yard drags but both get the necessary YAC for those routes to succeed. Chris Hogan provides enough speed to hit a team deep for big chunk plays. The loss of Rob Gronkowski obviously hurts and a banged up Martellus Bennett doesn’t help. Atlanta provides us with one of the top WR in the game in Julio Jones. They have also shown us that the signings of Mohamed Sanuand Taylor Gabriel have really made this offense dangerous. Gabriel provides quick strikes and Sanu has found an uncanny ability to always be open. Julio Jones just makes big catches when it counts and flashes insane speed to break a 5 yard play into a 65 yard touchdown. I like the New England WR’s. I love the Atlanta WR’s. Advantage: Atlanta.
We all remember the AFC Championship last year where the New England offensive line looked like a high school team. Well, this is a different year and clearly the addition of coach Dante Scarnecchia has really transformed them. Tom Brady has only been sacked 3.36% of the time which is good for 3rd best. They also blocked for a RB who chalked up 1161 yards rushing and a league high 18 touchdowns. The addition of Alex Mack at center has made a world of difference for Atlanta. Matt Ryan seems a lot more comfortable in the pocket and they also blocked for a 1000+ yard runner in Freeman. Both offensive lines are solid but the nod goes to the re-energized New England OL.
The Patriots have found a really solid pass rusher in Trey Flowers. He’s starting to create a lot of pressure which is helping the rest of the DL. Alan Branch was extremely disruptive in the AFC Championship as was Malcom Brown. Whether they can create pressure consistently still remains a question. The Falcons have discovered some power in the middle with Grady Jarrett and Ra’Shede Hageman resurging(the latter having 3 tackles for loss in the NFC Championship). Neither DL has a dominant force however but New England gets a slight advantage.
New England has a couple solid LB in Donta Hightower and Rob Ninkovich with the latter providing QB pressure. Hightower led the linebackers for New England with 65 tackles. It will be interesting to see how the trade of Jamie Collins and the loss of his athleticism in the middle will affect how Atlanta attacks them. The big key for them is covering the RBs of Atlanta and this could cause headaches. Atlanta has the two best LB in this game with Deion Jones and Vic Beasley. Vic Beasley led the league in sacks with 15.5 sacks while Deion Jones led the team in tackles with 108. The speed of the linebackers in Atlanta is abundant so they will be able to keep up with the running backs and tight ends of New England. The advantage lies firmly with Atlanta.
The Patriot secondary is led by Malcolm Butler who is no stranger to the big game. He’s been in charge of stopping the opponent’s best WR and for the most part has been strong in that role. Logan Ryan leads the team in tackles with 92 and is second on the team in interceptions with 2 (Butler has 4). The Atlanta secondary is very young and frankly a weak point of this team. They have played a lot better as of late and Jalen Collins is a big reason. However, when your LB (Jones) leads your team in interceptions, there’s a lot of room to improve. Patriots win this one on experience alone.
This is the 7th Super Bowl appearance for Bill Belichick. Let that sink in for a second. He has been to 7 Super Bowls in his 17 seasons. He is just simply the greatest coach to ever grace a sideline. He is regarded as one of the most intelligent and he game plans with the best of them. His major strength is the way he adjusts to how the other team plays which shows how versatile he has made his team. The Falcons’ Dan Quinn should not be discounted however. This will be his 3rd Super Bowl in 4 years (2 as defensive coordinator of Seattle). He has transformed an Atlanta team into a serious contender in just two seasons. One of those Super Bowls was against New England so familiarity is there. The advantage will go to New England in coaching as long as Belichick is on the sideline but Quinn deserves acknowledgement for the job he’s done.
That’s how I break down the positions so now on to the game. The key for New England is containing Julio Jones. In the AFC Championship, they gave Malcolm Butler help on Antonio Brown and constantly had double coverage there. I expect much of the same. The Packers sent Gunter to play one on one against Jones and got torched. Simply put, you can’t go one on one versus that man. Another key matchup will be the New England LB’s against the tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Atlanta loves to use them in the passing game and it will be on the LB’s to keep close and finish off tackles. If you miss tackles against these two, trouble awaits. Offensively, they need to attack the secondary the same way they have been and chip away with slants and hitches and get long drives. For Atlanta, they need to find a groove quickly on offense. When Ryan is in a rhythm, he’s tough to stop. I think they need to expect double coverage on Jones and Gabriel and Sanu will have to step up like they have in recent weeks. The Falcons will spread the ball around but they can’t fall into a trap of forcing the ball to Julio Jones. Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan is a very aggressive play caller and that is a plus but he must be careful as sometimes he gets too cute. Defensively, there’s one word: PRESSURE. As the past Giants teams will tell you, the best way to beat Brady and the Patriots is to get right up in his face. Brady is great but he is human. He can get flustered. The Patriots will know it’s coming so expect quick routes and a lot of them. The Steelers played off the ball roughly 10 yards every play and they got picked apart. I want to see the CB pressure the WR much more.
This game on paper should produce one of the better Super Bowls in its’ 51 year history. For New England, it will be business as usual. This stage is new for Atlanta so they have to stay calm and subdue the nerves and treat this like another game. They did that in the NFC Championship and they have the right coach to keep them grounded. My prediction for Super Bowl 51 is … commercials. All joking aside, I’m going with the Atlanta Falcons winning Super Bowl 51 by a score of 31-26 and winning their first championship. The Super Bowl MVP will be Matt Ryan after a 300 yard game and 3 scores.