Well, after all of the anticipation it is finally here. Super Bowl LI is a mere two days away, and its time to preview the big game.
The showdown features one team, the New England Patriots, that seem like they are in the big game almost every year for the past 20 years. A true testament to an unparalleled organization. However, maybe Robert Kraft should stay away from the bourbon until after the post-game speeches, should the Patriots win of course. His post-game acceptance interview after the AFC Conference Championship sounded like a byte from a Joe Namath sideline interview.
The Atlanta Falcons, the second team attending the big dance, is relatively new to the big stage. This will be their second appearance, the first a loss to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII. Dan Quinn, in his second season as head coach, has turned the Falcons into a consistent force, and with Kyle Shanahan as his OC, has created one of the most potent offenses in the NFL.
Let’s take a look at some of the numbers for each team during the regular season.[table id=12 /]
Offensively speaking, both teams are fairly evenly matched but I do give the edge to the Falcons. The Patriots, in my opinion, have a proven system in place that allows for minimal mistakes and utilizes the best strength that each player has.
Josh McDaniels’ number one weapon should be LaGarrette Blount. I would run him 30+ times to keep the ball in Brady’s hands and out of Ryan’s.
The Falcons have a much more exciting and explosive offense, with quite frankly, just better playmakers, aside from maybe Brady. The three-headed monster of Julio Jones, DeVonta Freeman, and Tevin Coleman is an extremely difficult one to slow down.
During the 2016 regular season, the Falcons scored less than 20 points only once, a 24-15 Week 10 loss to the Eagles in Philadelphia.
Including the postseason, Atlanta scored 30+ points 13 times and scored 40+ points 6 times. Those are pretty eye-popping stats and if Sunday turns into a shootout, the Patriots will have a tough time keeping up. Just ask the Packers and Seahawks.
Now some numbers from the defensive side of the ball.[table id=13 /]
Based on these numbers the Patriots have a huge advantage. They were an extremely efficient defense that didn’t necessarily blow you away with a ton of sacks or turnovers, but they were the best in the league in the category that matters the most: points allowed.
Allowing only 15.6 points per game is undeniably impressive.
However, I do believe that these numbers were a little skewed based on the level of competition faced.
Here is a look at the quarterbacks each team faced based on total QBR, as gathered by ESPN statistics.[table id=14 /]
Based on the sheer numbers, the Patriots only faced 3 quarterbacks all season that ranked 15th in QBR or better, while the Falcons faced 6 quarterbacks that ranked 15th or better in QBR. If you included the times they played a quarterback multiple times, the Patriots faced a QB 4 times with a top 15 QBR, and the Falcons faced a QB 10 times with a top 15 QBR.
The Patriots faced 4 QBS that did not have enough data to collect a QBR, and the Falcons face 2 such quarterbacks.
Now while I do still believe that the Patriots have a very solid defense, and I would still give them the edge over the Falcons D, it is a fair point that they would have most certainly given up more points had they faced Aaron Rodgers twice, Drew Brees twice, or even an Alex Smith or Derek Carr.
Now they have to face the quarterback with the 1st overall QBR in Matt Ryan. It will be the Patriots toughest test of the entire season, without a doubt.
Tom Brady ranks 2nd in total QBR. Without a question, New England will be Atlanta’s toughest opponent to date.
And that is the way it should be.
The best team from each conference play in one game, a winner-take-all slugfest. A true testament of wills and heart.
If Dan Quinn and the Falcons defense can get pressure on Tom Brady, I like Atlanta in this game. But if Brady picks them apart methodically, churning out long extended drives, then New England will be on the podium with the world watching Roger Goodell hand the Lombardi Trophy to Patriots owner Robert Kraft (and I think a lot of people want to see this go down).
In the end, I think the Falcons offense is just too much. What better way to open a new stadium next season in Atlanta than with a Super Bowl parade. Falcons by 3, 33-30.