For as much as the preceding playoff games have been ripped to shreds, the big game is getting just as much positive attention. Two high-powered offenses meet while each team couldn’t really be more different. Both teams have sneaky good defenses that have been productive in varying degrees throughout the season.
If you want experience, the New England Patriots have it. If you want a plethora of dynamic options on offense, the Atlanta Falcons have that. But what can we really decipher between these two teams that will make all the difference in determining the outcome? Experts agree that this is as much a toss-up as any recent Super Bowl we’ve seen.
Tom Brady is deservedly getting the proclamations of “greatest all-time” thrown his way along with his coach, Bill Belichick. But much like the Cowboys were built around a strong offensive line, it could be that make-shift group that has morphed into a strong unit and been the stabilizing figure for this offense. Then again, it could also be the Pats’ way of distributing the ball that has led to their success over the course of the season.
LeGarrette Blount was a top 5 running back to begin the year and now you’ve seen him get as much usage as both James White and Dion Lewis. This is not a bad thing. Without Rob Gronkowski, New England has been able to continue to go to Martellus Bennett while stretching the field with Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan.
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots have gotten a rebirth from Chris Long and a well-rounded version of Jabaal Sheard. Guys like Devin McCourty and Logan Ryan have become legit top-level players in the secondary. Ryan will likely walk in free agency and someone will plug in right after him. It’s just how this franchise has been able to seamlessly operate. That’s without mentioning Malcolm Butler.
This defense won’t overwhelm anyone. They won’t cause tons of turnovers and they won’t hold Atlanta below 20 points. But they might make timely tackles. They also might get some 3 and outs. And they won’t make tons of costly mistakes that alter the game’s outcome (i.e. personal fouls, horrendous PI calls, etc.).
Matt Ryan has had a lot to live up to. A high draft pick with a lot of mediocre years can weigh on a guy. Finding any commonality in comparisons to players with Super Bowl rings can be emotionally taxing. But it’s not fair to put all the blame on Ryan’s broad shoulders. It takes a shitty team to go several seasons with a losing record.
Enter Julio Jones. This guy can make all the plays (he can also drop balls). At his best he is perhaps the most dominating wide receiver in the NFL. At his worst, he’s still better than most. Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler won’t be able to stop him. They might be able to contain him.
Fortunately, the Atlanta Falcons don’t need Julio Jones to be dominant. They really don’t even need him to be good. But when he is, they are almost impossible to stop. Want to toss it out in the flat and ask for YAC all day like the Pats do with Julian Edelman? Here comes Taylor Gabriel to save the day. Want another guy to stretch the field and go over the top of defenses like New England does with Chris Hogan? Mohamed Sanu is your guy.
There’s even a balanced running game that can take over at any point in time. Devonta Freeman has the breakaway speed and Tevin Coleman will run over you. Both are very good receivers out of the backfield and running it in short-yardage situations. That’s without mentioning the guys at TE and FB that make cameos from time to time. That’s how Matt Ryan has been able to do it.
Yet there is some defense being played in Atlanta. This isn’t New Orleans after all. And it’s not just Vic Beasley Jr. doing it all on his own. Deion Jones, Jonathan Babineaux, Tyson Jackson, and a host of other talented players make this group really go.
Again, Super Bowl 51 won’t be a big defensive struggle. But predicting 80+ points may be a bit far-fetched as well. This game is really going to be about who makes the least mistakes. What team can force an early turnover and get the momentum on their side and what team can use special teams to their advantage? Special teams always play a big role in the Super Bowl and this outcome will be no different. Falcons 38, Patriots 30