Wait a second … which ones are the good guys? Well, I suppose you’ll just have to read on to decipher my extremely subjective clue on who the fellas and I are taking in Super Bowl 51 – and figure out which fan-base may not like us anymore. If you’re new to the site, we have been giving straight-up picks for (almost) every week in the NFL. We have compiled a 5-1 record in the playoffs, thus far, including accurately predicting the Conference Championships.
If you’re new to football, the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons are the two teams vying for the right to hoist the Lombardi Trophy (which you’re awarded when you win this little game called the Super Bowl) this Sunday (Feb. 5, 6:30 PM ET) at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.
While there are countless other outcomes of significance that surround the big game (what color Lady Gaga’s hair will be is apparently one of them), we’re gifting you what football fans are most concerned with: the winning team.
Super Bowl LI
If you’re a Star Wars hater, or your significant other is nearby, you can just scroll down to the bottom quick for our pick. But I promise I won’t drag the reference on. On the left you have Bill Belichick having a seat with his main-man Tom Brady at his side. The two have ruled the NFL galaxy for most of their 16 years together, winning four of their six Super Bowl appearances. Beli-Brady may not have always done things by the book, but their fans don’t care. The Dark Side is only concerned with winning and resorts to the new-age adage “hate us cause you ain’t us” when anyone mentions cheating.
On the right, you see the chosen one: Matt Ryan. He is the only player standing in the evil empire’s way. Although inexperienced, Ryan has received training from arguably the wisest offensive mind in the game: Kyle Shanahan. With help from the mighty Julio Jones and their two trustee droids, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, they may be able to save the rest of the NFL from another offseason of listening to Patriots fans gloat. And good news, I don’t think Matt Ryan has ever kissed his sister, Kate.
Alright, I’ll cut the nerdy Star Wars references now. This game features the league’s top scoring offense going against the top scoring defense. This has happened six times before and the defense has come away victorious five times. If you want more trends that suggest the Pats will win, look no further than the jerseys they will be wearing. Atlanta was designated the home team and chose to wear red. The team wearing white has won 11 of the last 12 Super Bowls, and is 38-12 all-time.
I’d prefer to actually break the two teams down to find a winner, though. And to start, I want to focus on the New England defense that has been lauded all season. I’m not here to suggest that Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia have not coached-up a good defense; I’m just not ready to consider them alongside the 2015 Broncos, 2000 Ravens, or ’85 Bears. This is for one simple reason: they haven’t faced any potent offenses yet. Nine of the Pats’ regular season games came against offenses that ranked in the bottom-12 for scoring, and five were against the four worst offensive teams in the league. New England only had to face an offense that ranked in the top-half of the league in scoring four times in 2016.
Patriot defenders haven’t even faced a QB who finished in the top-11 in passer rating (min. 100 pass attempts). They padded their numbers by feasting on Ryan Fitzpatrick (69.6 passer rating) twice, Brock Osweiler (72.2 passer rating) twice (including playoffs), and overmatched rookie Jared Goff (63.6 passer rating). If the Pats can find a way to shutdown the lethal Falcon offense, I will be stunned.
Brady and the Pats need to be prepared for a shootout. The four-time Super Bowl champion is no stranger to a slugfest, but he doesn’t have his most dangerous weapon: Rob Gronkowski. Julian Edelman is a nightmare out of the slot for defenders and Chris Hogan has emerged as a deep-threat, but neither present the matchup issue that Gronk does. And if there’s one unit in this game that is not receiving enough credit, it’s the Falcon defense.
The numbers don’t suggest Richard Smith’s unit is anything to be wary of (25th in total defense and 27th in scoring) but the Atlanta defense just needed some time to find its stride. They entered the season starting two rookies at linebacker and another at safety. In fact, only four players in Atlanta’s starting 11 have more than two years of experience. Understandably, the unit went through some growing pains early in the year. But following their Week 11 bye, the Falcons held four of their final six opponents to fewer than 20 points. Their most impressive act was their most recent one, when they held a seemingly inhuman Aaron Rodgers scoreless through the first half of the NFC Championship. This is a defense that is beginning to realize its potential and is glowing with confidence as a result.
In my view, Super Bowl 51 will be decided by the pass rushers: the team that can pressure the opposing quarterback without having to send the house will win this game. Unfortunately for New England, no one has been able to compensate for the loss of relentless edge rusher Chandler Jones, whom they sent to Arizona in the offseason. There was hope Rob Ninkovich could fill some of that void, but he has not been overly disruptive, and no Patriot recorded more than seven sacks in the regular season. Led by center Alex Mack, Atlanta’s offensive line has become one of the best in the league. Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder are two premier tackles and should not have any issue against a less-than-stellar Patriot pass-rush.
On the other side, the Falcons possess 2016’s sack-king, Vic Beasley. While Beasley is no Von Miller or Khalil Mack, he’s still the best pass rusher in this game. I fully expect Dan Quinn to use him to exploit Pats’ right tackle Marcus Cannon. In the Divisional Round, Cannon struggled to keep Whitney Mercilus away from his quarterback, allowing two sacks on the night. This is going to be a major issue in the Super Bowl. Atlanta’s talented edge rushers are going to force Brady to get rid of the ball a little quicker than he’d prefer, and the rest of this speedy will be able to take advantage.
On the other side, New England will need to give Julio Jones too much attention to slow him down, which will leave someone like Eric Rowe in man-coverage with Taylor Gabriel. Matty-Ice is going to spread the ball around and pick apart a defense that isn’t overly talented. The Pats may prevent Atlanta from throwing up 40, but 30 will be enough.