#102 Atlanta Falconsvs.#101 New England Patriots
Written by Chuck D
New England Patriots 16-2 (15-3 ATS) at Atlanta Falcons 13-5 (12-6 ATS)
When and Where: Sunday, Feb. 5, NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas 6:30pm EST (NBC)
Spread: New England -3; Total: 59
Super Bowl LI is upon us with the upstart Atlanta Falcons squaring off against the old-guard New England Patriots. Atlanta will be making just their second appearance in “The Big Game,” having lost in 1999 to the Denver Broncos, 34-19. New England will be making their ninth appearance on Super Bowl Sunday. The Patriots are 4-4, having lost after the 1985 and 1996 seasons to the Bears and Packers respectively. Both of those losses came without Tom Brady, who is making his seventh appearance in the title game as the Pat’s starting quarterback. Brady has a 4-2 Super Bowl record, having taken down the Rams, Panthers, Eagles, and Seahawks, while both setbacks came against Eli Manning and the New York Giants. This will be the 14th head-to-head meeting between the two franchises with New England holding a 7-6 all-time advantage. The Falcons have not recorded a win in the series since 1998 and Brady has never lost to Atlanta.
You have to wonder if Roger Goodell even wanted the Patriots to be here. After allegations of deflating a football in their AFC Championship victory over the Colts two years ago, he attempted to suspend Tom Brady for four games last season. After an appeal kept Brady in action, he kept at it and finally got the suspension to stick for the first four games of this season. All the Patriots did in those four games was go 3-1 while using multiple backup quarterbacks and then proceed to finish the season 11-1 once Brady was back under center. Their only losses on the season came in a shutout loss to Buffalo when their third-string quarterback was at the helm, and a 31-24 defeat to Seattle later in the season.
Brady is the all-time leader in Super Bowl passing yards with 1,605 and has thrown for 13 scores, two more than Joe Montana’s 11 for the most in SB history. Also, his seven super bowls as a starter are the most among any QB in NFL history. This season Brady has thrown for 3,554 yards, 28 touchdowns and just two interceptions. LeGarrette Blount leads the squad in rushing with 1,161 yards on the ground to go along with 18 touchdowns. In the receiving department Julian Edelman has just three scores, but 1,106 yards. The Patriots will be looking for their fifth-consecutive win vs. Atlanta in the series.
The Atlanta franchise came into existence in 1966 and they have only made the playoffs 13 times in their 51-year history. Four of those 13 appearances have been led by Matt Ryan. The Falcons have always shown potential to be a dangerous team with Ryan under center, particularly once they added the ever-dangerous Julio Jones at wide receiver, but they just always seem to perform under expectations. As a matter of fact, this is the squad’s first trip to the playoffs since the 2012 season. The good thing is that they have certainly made the most of that trip. In the regular season, Atlanta fell five times, but it was still good enough to win the NFC South division, and earn the No. 2 spot in the conference. It was looking like another ho-hum year in the ATL after they opened the season with a loss against the Buccaneers, but the squad reeled off four straight wins after that and closed the regular season with another four straight wins. In the postseason they easily dispatched of a Seattle team that was expected to give them trouble, 36-20. In the NFC Championship game they faced a red-hot Aaron Rodgers who many expected to earn a victory in Atlanta after getting one against the top-seeded Cowboys the week before. All the Falcons did was shut the Packers out for a half en route to a 44-21 victory in what will be the last ever game played at the Georgia Dome.
This year’s offense has been something special under Ryan. The Boston College alum has thrown for 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns to go against seven interceptions. Many feel that his performance will earn him this year’s NFL MVP award and their is little doubt that the only person that could steal it from him is Brady, who only played in just 12 regular season games this year. Devonta Freeman leads the way on the ground with 1,079 yards and nine scores. Jones is the top target at wideout, having hauled in 83 catches for six TDs and 1,409 yards.
New England is:
The Patriots are the favorite in this game and rightfully so. After all it was just two years ago that Brady was being sized for his fourth Super Bowl ring after defeating the Seattle Seahawks. Atlanta, on the other hand, has zero experience in this kind of atmosphere. The Falcons, despite being the No. 2 seed in the NFC were able to play both of their playoff games in the Georgia Dome en route to a relatively easy trip to Houston. The good news is, this game is in a dome, although reports have the roof being open and NRG does have natural grass. The reality is, however, that Matty Ice and the Atlanta offense is something special, perhaps the best offense in the Super Bowl era. The Patriots defense, although solid, is not spectacular. The Atlanta defense plays really well in the red zone. All of these stats amount to the Falcons pulling the upset here. And although this statistic should not matter much, the underdog is 4-1 in the last five head-to-head meetings between these two squads and that is a trend I like to continue on Super Bowl Sunday.
We are dealing with two teams who can put a lot of points on the board here. There is a reason why Super Bowl Sunday’s total is the highest in the history of the game. However, it is also the world’s biggest stage on the world which should not only account for some nerves on both sides, but defenses stepping it up. Atlanta’s defense already showed what they are capable of, shutting down a red-hot Aaron Rodgers and the Packers for the entire first half of the NFC Championship game. That is not to say that they will shut out the Patriots for a half as well, but the team is capable of slowing them down. The last 15 times the Falcons played on grass, the under is 10-4-1. The under is also 8-1 in the Patriots’ last nine contests on grass. The over/under in this game is an overreaction. We are not looking at a 31-30 contest here. Although it would certainly be fun, it is simply not going to happen.
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Chuck Dowling is a 30-something University of Florida J-School alum that lives in his mother’s basement. Just kidding... there are no basements in Florida (the ground is too moist). He has been in the “biz” for his entire adult life and specializes in NCAA football and basketball, as well as soccer, boxing, and MMA. When not writing, Chuck moonlights as a high school athletics radio and internet-television broadcaster.