New England Patriots (16-2 SU, 15-3 ATS) vs. Atlanta Falcons (13-5 SU, 12-6 ATS)
NFL Super Bowl LI Preview
Date/Time: Sunday February 5th, 2017. 6:30PM (EST)
Where: NRG Stadium Houston, T.X.
by Jay, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: NE -3/ATL +3
Over/Under Total: 59.5
Super Bowl LI will congregate on Sunday, February 5th inside NRG Stadium when the New England Patriots square off against the Atlanta Falcons for the Lombardi Trophy. This year’s Super Bowl matchup contains an exciting yet intriguing showdown between dynamic offenses. On one side of the field, you have the NFL’s MVP in quarterback Matt Ryan and the NFL’s best offense this season that has averaged an incredible 34.4 points per game. However on the other side of the field you have arguably the greatest quarterback of all-time in Tom Brady and perhaps the greatest coach of all-time in Bill Belichick who together will be seeking their unprecedented 5th Super Bowl victory.
The Patriots will be slight 3 point favorites when they meet the Falcons for the NFL Championship. On the season, New England established the best record in the league at 14-2 SU during the regular season with 1 of those 2 losses coming early in the year when Brady was serving his 4 game suspension. In fact since Brady’s return, the Patriots are 13-1 SU and 12-2 ATS giving them the best mark in the NFL against the books. Brady has been nothing short of incredible this season hitting 67% passing with 28 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions. Even with the loss of TE Rob Gronkowski earlier in the year, the Patriots have remained among the most efficient offenses in the league and Brady has shown no signs of slowing down.
WR Julian Edelman has become the target monster and has proven to be matchup proof for any defender on a weekly basis. Meanwhile the continued emergence of WR Chris Hogan has proven to be very valuable for the offense during the 2nd half of the season. Hogan cashed in on a 9-180-2 receiving line in the AFC Championship Game against the Steelers which was the best game of his career. Both Edelman and Hogan create some major concerns for the Atlanta defense that lacks superior talent at the corner positions. The Falcons have actually given up 266 yards per game through the air this season which ranks in the bottom 5 teams in the NFL. However Head Coach Dan Quinn, who made his reputation as the Defensive Coordinator of the Seahawks from 2013-2014, has done an excellent job of getting the best out of this Atlanta defense.
On paper, the Falcons’ defense does not have a ton of standout performers but they have done a tremendous job of getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks while disguising coverages. Linebacker Vic Beasley led the NFL in sacks this season with 15.5 in total and the team has compiled 39 on the year. The Atlanta defensive front has progressed tremendously under Quinn which is a big reason this Falcons team has become so dangerous considering all the offensive weapons that were already in place. In the NFC Championship Game, the Falcons consistently got pressure on Aaron Rodgers and were disruptive throughout the entire game. Rodgers is one of the most elusive quarterbacks in the league and Atlanta’s defense was able to rattle him during one of the hottest streaks of his career. Rodgers was sacked twice, hurried seemingly on every play, and ended the game hitting just 27 of 45 passing despite some garbage time touchdowns. Everyone knows the key to stopping the Patriots is getting pressure on Brady and Atlanta’s defense has been great at creating that type of pressure.
For the Patriots to win this game, I actually think they are going to need a big effort from one of the running backs most likely by the way of LeGarrette Blount. Blount has had a big year with 1,161 yards and 18 touchdowns. He has been one of the unsung heroes to this Patriots offense. Meanwhile Dion Lewis’s return late in the year provided a big boost in the AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Texans. Lewis scored 3 touchdowns in that game by way of return, receiving, and running. His role faded in the AFC Championship Game but he is still a reliable receiving option out of the backfield. I think Blount could be a strategic game option for Belichick due to his tenacious between the tackle running style. The Falcons have struggled against physical backs so it would not be surprising to see Blount be a focal point of the game plan for the Patriots.
Even though Belichick has Brady in his corner, the Patriots do not want this game to become a shootout. Without any doubt, they are going to try to control the pace of the game and that is why I think Blount will be used heavily. Atlanta’s offense has too many weapons that must be respected and the Patriots are going to have a hard enough time covering them without any increased game flow. As I alluded to before, Matt Ryan has posted an MVP type of season with 4,944 yards with 38 touchdowns and just 7 picks. Those numbers are just incredible and he has tossed touchdown passes to 13 different receivers during the season to show the variety of options at his disposal. However, Ryan is just one piece of the dangerous puzzle that makes up this Atlanta offense.
The Falcons have the best running back duo in the NFL with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Freeman usually gets about 60% of the snaps and has produced 1,079 yards with 11 touchdowns on the ground with another 462 yards and 2 touchdowns receiving. Coleman has traditionally been the better pass catching option and has 31 catches for 421 yards with 3 touchdowns on the season. However, both backs are equally dangerous running or catching the football out of the backfield. There really has not been a distinction in the running back role despite which tailback was on the field and that is a credit to both Freeman and Coleman’s capabilities.
As talented as the Falcons running backs are, I think the Patriots biggest concerns surrounding stopping Ryan and perhaps most importantly WR Julio Jones. If you did not think Jones was the best WR in the league before the NFC Championship Game, hopefully he changed your mind after posting a 9-180-2 receiving line despite numerous attempts by Green Bay Defensive Coordinator Don Capers to give help over the top. Instead, Jones shredded the Packers defense and opened up holes for the rest of the offense to execute with ease. It is going to be very interesting to see how the Patriots try to defend Jones. Do they put Malcolm Butler on an island and hope for the best? Do they put Logan Ryan on that side of the field with safety help? Or do they sell out even more to stop Jones? Those answers will likely determine how Atlanta attacks the Patriots defense from a strategic standpoint. The good news for Atlanta is even outside of the tailbacks, they have Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel that can make plays if Jones has multiple bodies shadowing. Jones is already having an impact on this game and he has not even taken the field yet so it will be telling to see how that matchup unfolds when both sides lineup on February 5th.
Jay's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: If you go by trends, then the stats say bet on the Patriots in this game. They have been the best money makers in the NFL this season against the spread, Brady houses a 4-2 SU Super Bowl record, and the Falcons are 0-5 ATS in their last 5 playoff games as an underdog.
With that being said, I do not believe in trends especially during Super Bowl time and especially when the trends date back to unreliable usage. As far as the matchups, scheme, and game flow that hold the biggest prediction indicators, I believe Atlanta holds the edge almost across the board. I never like to bet against Belichick because in my opinion he is the best coach in the NFL in preparation and on game day. However, I do not see the Patriots having the defensive personnel to stop Atlanta in this game. Additionally, the Falcons have shown they can disrupt one of the top offenses/quarterbacks in the league with pressure and I expect that to be the case again on Super Bowl Sunday. Take Atlanta +3 with full confidence!
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