Today's NFL is often a game of attrition. Injuries, or rather a lack thereof, is often a determing factor of which teams rise to the top.
This year's Super Bowl is definitely a reflection of that reality. Although the New England Patriots are missing perhaps the greatest tight end in NFL history in Rob Gronkowski, they are still hands down the most complete team in the AFC with no other major components currently unavailable.
The Atlanta Falcons are also the most complete team in the NFC and relatively unscathed by injury.
But one thing we've all come to realize and understand is that this IS a quarterback driven league. Even with a great defense - by today's standards thanks to multiple rule changes over the past twenty or so years almost exclusively favoring offenses, and an excellent supporting cast offensively, it is imperative to have a great quarterback directing the offense.
Some may say that wasn't the case last season when an aged Peyton Manning led the Denver Broncos to a world championship. But that wasn't the case. Peyton Manning was still a great quarterback. Sure, his statistics weren't off the chart as in years past, but his leadership, decision making and ability to make big plays in the sense of 'importance', not glitz and glamour, were all on display and imperative to the game's outcome. Without Manning steering the ship, there would have been no world championship, and although the team was somewhat diminished via free agency and salary cap this past season, they clearly lacked the leadership at QB to even qualify for the playoffs.
So what is the predominant factor that will decide the 2016 World Champion? It will come down to QB play.
Tom Brady is clutch. Tom Brady, 39, is still one of the most feared competitors in the game because he delivers when it counts the most. The record speaks for itself and is undeniable.
Matt Ryan on the other hand has no such pedigree at this point in time. Sure, he looked very good in defeating the Seattle Seahawks who suffered the losses of it's best defensive player and an indominable force in all-pro safety Earl Thomas, retirement of future hall of fame running back Marshan Lynch, and an inexperienced and revamped offensive line. Followed by the defeat of the Green Bay Packers led by the league's premier quarterback in the great Aaron Rodgers and very little else due mainly to a plethora of injuries.
But neither of the aforementioned games was even close. Ryan will be counted upon to make plays and avoid critical turnovers in the upcoming contest which promises to be a much closer contest, while facing an excellent defense and a relentless offense. And that without the home field advantage on the world's biggest stage.
Forget statistics; statistics are for fantasy league. What is going to count in Super Bowl LI is performance under pressure.
I like Matt Ryan and subjectively I view him as a very good and functional QB. But personally I don't trust him in the clutch. He's had an abysmal playoff and 'big game' record in years past with a good supporting cast. And until he delivers, which means putting the team on his back and rising to the occasion when the pressure is the greatest, he cannot be considered a 'Great' quarterback and on par with Brady, Rogers, Joe Flacco - who was sensational in leading the Ravens to a world championship, Eli Manning - who came through spectacularly in leading his NY Giants to two World Championships, or Russel Wilson - who has proven himself a great QB in his short time in the NFL.
That's what greatness is about. The only statistic that counts in the end is bringing home the Lombardi trophy, particularly with all the pieces in place.
I fully expect the QB's to be the determining factor, and why I expect the New England Patriots to win Super Bowl LI.
Final Score: New England 31, Atlanta 20.