When: February 5, 2017
Kickoff: 6:30 p.m. EST
Where: NRG Stadium, Houston, TX
Radio: 92.9 The Game
The Atlanta Falcons will battle the New England Patriots in their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. The two best quarterbacks all year square off in the biggest stage of them all. Likely to be the MVP, Matt Ryan leads his team into the biggest game of their career. The Falcons were the second seed in the NFC, and they beat Seattle and Green Bay to get to this stage. New England was the first seed in the AFC, and they beat Houston and Pittsburgh to position themselves for their record-setting ninth Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. The top-ranked offense will face off against the top-ranked scoring defense, and this is a matchup for the ages. Dan Quinn will lead his soldiers into battle against a team that seems to always be playing for the Lombardi trophy. Will the Patriots prove yet again why they are the best in the NFL? Will Atlanta continue this magical season and find a way to finish on top for the first time in franchise history?
Atlanta Falcons (Both likely to play): WR Julio Jones (toe), C Alex Mack (Fibula).
New England Patriots (All limited in practice): Limited in Practice- WR Danny Amendola (ankle), TE Martellus Bennett (knee), LB Dont’a Hightower (shoulder), WR Malcolm Mitchell (knee), Jabaal Sheard (knee), RB Brandon Bolden (knee) DL Alan Branch (toe).
We preview the key matchups below.
The Head Coaching Battle: Bill Belichick is the greatest football coach in NFL history. The man has led the Patriots to four Super Bowl victories, and currently attempting to lead his team to his fifth out of his seven tries. The man on the other side is Falcons second-year coach, Dan Quinn. This will be the third Super Bowl Quinn will appear in the past four championships. Quinn has approached his team as “a brotherhood”, and he has everyone bought in, including the city of Atlanta. Belichick is known for his masterful gameplans, but Quinn has instilled his trust in his team to play their roles. Belichick will have his hands full with Atlanta’s incredible offense, but Quinn will have his hands full with Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback of all-time.
Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman vs Patriots Front Seven: The Falcons have to get their run game going. It will be critical for Freeman and Coleman to start off hot early and keep it going. Belichick and Matt Patricia (Patriots defensive coordinator) know that the Falcons are especially dangerous with a running game that works. If the run game gets going, the opposing defenses have to respect the run, which in-turn opens up the passing and play-action plays, leaving the defensive backs susceptible to big plays. Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan thrives off play-action, as he called it on 26% of the offensive plays this season. If the Patriots stop Atlanta’s backs, then the offense can have some serious issues throughout the game. Matt Ryan is playing his first Super Bowl game, and he will be shaky at the start. Quarterbacks tend to lean on their running backs at the beginning of big games in order to take away their nerves. This will be a very key matchup to start out with.
Patriots Running Backs vs Falcons Front Seven: Another key matchup, just opposite as the one above. The Patriots will rely on their three-headed monster in LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis, and James White. They are 16-0 with Dion Lewis in the lineup, so it seems as New England thrives with Lewis. Blount will get the bulk of the carries, and Atlanta’s front seven will have to clog up the A and B gaps against the Patriots. They had the seventh ranked rushing attack this season, and averaging just under 80 yards per game in the postseason. Ra’Shede Hageman, Grady Jarrett, Jonathan Babineaux, and Courtney Upshaw will have to be absolute run-stoppers in this game, as Quinn and Richard Smith will rely on these four to clog up any holes on Blount. For Lewis and White, they are weapons catching out of the backfield, so Atlanta’s linebackers will have to play clever, fast, and physical football against these two. Limit New England’s backs, as it is one of the best ways to beat the Patriots.
Falcons Offensive Line vs Patriots Defensive Line: Matt Ryan has benefited throughout the year from his teammates, as the offensive line for Atlanta has played near flawless at times. With the addition of center Alex Mack solidifying the line, the front five have been a cohesive unit that has allowed Atlanta’s offense to play the way they do. The Patriots have a couple pass-rushers in Chris Long, Dont’a Hightower, and Trey Flowers. Falcons offensive tackles Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder will have to make sure the keep the pocket clean and not allow free blitzers.
New England will run a lot of stunts to confuse the Falcons linemen, which is why having such an incredibly talented and smart center in Alex Mack is essential, as he will be calling out everything he sees to Ryan and the offensive line. If the Falcons can keep the pocket like the picture to right, Ryan will likely have a big game.
Falcons Secondary vs Tom Brady: Big time players step up in big time games. That is why Tom Brady has four Super Bowl rings and looking for his fifth. Everyone has doubted Atlanta’s secondary all year, but they have come off stellar performances against two very talented quarterbacks in Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen will have their hands full in trying to stop the rushing attack and also stopping Brady. Cornerbacks Robert Alford, Jalen Collins, and Brian Poole are all playing in their first Super Bowl, and they will cover guys such as Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola, and others. Neal will most likely be matched up against Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett in man-on-man situations. I’m looking for Allen to be the leader back in the secondary, and for him to make the big plays. With his closing speed, look for Allen to do everything in his power to create a turnover for Atlanta. But it will be key for Atlanta’s defense to get off the field because keeping Brady off the field is very important in beating New England.
New England Players to Watch:
Dion Lewis and James White (Offense): These guys are not your prototypical running backs. White had the second most receptions for the Patriots in the regular season with 60, and Lewis had 17 receptions in the 7 games he played. They are quick, agile, and elusive out of the backfield. Brady has trusted his running backs catching out of the backfield in the past couple of years. Shane Vareen had 11 receptions in the Super Bowl two years ago, which is a record for receptions from a running back. The Falcons linebackers will have to be exactly what Dan Quinn preaches, “fast and physical” against these backs, otherwise it could be a very long night.
Dont’a Hightower (Defense): The most physical player on the Patriots roster, Dont’a Hightower is one of the most feared linebackers in the league. Hightower is a physical freak and more of a run-stopper as a linebacker. He can also get after the quarterback, so when he blitzes, the running backs must pick him up to keep him away from Ryan. He will be all over the field on Sunday, and he is the leader of the Patriots defensive unit.
Atlanta Players to Watch:
Matt Ryan (Offense): The offense runs through Matt Ryan, so of course he is the player to watch. Just like everybody else, Ryan has so much on the line in this game. Players tend to shy away from talking about themselves, but Matt Ryan knows this game means a lot for his legacy to the game of football. The offense runs through Ryan, and he has led Atlanta to historical numbers this season. His astronomical numbers will likely land him the MVP of the NFL, but Ryan would much rather have a Super Bowl than an MVP. Ryan will be facing a Patriots defense that likes to create turnovers, already notching five in two games this postseason. Ryan will have to calm himself come kickoff time, as many Patriots already have Super Bowl experience. Matt Ryan is the engine to this team, and will have to deal with all the pressure and adversity as the leader. Why I believe Ryan does well this game is because of the fierce competition Atlanta has played throughout the regular season and postseason. In a season full of exceeding expectations, Matt Ryan looks to keep that trend going.
Ricardo Allen (Defense): This is the guy who will have to have the game of his career on Sunday. Allen has played great football as of late, and he and Keanu Neal are forming a safety tandem that offenses are starting to fear. Allen will have his hands full with Tom Brady, and he will have to make sure he keeps everything in front of him. The Patriots will go for an aggressive down the field play-call from time to time, and it’s not very often. But when they go for it, they have been pretty effective. Allen will have to do everything in his power to not allow Brady to make a big play and let any receivers get behind him. He will also have to find ways to out-smart Brady, who has one of the highest football IQ’s in the history of the game. Look for Allen in this game, as Atlanta will call his number to make plays for the defense. If Allen can be a ballhawk and make a play in the highlight below on Sunday, I like Atlanta’s chances.
Michael Arkin: This is a matchup that everyone wants to see. The Patriots and Falcons steamrolled their competition on their way to the Super Bowl. I see this game going back and forth. With only four Falcons players having Super Bowl experience, I think it will show early in the game. They have to weather the storm though, and after the first drive, Atlanta will be back to normal. It will be very important for the Falcons to open up a legitimate running game, as I believe Belichick will do his best to stop Atlanta’s Freeman and Coleman. He did the same thing against the Rams in the Super Bowl when they owned one of the greatest running backs in history in Marshall Faulk.
Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all-time, and he will not make many mistakes. There is always opportunities though, and the Falcons defense will have to capitalize on those very few opportunities the Patriots give them. Winning the turnover margin has done wonders for this team, and they will need to zero-in on creating turnovers to give Matt Ryan the ball back. Also, Atlanta’s defense and offense will have to win third-downs, as that will be a key factor in this Super Bowl. The defense has to get off the field and stop the Patriots on third-downs, while Ryan and the offense have to keep converting in order keep drives alive.
The Falcons will take the lead late in the game, and the Patriots will have a chance to tie the game back up with a minute left. But one of the guys on our defense will make a play, and that is veteran Dwight Freeney. Freeney will use his spin move, strip sack Brady, and the Falcons will recover and line up in victory formation. The Falcons will bring the city of Atlanta their first ever Super Bowl in their franchise’s history.
Final Score: Atlanta 31, New England 24
Chase Irle: There is very little doubt that these are the best two teams in all of football. They have dominated late in the season on their way to Houston. However, the Falcons have had a much tougher road to get there, and I think that makes all the difference. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are tough to pick against in any game, but they have yet to see a team near the caliber of the Falcons all season long. Arguably their toughest matchup came at home versus Seattle. A game the Patriots actually lost.
The Falcons have mismatches all over the field on offense. The Patriots are going to have a tough time getting pressure with four against a stellar Falcons offensive line, so they are going to be forced to bring extra guys to get to Matt Ryan. With a multitude of options, Ryan has shredded blitzing defenses as good as anyone this year, and that will likely happen again if the Patriots opt to bring extra pressure.
The Patriots are going to have to keep up with the Falcons on the scoreboard or take the air out of the ball and limit the number of possessions the Falcons have. The latter is much easier said than done, especially when Atlanta is capable of scoring in bunches very quickly, forcing opposing teams to pass the ball. If the Patriots had Rob Gronkowski, this is a different ball game. However, I do not think they have the weapons to light up a Falcons defense that has gotten a lot better since the bye week. I have picked the Falcons by double digits in both playoff games so far and I am not stopping now.
Final Score: Atlanta 38, New England 27
Jake Gordon: I think this is the first game we see Tom Brady really miss Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots are a team that doesn’t put up a lot of points in the first half, and that is where the Falcons thrive. If Atlanta puts points up on the board early, Brady’s favorite deep threat is on the sideline. Also, this Dan Quinn defense has been way better than anyone has anticipated with the emergence of Vic Beasley, Deion Jones, and Keanu Neal. They will hold their own. My prediction is that Atlanta jumps on New England out of the gate, and Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense match the Pats step for step after the second quarter. Too much offensive talent on offense for Atlanta to lose.
Final Score: Atlanta 41, New England 34
Harrison Coburn: First and foremost, I think this Super Bowl will be a good game, and I think both teams have what it takes to win. Bill Belichick is one of the best game planners in NFL history, and he will find his holes in a very improved Falcons defense. However, he is missing his biggest mismatch in Rob Gronkowski. For Tom Brady, it has been business as usual despite Gronk’s absense. This is a matchup between two of the best QB’s in the NFL who both have something to prove. Ryan wants to prove that he belongs in the discussion for one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and Tom Brady wants to prove that he is the best to ever do it after a scorching hot season following his four-game suspension. I will give the Falcons the edge in hopes that they can bring the city of Atlanta a championship and start changing the sports culture in a growing town that is getting a new baseball and football field, a renovated basketball arena, and a soccer team. Atlanta is due.
Final score: Falcons 38, Patriots 33