The Super Bowl is finally here, the culmination of the 2016 NFL season. It’s the most-watched event every year, and this matchup between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons figures to be a good one.
This game features the top scoring teams in the AFC and NFC, with the Falcons averaging just under 35 points per game and the Patriots just over 28. The Falcons had the fewest offensive giveaways while the Patriots tied for the next-fewest.
In short, expect a lot of offensive firepower. The over/under is 59 and reports indicate most folks are betting the over. The Falcons have topped 33 points in nine of their last 11 games, including blistering wins over good Seattle and Los Angeles defenses.
Meanwhile, New England has topped 30 in five of its last six. They’ve been more productive on defense, forcing 15 turnovers in those games. Atlanta’s defense has been no slouch, forcing at least one takeaway in the last 10 games, 18 total.
The biggest defensive divergence is in first downs allowed. The Patriots tied for second in allowing just 18.3, while the Falcons finished 29th at 22.2. The margin there doesn’t really seem like much, but that’s more opportunities for Tom Brady to attack the Falcons.
Even so, I like the Falcons to win. Their ability to attack with a barrage of weapons on both the ground and in the air gives them a huge leg up on most teams against the Patriots. The New England defense thrives on taking away the primary option, but Atlanta has just explosive, dynamic balance on offense. If the Patriots focus on shutting down Julio Jones, MVP Matt Ryan will work the other targets like Mohamed Sanu or Taylor Gabriel. The two-headed rushing attack of Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman are both outstanding receivers out of the backfield (85 combined receptions) in addition to being effective runners.
The Patriots don’t have that sort of offensive diversity. Brady is very good at finding the mismatch, and Legarrette Blount has a history of playing big, both figuratively and literally, in big games. But they’re going to really miss Rob Gronkowski. Martellus Bennett is a great tight end in his own right, but I’ll take Atlanta’s receiving weapons over the likes of Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman.
New England is favored by three points, which is an interesting number. One field goal. Yet the Falcons have the more accurate, more productive placekicker to make that field goal. This is no shot at Stephen Gostkowski, but he was an average kicker in 2016 and missed three extra points. Atlanta’s Matt Bryant finished 3rd in accuracy and 4th in field goals made, and his six makes from 50-plus yards is triple the amount of New England’s Gostkowski.
In what looks like a close game, the kicking advantage matters. So does the return game, and the Falcons hold the advantage there, too.
Falcons 33, Patriots 31
These are a big reason why many folks pay attention to the Super Bowl, so here is my stab at the trivial…
Coin toss: Tails
Length of National Anthem: Over 2 minutes 9 seconds
How many times will “Trump” be said during the broadcast: under 1.5
Who scores first TD: James White
How many times will “Gronk” be mentioned: over 3
Will opening kickoff be a touchback: yes
Total penalties in the game: under 12.5
Lady Gaga’s first song at halftime: Born This Way
Will there be a roughing the passer penalty: it’s Tom Brady on a national stage, heck yes there will be
MVP: Matt Ryan
More passing yards, Ryan or Brady: Ryan
Color of Gatorade dumped on winning coach: red
Who does MVP mention first: team/teammates
Enjoy the game and the commercials!