Super Bowl LI Prediction: Can the Dirty Birds #RiseUp to dethrone New England?
Super Bowls are where legends are made and legacies are cemented, for better or worse. The Patriots are a dynasty that makes deep postseason runs look nonchalant while Atlanta is “rising up” for their 2nd Super Bowl in team history. One team is an old dynasty that has a stranglehold on the league, while the other is an upstart trying to establish themselves as a serious challenger to the throne. The talent level on both sides of the field is staggering, so sit back and enjoy what will be a wildly entertaining game of football.
New England (-3) @ Atlanta, Sunday 6:30 ET
The Patriots enter their 7th Super Bowl in the Brady/Belichick era looking to add a 5th title to their Hall of Fame careers. They are the best player/coach combo in NFL history while individually presenting a tough to beat case as the greatest of all time at their respective jobs. The debates about who is more important to the success of the franchise is tiresome. We know Brady would have been a successful quarterback without Bill and the latter would have found his way to the postseason with another signal caller as well. But together is when each is at their best. They are the Gregg Popovich/Tim Duncan of football. Pop and the Big Fundamental exhibited consistency throughout their 19 years together guiding the San Antonio Spurs to 5 championships themselves. Much like Popovich is doing now in leading the Spurs seamlessly without Duncan, Belichick will find his new quarterback is still around after Brady retires whenever that may be. We will see if they are capable of equaling the 5 rings of their NBA counterpart.
On to the game, New England has cake-walked through an injury-riddled AFC with their Super Bowl appearance seeming all but inevitable as they finished the regular season 14–2. Tom Brady played his way into the MVP discussion despite missing the first 4 games of the season via suspension after throwing 28 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions. Brady could find success against an Atlanta defense towards the bottom of the league in pass defense and starts rookies across the board. The Falcons’ make up for the lack of experience with a defensive unit filled with speed. The ground game will be vital for New England as LeGarrette Blount has the strength to run through an undersized front seven for Atlanta. Julian Edelman will be matched up with a rookie in the slot most of the game, so expect another heavy output for the recipient of the game-winning score in the Super Bowl two years ago. This could be Brady’s most balanced group of playmakers in his career even without Gronk, and they’ll need to score at a fast rate if they want to keep up with the league’s number one offense.
Matt Ryan will be recognized as the NFL MVP on Saturday night after a career year for the former Boston College standout. This offense led the league with 33.8 PPG and hasn’t slowed down in the postseason posting 80 points through the first two games. Soon to be 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has orchestrated brilliant game plans all season long and will now square off with the league’s top scoring defense led by Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. New England prides itself on limiting their opposition’s greatest offensive threat, which in this contest is Julio Jones (more on him in a bit), but there is much more to this unit than their star receiver. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman spearhead a two-man backfield that implements damage wherever they line-up. Mohamed Sanu Sr. is proving to be an underrated free agent singing this offseason at wide out as well as speedster Taylor Gabriel, who is capable of taking it to the house every time he touches the ball. Austin Hooper is starting to make a name for himself at the tight end position with coaches paying little attention to him with all of the talent around him. It truly is pick your poison when zeroing in on one aspect of the Falcons’ offense to contain. The injury to center Alex Mack is concerning, but he will suit up and anchor a much-improved offensive line. And with the MVP spreading the wealth around. I would struggle to pick against them.
In past Super Bowls that pit the league’s top offense versus top defense, it’s been the defenders that have come away with victory on 4 of the last 5 occasions. Belichick has a track record with an extra week of preparation that would make you think that trend would continue, but he has struggled to contain wide receivers throughout his 6 Super Bowls. His Patriots’ defenses have surrendered four 100-yard receivers in those contests. And that was when the likes of Ty Law and Rodney Harrison were patrolling the secondary while Richard Seymour and Willie McGinest wreaked havoc on opposing quarterbacks. These players aren’t walking through the door Sunday and I don’t see the game changers on this Pats’ defense that give me confidence they will be stop Atlanta because nobody has to date.
The Falcons have advantages in two key aspects on offense: their running backs pass-catching ability vs. New England’s slower-footed linebackers and Julio Jones. Freeman and Coleman will have opportunities for big plays, but this game has a Julio-takeover written all over it. Jones has answered two weeks’ worth of questions on the type of coverage he will see on Sunday and I don’t think it matters. His NFC Conference Championship game explosion for 180 and 2 TDs will set the stage for something greater this time around. One of the Patriots defensive backs, Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler in particular, will likely shadow Jones with safety help over the top, but they’ve been largely untested throughout the season. I fully expect Julio to assert himself as the best player on the field and have a 2009 Super Bowl Larry Fitzgerald performance (7/127/2 TDs). Fitzgerald was a monster in that game nearly winning the title for the Cardinals after he took a slant route 64 yards for the go-ahead score before ultimately falling in the dying seconds. Jones will make that type of impact, but finishes what Larry couldn’t bring home.
This game will come down to the wire with both teams marching up and down the field on each other making for an entertaining back-and-forth battle. New England is the favorite based off their experience in seemingly always playing into late January, but is experience going to stop this year’s Greatest Show on Turf? I am not convinced they are equipped to do so defensively. Brady will keep them in the game with Chris Hogan and Edelman making big plays themselves, but Matt Ryan and Atlanta will prove to be too much firepower for New England to keep up.
The Atlanta Falcons will win the Super Bowl with Julio Jones being named the MVP, 34–31.