SUPER BOWL LI
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
In a game featuring future Hall of Famer Tom Brady versus this year's league MVP Matt Ryan, I expect both quarterbacks to play well and engineer scoring drives. That said, I see this match-up boiling down to which defense makes more key plays ... and not necessarily which offense gets more possessions.
Is Atlanta's young defense gelling at the right time? Are they up for the task?
Maybe ... but that remains to be seen.
I'm sure, however, Tom Brady will put their young defense (featuring more than just a few rookies and second year players at several key positions) to the ultimate test.
The Falcons are middle of the pack (16th) in sacks. However, linebacker Vic Beasley led the league with 15.5 sacks. That's the good news. Here's the bad: If the Falcons can't get to Brady utilizing only their front four, they're in big trouble. The rest of their defense makes me want to say, hmmm. During the regular season, Atlanta allowed the 8th most yards per game, the 6th most total points, and 6th most points per game. They were also the 9th most penalized defense in the NFL. Which, against Tom Brady, any little mistake may prove costly. In the playoffs, they've so far limited Seattle to 20 points, and Green Bay to 21 points. That's a number Matty Ice can work with. But if the Falcons defense reverts back to (early) regular season form, or reveal their inexperience, look out. Last week the Patriots put up 36 points against a better, more experienced Pittsburgh Steelers defense.
Matt Ryan is facing bend-don't-break. Bill Belichick insists his secondary keep their man in front of them, insists on making sure tackles, and denying Atlanta yards after catch. Then once in the red-zone the Pats tighten things up another notch.
Simon Bar Sinister won't blitz much, if at all, so it's up to Matt Ryan to execute. Easier said than done. Expect Belichick attempting to negate Julio Jones. Sinister's second priority will be stopping the run. And there's the rub. Atlanta center Alex Mack is compromised with a fractured fibula. How that affects Devonta Freeman's ability to find daylight also remains to be seen. But in my opinion, this is huge! No center; No running game. I believe this development will negatively impact Atlanta.
I still respect Atlanta's offense, though. They led the league in scoring for a reason. They have depth.
That being said, I believe if Matt Ryan is going to beat New England's defense, he'll need to find Austin Hooper and Mohammed Sanu in order to get it done.
Here's the bottom line ... if New England keeps Atlanta under 25 points, Patriots win. Atlanta scored 36 points against a good Seattle defense..? Then went on to put up another 44 points against a woefully depleted Green Bay unit.
In other words, there's a reason the spread is only three points.
I am still a Bill Belichick minion, loyal to him since his years as defensive coordinator of the Giants. In Super Bowl competition, I've seen this man limit John Elway and the Denver Broncos to 20 points, Jim Kelly and the juggernaut Buffalo Bills to 19 points, and Kurt Warner and the greatest show on turf St. Louis Rams to 17 points. Through eight SB appearance with the Giants/Patriots, Belichick defenses have limited the opposition to an average of 21 points per games. Carolina managed 29 points during a losing effort in SB XXXVIII. That was one of the more wackiest games in SB recollection. Jack Delhomme of all people threw for 323 yards (16/33) and three touchdowns. Take that game away, and Belichick's average-against drops to 19 points per game. In other words, this man has devised defensive schemes for all comers ... Russell Wilson, Elway, Warner, Kelly, Eli Manning, Donovan McNabb ... you name it.
These are two good teams. The Patriots are just that ... the Patriots. But the Falcons are legit. Both teams feature competent, productive offensive units. Both can run with power and play methodically, or implement a controlled passing attack and/or strike quickly. Pick your poison ...
I boil this game down to one basic element: New England's defense is better than that of the Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta's youth can mean speed to the ball, but it can also mean mistakes, or just lack of experience. There's a lot of tricks up both Bill Belichick's and Tom Brady's sleeve. Maybe, one too many.
Or, just enough to cover three points. I'm 6-0 straight up through the divisional and championship games, and 5-1 vs. the spread. What the hell, right?
PATRIOTS -3 (FALCONS)
Super Bowl I