Well, we’re just days away from the biggest game of the NFL season — Super Bowl 2017.
Kickoff is set for approximately 6:30 p.m. Eastern from NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. The game will be televised by FOX.
So who is going to win and hoist the Lombardi Trophy? The 4-time champion Patriots or the hardware-less Falcons?
Keep reading to see a breakdown of the game and then our pick:
Falcons Offense vs. Patriots Defense
While they led the NFL in scoring defense (check out the Patriots’ schedule. With the exception of the Steelers, Cardinals and occasionally the Bills, none of those teams had any offensive consistency. New England had the luxury of facing the Rams (32nd — or last — in scoring offense), Browns (31st), Jets twice (30th), Houston (T28th), 49ers (27th), Bengals (24th) … well you get the point. They’ve seen nothing like the Falcons, who led the league at 33.8 points per game, then continued to drop 36 on the tough Seahawks and 44 on the Packers, who had won eight in a row.
Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia will have to pick their poison because they don’t have much of a shot shutting down every component of the Falcons’ offense. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel; this is hardest offense to defend in the NFL, especially considering how effective Freeman and Coleman are as receivers out of the backfield. Belichick getting two weeks to prepare will certainly help, but it’s definitely a tough task.
Edge: Falcons offense
Patriots Offense vs. Falcons Defense
The same can said for Atlanta’s defense. Despite being suspended the first four regular season games (don’t worry, I won’t go there here), Tom Brady threw 28 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions over the dozen he played. And that was mostly without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who saw action in just eight contests. Gronk is also out for the Super Bowl. But guys like Martellus Bennett, Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell and James White stepped up, once again showing the Pats don’t need a bunch of marquee names to succeed. New England also got a beast of a season from LeGarrette Blount, who ran for a league-high 18 touchdowns.
Facing the teams of the NFC South, which was arguably the best offense division in football, twice each didn’t do good things for the Falcons’ scoring defense, which ranked 27th in the league at 25.4 PPG. But Atlanta did show improvement, especially in the playoffs, holding the Seahawks and Packers to 20 and 21 points, respectively. Still, though, would Brady and Co. ever be an underdog against any defense?
Edge: Patriots offense
With Eric Weems back deep, Atlanta’s kick and punt return units were superior, which, as you know, helps in field position. Weems averaged 23 yards on 17 kick returns and 11.4 yards on 24 punt returns. Dion Lewis had a huge 98-yard kick return TD to jumpstart the Pats in the Divisional Round win over the Texans. Lewis has “possible X-Factor” written all over him for Sunday’s game.
Falcons punter Matt Bosher put 21 of 44 punts inside the 20 yard line, while the Patriots’ Ryan Allen and the punt coverage held opponents to just a 5.0 return average.
Stephen Gostkowski had somewhat of a down year for his standards, making just 84.4 percent of his field goals (27 of 32) after three consecutive 90+ percent seasons. He also missed three extra points, his first PAT missed since his rookie season in 2006. This postseason he’s 5 of 5 of FGs and 7 of 8 on PATs. On the other side of the field is the ageless Matt Bryant. The 41-year-old was second in the NFL in field goal percentage at 91.9 (34 of 37) and made 56 of 57 extra points.
NRG Stadium has a retractable roof, but the league will not say until Saturday, February 4, if it will be open or closed. If it’s closed, weather won’t factor into the kicking game. Or any other aspects for that matter. The league, though, has said it would be prefer the roof to be open.
The first thing that pops into mind is the Patriots’ experience. This marks the Brady-Belichick combination’s seventh Super Bowl appearance, including the third in six seasons. They’ve won four, including Super Bowl XLIX, which was two years ago. This Falcons team has never been to the Super Bowl. Matt Ryan was 13 and Julio Jones 10 when Atlanta made its lone big game visit after the 1998-99 season. The last time the Falcons were in the Super Bowl, this happened in Miami the night before the game. Ugh.
How much of a factor will experience be? It’s hard to tell. But one thing is for sure: there is exponentially more distraction and hubbub at the Super Bowl than any other game. And that’s off the field. As for on the field, it’s the Super Bowl, there might be a few more butterflies for the players. Who can handle the bright lights better?
You kind of get the feeling the Pats are playing with a chip on their collective shoulder, especially their future Hall of Fame quarterback. Ever since he was suspended (yes, DeflateGate), you had a feeling Tom Brady was going to come back with a vengeance. I think this almost-perfect season qualifies. But they have one game left to win. Does the Brady Bunch have extra motivation to stick it to Commissioner Roger Goodell? Publicly, they’ll probably say no. But privately, that’s likely a different story.
All 6 of the Patriots’ latest Super Bowls have been decided by 3 or 4 points. And this one has all the makings of another classic.
OK, so we have two offenses which should be able to do what they want. To an extent. This won’t be the highest-scoring Super Bowl ever, but the offenses will shine.
And while a semi-shootout will be the case, the winner is going to be the team that makes more plays in the other facets of the game. What team gets better special teams and what defense is less vulnerable.
The Falcons are opportunists on defense, scoring 5 touchdowns on interceptions (3) and fumbles (2) combined while racking up 34 sacks. Problem is, the Patriots don’t turn the ball over and Brady doesn’t get sacked. He’s been taken down just 15 times in 12 games. Can Atlanta get pressure from NFL sack leader Vic Beasley Jr.? That will be vital to the Falcons’ success. We’ve seen if you can get in Brady’s face, he can get rattled.
The Patriots are a little more physical on defense. But Ryan has been unstoppable lately — 18 touchdowns and zero interceptions over the past six games.
It’s so difficult — and usually, unwise — to bet against Brady, but Matty Ice and the Falcons are flying offensively like no other team in the league. This is one of those games that literally can go either way. It could very well come down the final possession.
But you know what they say: Defense wins. Or in this case, slightly better defense wins. And Brady just seems to be on a mission and his teammates feed off of that.
Get ready for another parade through the streets of Boston.
Final Score Prediction
New England Patriots 30, Atlanta Falcons 28