Feb. 09, 2017
Super Bowl LI Preview and Prediction
32 teams kicked the season off back in September with this game as their ultimate goal. Only two teams remain, and only one of them will stand alone as champions of the National Football League. The hype is over, and it’s finally time to play some football.
You just had a feeling the New England Patriots would be back in the Super Bowl following Tom Brady’s four-game suspension. That’s just how the Patriots do business. When scandal arrises and revenge is on their mind, they take a trip to the Super Bowl. This is probably Bill Belichick’s finest coaching job yet. With Brady out for four games, the Patriots managed a 3-1 start. They traded away two of the best players on their defense from a season ago and still boast the top scoring defense in the league. And when they did get Brady back, he played near perfect the rest of the way. So yeah, it was business as usual for the Patriots even when things around them were quite unusual. This is the franchise’s ninth trip to the Super Bowl and the seventh trip in the Brady Belichick era.
The Atlanta Falcons are the newcomers to the Super Bowl scene. Everyone knew their offense would be lethal, but they surpassed even those expectations. Their offense is the number scoring unit in the league. The biggest surprise is how much second-year head coach Dan Quinn was able to squeeze out of of the team. The defense isn’t the greatest, but they have continued to step up as the season has gone along despite their youth. Matt Ryan has transformed himself into a MVP-caliber quarterback after years of being considered an underachieving second-tier quarterback. Julio Jones has established himself as the best receiver in the league, but his dominance isn’t necessary for the Falcons to win games. The Falcons looked like a juggernaut on their way to the Super Bowl and will be the best test for their opponents yet. This is the Falcons second trip to the Super Bowl in franchise history.
Patriots Keys to Victory
1. Defensive Strategy: Bill Belichick has a history of giving high-octane offenses trouble. In Super Bowl XXV as a defensive coordinator, Belichick implemented what’s now known as the “hold em” strategy against the high-powered “K-Gun” offense of the Buffalo Bills. In Super Bowl 36, the Patriots got very physical with the Greatest Show on Turf. In both instances, two of the greatest offenses of all-time were held under 20 points. Now it’s no secret that the Falcons offense is absolutely loaded with weapons all over the place. It’s up to Belichick and Matt Patricia to implement the proper strategy to slow down the Falcons. I think we’ll see a hybrid of the former strategies that worked in the past.
2. Utilizing Quick Passes: Everyone and their mother knows that to beat the Patriots the opposing defense has to put pressure on Tom Brady. The perfect counter to a blitz crazy opponent is to get the ball out quickly. The Patriots have the perfect personnel including quick receivers and a QB who can get the ball out of his hands in a couple of seconds.
3. Power Running Game: If the Patriots and the Falcons have similar time of possession, New England will be slaughtered. So to swing that fact into an advantage, the Patriots must run the ball and take control of the clock. LeGarrette Blount has a chance to be a Super Bowl MVP if he finds the necessary success on the ground. Along with draining the clock, the Patriots have a chance to get some short third downs to convert which leads to starting the clock draining process all over again.
4. Bend But Don’t Break: The Falcons offensive talent is far superior to the defensive talent of the Patriots. So New England will have to channel the old defensive mantra “bend but don’t break”. That means limit the big plays and try to hold the Falcons to more field goals than touchdowns. Easier said than done, but they don’t really have much of a choice here.
5. Don’t Focus Too Much On Julio: While Belichick is a master of taking away a team’s best weapon, he must understand that focusing too much on Julio Jones could be harmful in the long run. In games where Jones had less than 75 yards receiving, the Falcons are 4-1. Atlanta’s offense is so loaded, that a huge game from Jones is more of a luxury than a necessity. Focusing too much on Jones leaves room for Taylor Gabriel, Mohamed Sanu, DeVonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman to get free for big plays.
Falcons Keys to Victory
1. Attack Brady: The only recipe to thwarting Tom Brady is hoping for an off day or punishing him with a relentless pass rush. The Falcons have to force the issue and ensure that Brady can’t get into his offensive rhythm. Also, expect to see the Falcons corners try to play press coverage in an attempt to facilitate a more successful pass rush. The gameplan here is to make sure Brady is never comfortable and to get them off the field so the offense can get a maximum amount of snaps.
2. Freeman and Coleman: With all the talk about the Falcons offense, I never hear these two names mentioned. DeVonta Freeman has an excellent chance of being a Super Bowl MVP in the event the Patriots defense finds a way to limit a downfield passing attack. Previously I mentioned the hold em strategy implemented against the Bills in Super Bowl past. While Jim Kelly had tight windows to fit the ball through, Thurman Thomas had running lanes for days. That’s the weakness of such a strategy. If the Patriots do decide to attempt to recreate past magic, they could open themselves up to a punishing running game. Tevin Coleman is another name to look out for. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and make big plays can over-extend the Pats defense. With so many weapons, there are bound to be holes for the Falcons to exploit.
3. Secondary Must Be Ready: The one major concern for the Atlanta Falcons is their secondary and how they will deal with the Patriots receivers and Brady’s throws. Most of the Patriots playmaking receiver options are quick, but also aren’t that big. The Falcons should use that to their advantage and try to use a physical brand of play to offset any difference in speed. They also must find a way to cover long term in case their pass rush fails to make an impact. Finally, the must limit the yards after the catch of the Patriots receivers. Sound tackling is a must against this group.
4. Limit Turnovers: If turnovers are detrimental during a normal game, then they must be worth double in a Super Bowl. Turning the ball over means giving the Patriots more chances to go to work on offense. Also, it means more time on the field for the Falcons defense and less time for their offense. The Patriots make their living off of out-scheming their opponents and making less mistakes than them. Matt Ryan will need to keep that in mind and do his best to continue his near flawless postseason play
5. Offense Must Force Their Will: The number one scoring offense must play like the number one scoring offense. The Falcons must make sure that they’re playing their style of play on offense and not the style that the Patriots defense enforces on them. That means doing what they’ve done to their previous two opponents: spreading the ball around and scoring early and often.
Predictions: I know its foolish to bet against the Patriots, but I have no choice but to lean in that direction. A lot of people like to throw out that they have the top scoring defense in the NFL, but I believe that stat is vastly overrated. They haven’t played an elite offense at full health all year. When they played the Steelerss in the regular season, Ben Roethlisberger was absent with injury. When they played them again in the AFC Championship Game, Le’Veon Bell got injured early on. The top scoring defense in the league hasn’t been tested like they will be tested on Sunday. Meanwhile, I’ve seen the Falcons move the ball on Denver, torch Seattle and dominate Arizona. That’s three top five defenses. The Patriots will score their points as well, but they won’t be able to keep up with Atlanta. So I’m picking the Atlanta Falcons to capture their first Super Bowl by way of a 35-27 win over the Patriots.
Super Bowl MVP: DeVonta Freeman will be the MVP with over 100 total yards and two touchdowns.