#102 Atlanta Falconsvs.#101 New England Patriots
Written by Ricky Dimon
Atlanta Falcons (13-5 SU, 12-6 ATS, 15-2 O/U) vs. New England Patriots (16-2 SU, 15-3 ATS, 8-10 O/U)
NFL: Sunday, February, 2017 at 6:30 p.m. EST
The Line: New England Patriots -3. Total: 58.
The New England Patriots will be trying to capture their fifth Super Bowl title since the start of the 2001 NFL season when they go up against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium in Houston, Tex. on Sunday, Feb. 5. Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and company last won it all in February of 2015 to end a nine-year drought. The Falcons, on the other hand, have never won a championship. They last appeared in the biggest single game in American sports back in January of 1999, when they fell to the Denver Broncos.
Atlanta ended the regular season on a four-game winning streak to take the NFC South title ahead of Tampa Bay and steal a first-round bye in the playoffs from Seattle. It has since extended its winning streak to six thanks to postseason blowouts of the Seahawks and Packers. Since the Falcons started their current surge, quarterback Matt Ryan–who is favored to win NFL MVP–has not thrown a single interception. In the same stretch he has tossed 18 touchdown passes and has blistered the 300-yard mark three times, with the three exceptions coming when Atlanta was ahead by so many points that passing the ball in the second half became unnecessary. Ryan is coming off an NFC Championship performance in which he completed 27 of 38 attempts for 392 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions as the Falcons clobbered Green Bay 44-21.
“I feel exactly the same,” Ryan said about being a Super Bowl quarterback now. “I’m happy. I’m happy for everybody in our organization. We’ve worked hard to get to this point. But the challenge is still in front of us. What we set out to accomplish is still in front of us. We’ll enjoy it because it’s hard to get to this point. I know that from experience. It’s really difficult to get to this point. And we’ll enjoy the buildup and the process leading to it, but our ultimate goal is still in front of us.”
And there is no reason to think Ryan will slow down at the final hurdle, because favorite target Julio Jones is clearly armed with a clean (mostly) bill of health. Jones has been dealing with a foot injury, but he managed to torch the Packers for 180 yards and two touchdowns on nine receptions.
Leave it to Belichick to pull a couple of tricks out of his bag for the biggest game of the season. The biggest game, of course, is the next one; but at the time, the AFC Championship was the biggest. So Belichick pulled out all the stops for Pittsburgh, namely an unusual number of four wide receiver sets combined with an ultra-fast tempo. The Patriots had run plays with four receivers just 12 times all season, unveiling it for the first time against the Rams on Dec. 4 for 10 snaps. They used such a package twice against the Jets on Dec. 24. In all, they threw a total of six passes with four receivers on the field during the regular season (by comparison, the Packers threw a league-high 291 passes out of the grouping). In the AFC Championship, New England came out with four receivers on the second play and did so for a total of 13 snaps in the first half alone. Brady finished 32-of-42 for 384 yards with three TDs and zero INTs. He threw completions to nine different pass-catchers.
“We knew we wanted to do a few things out of some different groupings that we felt like could help us move the ball, make first downs and score points,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels explained. “I think they went out there and did some things, were able to convert on a few third downs and help us move the ball.”
The Atlanta Falcons are:
The New England Patriots are:
Atlanta has all of two particularly bad losses this season, and one came way back in Week 1 (31-24 at home against Tampa Bay). It also fell 24-15 at Philadelphia. Aside from that, Quinn’s crew lost by two points at Seattle, in overtime to San Diego, and by one point to Kansas City on a two-point conversion interception return. In other words, this team–with very few exceptions–rarely loses and when it does, it is extremely competitive. The Falcons are 5-1 ATS in their last six overall, 6-1 ATS in their last seven on grass, 6-2 ATS in their last eight against winning opponents, and 4-1 ATS in their last five following a win. New England is 1-4 ATS in its last five Super Bowl appearances. Go with the the Falcons, but it may be wise to take the three points and avoid the riskier money line.
These offenses are churning out an absurd number of points and they are doing so with ease. Atlanta has put up at least 33 points in six straight games. New England has scored at least 34 points in four consecutive outings. The over is 45-22 in the Patriots’ last 67 against winning opponents, 5-0 in their last five following a win of more than 14 points, and 6-1 in their last seven playoff games. It is also 15-5-1 in the Falcons’ last 21 overall, 5-0 in their last five against winning opponents, 5-0-1 in their last six following a win, and 4-0 in their last four playoff games. Look for this one to go over the total.
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A 2006 graduate of Davidson College, Ricky is a freelance sports writer based in Atlanta, Georgia. He has previously worked with various websites in the sports handicapping industry and is generally a fan of going with the hot hand while in most cases showing a willingness to take favorites and give the points. Beyond the four major sports, Ricky is an avid tennis fan—and writer—and covers the ATP Tour on a daily basis.