#102 Atlanta Falconsvs.#101 New England Patriots
Written by Chris Kubala
New England Patriots (16-2 SU, 15-3 ATS, 8-10 O/U) vs. Atlanta Falcons (13-5 SU, 12-6 ATS, 15-2-1 O/U)
NFL: Sunday, February 5, 2017, NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas, 6:30 pm ET
Spread: New England -3; Over/Under: 58.5
It’s time for Super Bowl LI and that means we’ll have the champion of the NFL crowned by the time it’s all said and done. The New England Patriots make their NFL record ninth Super Bowl appearance as the AFC representative as they face the NFC champion Atlanta Falcons at NRG Stadium in Houston Sunday night. New England advanced by beating Pittsburgh 36-17 at home in the AFC Championship on January 22. Atlanta knocked off Green Bay 44-21 in the NFC Championship in the final game at the Georgia Dome. This is the 14th all-time meeting between the franchises. New England has a 7-6 advantage and won the last four meetings. That includes a 30-23 road win on September 29, 2013 in the most recent matchup.
New England rolled past the Steelers to advance to the Super Bowl for the second time in three years and the ninth time overall. It’s the seventh Super Bowl for Tom Brady, who breaks former Bills and Broncos defensive tackle Mike Lodish’s record of six. The turning point in the AFC Championship may have come right before the half: leading 17-6 but with the Steelers threatening, the Patriots limited the Steelers to a field goal. Perhaps if LeVeon Bell was healthy, things may have been different. Instead, New England outscored Pittsburgh 16-0 in the third quarter to take a 33-9 lead and it was all but over. The Patriots held a 431-368 edge in total yards, a 26-22 edge in first downs and forced two turnovers without committing one themselves.
The Patriots were one of the top passing attacks in the league during the regular season as they were 4th in the league averaging 269.3 yards per contest. New England was 7th in the league in rushing by averaging 117 yards per game on the ground. The Patriots were the league’s 3rd highest scoring team with an average of 27.4 points per game. New England ranked #1 in the league in scoring defense by allowing 15.6 points per contest. Tom Brady completed 291 of 432 passes for 3,554 yards with 28 touchdowns and two interceptions while getting sacked 15 times. Jimmy Garoppolo (43 of 63, 554 yards, four TD) saw action during Brady’s suspension to start the year and would be next in line if Brady went down. LeGarrette Blount is the team’s leading rusher with 299 carries for 1,161 yards and 18 scores while Dion Lewis contributes 283 yards on 64 carries.
Lewis and James White (60 grabs, 551 yards, 5 TD) provide a pair of good pass catching backs. Julian Edelman hauled in a team leading 98 passes for 1,106 yards and three touchdowns. Tight end Martellus Bennett (55 grabs, 701 yards, 7 TD) proved to be an important addition, especially when Rob Gronkowski (25 catches, 540 yards, 3 TD) had back surgery in early December. Chris Hogan (38 catches, 680 yards, 4 TD), who had a massive game in the AFC Championship Game, Malcolm Mitchell (32 receptions, 401 yards, 4 TD) and Danny Amendola (23 grabs, 243 yards, 4 TD) are solid targets as well. Stephen Gostkowski is as reliable of a kicker as you can find: he hit 46 of 49 extra points and 27 of 32 field goals with a long of 53 yards.
Atlanta hasn’t been here since the 1998 season, when they lost to John Elway and the Broncos in the Hall of Fame quarterback’s swan song. The Falcons were ready for their second Super Bowl appearance as they blitzed the Packers into submission. Atlanta ran to a 24-0 halftime lead as they stifled Green Bay’s offensive attack. After scoring on a 73 yard pass in the first two minutes of the third quarter to make it 31-0, the Falcons pretty much had this one on ice. Atlanta rolled up a 493-367 edge in total offense, a 30-24 advantage in first downs and forced a pair of Green Bay turnovers to get the win.
The Falcons are a high octane offense as they are 3rd in the league in passing offense (295.3 yards per game) and 5th in rushing offense by picking up 120.5 yards per contest. Atlanta is 1st in the league in scoring offense as they put up 33.8 points per game and 27th in scoring defense as they allow 25.4 points per contest. Matt Ryan completed 373 of 534 passes for 4,944 yards with 38 touchdowns and seven picks while getting sacked 37 times. Matt Schaub (1 of 3, 16 yards) is a solid veteran backup but hasn’t seen much work this season. Devonta Freeman is the team’s leading rusher with 227 carries for 1,079 yards with 11 touchdowns. Tevin Coleman is a solid secondary back and adds 118 carries for 520 yards and eight scores.
Julio Jones leads the team with 83 receptions for 1,409 yards and eight scores. Freeman added 54 receptions for 462 yards and two scores out of the backfield while Coleman had 31 catches for 420 yards and three scores. Mohamed Sanu was a smart signing in the offseason as he stepped in as the #2 receiver with 59 grabs for 653 yards and four touchdowns. Taylor Gabriel, picked up off the scrap heap after Cleveland let him go, added a big play dynamic as he had 35 receptions for 579 yards and six scores. Matt Bryant is a terrific kicker even at age 41: he hit 56 of 57 extra points and 34 of 37 field goal attempts with a long of 59 yards.
This one should be a highly entertaining affair, at least on paper. You have a pair of explosive offenses on the field. While Atlanta’s defense was suspect this season, the Patriots were excellent defensively. Some of that has to be attributed to the opponents on their schedule however. The fact remains that we saw Atlanta carve up a Green Bay team that was on a roll on both sides of the ball in the NFC Championship Game. Sure, New England has been here before but this one is going to be a dogfight. Take the points and the Falcons in this one as Jones and company make it happen.
If there’s one thing we’ve seen this season, it’s that both these teams can put points on the board. New England scored 441 points in the regular season and averaged 30 points a game in the 12 contests that Brady started. Atlanta, meanwhile, racked up 540 points on the year with Ryan running the show offensively. The scoring continued in the postseason as the Patriots piled up 70 points in their two games while the Falcons outdid them with 80 postseason points. It will be a massive challenge for both defenses to rein in the offensive units.
The over is 5-0 in the Patriots last 5 games following a straight up win of more than 14 points and 6-1 in their last 7 playoff games. Atlanta has seen the over go 7-0-1 in their last 8 games after allowing more than 350 total yards in their previous game, 5-0-1 in their last 6 games following a straight up win, 4-0 in their last 4 playoff games and 4-0-1 in their last 5 games following a straight up win of more than 14 points. Given the high scoring offensive attacks and rather suspect defenses (the Falcons allowed 406 points in the regular season), the over has to be given strong consideration as this could be a shootout.
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Christopher Kubala has been crunching stats and following sports for over 30 years. His in depth analysis and passion for sports have led him to writing books about sports, regularly being featured on sports talk radio and as the go-to person for any obscure trivia. He keeps an eye on transactions and statistics like a hawk, especially when it comes to football, both the NFL and college, the NHL, the NBA and college basketball and MLB.