Super Bowl Preview—Clash of Offenses

Here’s what to expect from the big game tomorrow (hint: it won’t be low-scoring)

When all the noise fades from two fanbases taking shots at each other, the true beauty of the Super Bowl emerges. The Falcons and Patriots are objectively two of the best teams in the NFL this season, and both squads have proved themselves time and time again this postseason. It’s time to just finally play some football.

Ultimately, this game will be a shootout. Neither defense should be able to do much against the opposing offense — more on that in a moment—and the most likely outcome is thus a scoring contest that could easily come down to the final possession. With two of the top three quarterbacks this season (I’d have the order going Ryan-Rodgers-Brady), this is a game worthy of a championship classic.

Many have billed this game as “elite Pats defense versus elite Atlanta offense.” This is wrong. The Falcons offense is easily much better than the Patriots defense, even if they look comparable at first glance. According to Football Outsiders, the New England defense is only average (16th in the league overall).

Football Outsiders

I’m not the only one to notice this, either. As an ESPN writer noted…

New England led the NFL in fewest points allowed during the regular season, but that ranking doesn’t tell the full story.

Now, in all fairness, these advanced metrics tell a similarly depressing story about Atlanta’s defense as well. Ranking 27th out of 32, this Falcons team hardly inspires fear in other teams either. It’s easy to forget during Atlanta’s destruction of the Packers last week, but Green Bay ended the game with 21 points. Even with some early mistakes, Rodgers had a better game than it looked like.

Flip the script to offense, and you have the Falcons and Patriots at first and second in the league, respectively. This statistic makes more sense, since both teams have had no trouble scoring on their opponents all year. Add two average-or-worse defenses to two elite offenses, and you end up with a pretty decent chance of seeing the offensive shootout that we were promised two weeks ago in the NFC Championship.

There’s also the experience angle to consider, which the Patriots win by virtue of their multiple Super Bowls. And, of course, no preview of an Atlanta sporting event would be complete without talking about recent playoff collapses. I haven’t checked, but I’d bet good money that several talking heads around the country are talking about how the Falcons can’t possibly be ready for a stage of this magnitude. They’re young, after all, and they aren’t used to winning at the highest level.

But, as I’ve said many times, it’s unfair to saddle one team with a previous generation’s failures, and I don’t think the Falcons will choke or struggle on this stage. Matt Ryan is a seasoned veteran by now, and other key players (like Julio Jones) are old enough to have the requisite experience for a game this big. The argument that Brady and Belichick have more experience is real, but the idea that the Falcons aren’t ready for this game is simply foolish.

If both teams have elite offenses, and the Patriots have a better defense, one strain of thought would say that New England is set up for an easy victory. However, the truth of this matchup is far more complicated than that. Both teams have become more and more dominant over the past few weeks (as one would expect during playoff runs), and much of this game will be determined by which offense is able to play just a little better than its counterpart.

Super Bowl Sunday is, for almost all purposes, a national holiday. Flanked by halftime performances, celebrity appearances, and the highest ratings of any sporting event in the nation, the actual game itself is often overshadowed. But it’s here, and it’s time for one of the best days of the year.

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