Super Bowl LI: New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons Preview + Predictions

This has been the most boring two weeks leading up to a Super Bowl game that I can ever remember. There has been NOTHING to talk about this year.

And to think… all Cam Newton had to do last year was show up to the Super Bowl to get everyone hyped up. Last year, there were more storylines around his race than there have been with this year’s game.

Anyway, the AFC Champions, the New England Patriots, will take on the NFC Champions, the Atlanta Falcons, in Super Bowl LI tonight in Houston, TX at 6:30 PM ET on FOX.

So let’s get to the game, shall we?

Can the Falcons defense get after Tom Brady?

Can they? Sure, but here’s a better question.

Do the Falcons have FOUR PLAYERS that can get after Tom Brady?

Think back to those two Patriots vs. Giants Super Bowls in 2008 and 2012. In both games, the Giants were successful in pressuring Brady with just four pass rushers. In other words, blitzing Tom Brady will not do the trick.

Not convinced? This season, Brady led the NFL in passer rating against the blitz (122.3). In six Super Bowls, Brady has completed 66.2 percent of his passes against the blitz.

The Falcons can win this game if they can consistently apply pressure with four pass rushers. But again, does Atlanta even have four pass rushers? Besides Vic Beasley, who accounted for about 46 percent of Atlanta’s sacks this season, who else is a legitimate threat on the defensive line?

With that being said, expect the Falcons to find ways to move Beasley inside and get pressure right in Brady’s face. Again, the Giants were able to do that twice and even the Texans were able to get pressure up the middle with Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney in the AFC Divisional Round.

But if the Falcons can’t get consistently pressure Brady with four players, they will not win this game. Simple as that.

How will New England’s defense stop Atlanta’s offense?

The Falcons averaged 33.8 points per game in the regular season, which ranks eight in the NFL history. It is worth noting, however, that none of the seven teams ahead of them won the Super Bowl. So if the Falcons score over 30 points and win the Super Bowl, there definitely enter the conversation for the greatest offense of all time.

As for the Patriots defense, although they rank first in defensive scoring, Football Outsiders ranks them 16th in defensive DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), which measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every play to a league average based on situation and opponent. In addition, other than Russell Wilson in Week 10 and Ben Roethlisberger in Week 7 and the AFC Championship game, New England’s defense has not played against many quality quarterbacks. In a way, New England’s defense is getting the benefit of the doubt because of the success of head coach Bill Belichick.

Unlike Atlanta’s strategy for Brady, look for the Patriots to pressure quarterback and newly-crowned NFL MVP Matt Ryan with four or more players. The Falcons are fantastic at spreading the ball around in the passing game, even if their opponents only rush three players and drop eight back in zone coverage. According to Football Outsiders, the Patriots send three pass rushers and drop eight into coverage more than any team in the NFL.

So you would imagine Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia came together and said, “Yeah, we’re not sending three pass rushers.”

Instead, look for the Patriots to put five players on the line of scrimmage and rush four or five on every play. As for the secondary, look for the cornerbacks to force the receivers inside towards all the linebacker and safety help over the middle.

Now, what about Quintorris Lopez “Julio” Jones? Well, the Patriots will double-team him similar to how they defended Antonio Brown two weeks ago. They will put their No. 2 cornerback, Logan Ryan, on Jones and have one safety linger over the top to prevent any big plays. As for No. 1 cornerback, Malcolm Butler, they will put him one-on-one with Atlanta’s No. 2 receiver, Mohamed Sanu and try to take him out of the game.

How will Atlanta’s offense counter?

Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will test New England’s defense early and often by moving around running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman with different shifts and motions. For instance, if Atlanta motions the running back out wide, will the Patriots switch to a zone defense or man coverage? Shanahan would be wise to answer to this question on the first drive of the game.

What about New England’s running backs?

Atlanta’s defense ranks 26th in the league in yards per rushing attempt, so expect offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to run the ball early in the game and limit Atlanta’s time of possession. What the Patriots will do is use Dion Lewis to tire out Atlanta’s defense by running sideways and moving the Atlanta defense horizontally instead of vertically. Once the defense tires out, they can bring on LeGarrette Blount, who led the league in rushing touchdowns this season, to burst through the middle and finish the job.

And New England’s receivers?

As opposed to the offenses of the Green Bay Packers or New York Giants, the Patriots rely solely on scheme to get their receivers open. Of course, having Brady helps a lot in terms of finding holes in a defense. The Patriots will have no problem getting receivers open because they have been able to do that successfully for the past 16 years.

So who is going to win Super Bowl LI?

I picked the Patriots to win the Super Bowl before the season, so why change it up now? Plus, who doesn’t want to see Roger Goodell hand that Lombardi Trophy to Brady, Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft?

PATRIOTS 28, FALCONS 24

Let me know what you think in the comment section below or send me a tweet (@danny_shin131). Who do you think is going to win Super Bowl LI?

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