There are three things the Average Nobodies don’t partake in: drinking low fat milk, wearing the same two socks and using roman numerals. That’s why this is a Super Bowl 51 prediction blog, not a Super Bowl random capital letters blog. Anyway, we’re finally here. The wild card, divisional and championship rounds of the playoffs are complete and we’re down to the last two surviving teams. Will Tom Brady win his record breaking 5th Super Bowl or will Matt Ryan win his 1st? No matter the outcome, this game should be fantastic. Both teams are playing great football, as the Pats just ended Pittsburgh’s 9 game win streak to advance and the Falcons ended Green Bay’s 8 gamer. Here’s how I picture fans of both teams dealing with lead changes throughout the game:
The story of this game in most preview posts is about the Falcons top ranked offense versus the Patriots top ranked defense, but the beauty of both these teams is how balanced they are on both sides of the ball. The Falcons defense has been ferocious in the playoffs, blitzing teams constantly and refusing to let opposing offenses get into a rhythm. While the Seahawks offensive line has been in shambles all season, the Atlanta defense was especially impressive last week versus the Packers. Rodgers and Green Bay dominated opposing defenses over the last half of the season and into the playoffs, but thanks to constant pressure from the Falcons, they were never able to get going and faced a 24-0 deficit at halftime. The Falcons did this against an offensive line that was giving Rodgers all day to either scramble or find open receivers during their 8 game win streak , and they’ll need to be even better against Tom Brady.
While the Pats defense was ranked #1 this year in points allowed, their offense hasn’t been too shabby either, and most of that credit has to go to the ageless Tom Brady. The only way the Falcons are going to win is if they mimic and execute the game plans of the Giants and Broncos from playoff game’s past. In the 2008 Super Bowl, the Giants sacked Brady eight times and pressured him pretty much all game. In the 2012 Super Bowl, the Giants only sacked Brady twice, but they again pressured him all day, even forcing a 1st quarter intentional grounding penalty that lead to the first nine points of the game for New York. The Broncos did more of the same in the 2016 AFC Championship game, sacking Brady four times, picking him off twice and allowing him to complete only 48% of his passes. While the stats paint a picture of those three games, watching them live tell the whole story. Brady was unable to hit his running backs or receivers because of constant pressure, and even if he wasn’t sacked or picked off, he was getting knocked down or rushed.
The key for the Falcons will be blitzing and getting to Brady frequently, but that’s easier said than done. A lot of that has to do with this stat I found in Bill Barnwell’s Super Bowl preview: “when defenses blitzed him this year, Brady went 61-of-99 for 838 yards with 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions, taking just two sacks in the process”. That has to be a depressing stat if you’re a Falcons fan, because it basically tells you there’s no stopping Tom Brady. You can’t sit back and coverage without pressure, because he’ll pick you apart. You also can’t blitz him every down, because he’s been almost perfect against those packages this year. Assuming the Falcons blitz consistently, Brady won’t have a lot of time to find receivers down the field. If that’s the case, the key for Brady is going to be Dion Lewis and James White out of backfield, as well as pounding the ball inside with Blount. LeGarrette will be especially important because of the presence of NFL sack leader Vic Beasley, who will be looking to pressure Tom Brady on passing downs. Another stat to pay attention to from Barnwell’s article: “When opposing teams have three or more wideouts on the field, Beasley has played 74.6 percent of snaps. When they have two wideouts or fewer, Beasley’s playing time dips to just 19.7 percent of snaps”. If the Pats can keep Beasley off the field AND have success with Blount, this game will be over by halftime.
Working in the Falcons favor is their supremely talented offense, but they’ll be going against a Bill Belichick defense that has had two weeks to prepare. That sounds like a cliché, but the guy has already won 6 Super Bowls as a defensive coordinator or head coach, so it’s safe to say he knows a little bit about preparing for an offense. Belichick specializes in taking away the best player or part of an opposing teams offense, and that will start and end with Julio Jones. Julio has had a quiet postseason so far, combining for only 15 catches, 247 yards and three touchdowns. While New England neutralized Antonio Brown last week, with all respect to AB, Jones is a different kind of monster and has a better quarterback. AB is listed at 5’10 180 while Jones is listed at 6’4 220, and Julio is able to be a dual threat at all times. He’s bigger and stronger than most corners, which is invaluable around the goal line, but he’s also a menace after the catch which he showed on last week’s 73 yard touchdown vs. Green Bay. Much like neutralizing Brady, shutting down Jones is easier said than done. Similar to Lewis and White for the Pats, Atlanta has a 1-2 punch of their own in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Both are great pass catchers and excel at YAC, so if New England starts to get pressure on Matt Ryan, expect a lot of screens and dump offs.
The only thing left to do is play the game. Pats are favored by 3 points with an over/under sitting at 58. I’m going with Tom Brady to win his fifth ring, and I think it’s time we have a serious discussion about renaming the Lombardi Trophy the Belichick Trophy.
Pick: Patriots 41 Falcons 28