Here we go folks, that bittersweet time for every football fan. As much as Super Bowl Sunday is a celebration of the NFL's championship, it's also the culmination of another football season. Come Monday, it's all over for actual NFL football for another eight months until it all starts over again. Eight long months. So before we talk draft and free agency for the New Orleans Saints, lets break down this final game of the season.
The AFC Champion New England Patriots face the NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons in the biggest spectacle in American professional sports. New England enters the game with a 14-2 record and they field the NFL's top scoring defense, while Atlanta enters the game with an 11-5 record and field the highest-scoring offense in the league. It's strength against strength here, and thankfully one strength dominates the other, come Super Sunday. Lets now take a look at Super Bowl LI.
Two weeks ago I went 1-1
I told you so: Patriots over Steelers!
What do I know: Packers over Falcons?
SUPER BOWL LI - NRG Stadium - Houston, Texas
AFC Champion - New England Patriots
NFC Champion - Atlanta Falcons
Sunday, February 5th, 2017
3:30pm PST / 5:30pm CST / 6:30pm EST
Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships.
It's not just some old adage, it's simple fact. We're not talking about average offense, or good offense, we're talking about great offense. Come Super Bowl Sunday, great defense suffocates great offense at an alarming clip. Here's just a few recent examples:
The 2001 Rams led the NFL in scoring (by 5 points-per-game above the second-best offense) behind MVP QB Kurt Warner, they went on to lose Super Bowl XXXVI, 20-17.
The 2002 Raiders came in 2nd in the NFL in scoring (by 1 PPG) behind MVP QB Rich Gannon, they went on to lose Super Bowl XXXVII, 48-21.
The 2006 Bears came in 2nd in the NFL in scoring, they went on to lose Super Bowl XLI, 29-17.
The undefeated 2007 Patriots led the NFL in scoring (by over 8 PPG above the second-best offense) behind MVP QB Tom Brady, they went on to lose Super Bowl XLII, 17-14.
The 2013 Broncos led the NFL in scoring (by 10 PPG above the second-best offense) behind MVP QB Peyton Manning, they went on to lose Super Bowl XLVIII, 43-8. This was the most recent time the top-scoring offense faced the top-scoring defense in the Super Bowl. Top-scoring defenses are 4-1 all-time in these games.
The 2015 Panthers led the NFL in scoring behind MVP QB Cam Newton, they went on to lose Super Bowl 50, 24-10.
And now, the 2016 Falcons who lead the NFL in scoring (by over 4 PPG above the second-best offense) behind certain MVP QB Matt Ryan, will play in Super Bowl LI.
This will be a classic New England win. Despite what many experts think about Atlanta's "unstoppable offense", the numbers support the Patriots. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan is a certainty to win the NFL MVP award on the Super Bowl eve, and the NFL MVP hasn't gone on to win the Super Bowl that same season in 17 years (1999 Kurt Warner - SB XXXIV). Even the peculiar white jersey trend still continues, with the team wearing white (New England) winning 11 of the last 12 Super Bowls (the lone exception being GB in SB XLV).
Trends and coincidences are one thing, but the most important factor in this game is what we will see from New England on the field this Sunday. Atlanta's offense has run through the league like a Ferrari at top-speed. Their playoff roadblocks standing no more resistant than a pair of wood-rotted picket fences along the way. What now stands in their way, mere yards from the finish line, is a foot-thick concrete wall known as the New England Patriots.
Where this game will ultimately be won will be in the turnover battle, which New England will win, forcing Atlanta into 3 turnovers while giving up only 1 of their own. In fact, the most enjoyable parts of this game will come in those "There they are" moments Atlanta will provide, just like Cam and the Panthers a year prior. Old habits will once gain rise up from the surface, lying dormant until the most critical time. Saints fans (along with Bucs and Panthers fans, I'm sure) will enjoy the schadenfreude of seeing Matt Ryan throw a bad pick and say "there he is, there's the Matt Ryan we know and love". These guys may be able to hide their true nature for a magic season, but when the lights are brightest and the title is on the line, their true nature will shine through, like a beacon of failure.
The stadium that, in 2016, was home to the NFL's #1 ranked defense (in yards allowed) will now showcase the true top defense in the NFL, in Matt Patricia's disciplined and underrated squad. Now for all of the talk of the Atlanta offense vs. the New England defense, we're overlooking the most lopsided matchup in this game, the Falcons defense vs. the Patriots offense. The Pats are, as always, led by the surgical precision and veteran leadership of future Hall-of-Famer Tom Brady. New England finished third in the NFL in scoring (behind the Falcons and Saints) and fourth in yards-per-game. Their offense is being overshadowed by the "greatness" of Kyle Shanahan's crew, but Josh McDaniels' squad is as precise and lethal as you can get.
As for the Falcons, their defense has given up the second-most points of any team to reach the Super Bowl in NFL history, second only to the 2008 Cardinals, who lost Super Bowl XLIII. Confidence inspiring stuff there. This Falcons defense will spend a ridiculous amount of time on the field this Sunday. Brady will milk the clock while bleeding Atlanta dry. Much of this game will resemble last year's Super Bowl, as Cam and the Panthers became increasingly frustrated as the game wore on and they began to unravel under the weight of their turnovers, so will the Falcons. Their inability to run at full throttle and New England's ability to control tempo on both sides of the ball will be the key to the Falcons' undoing.
Had it been Pittsburgh, or Oakland with a healthy Derek Carr that had won the AFC title, there would be cause for concern in the Falcons pulling this thing out. Thankfully, it's not. It's the Patriots. It's Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. It's the old familiar tale of top-defense forcing top-offense into submission. It's what everyone outside of Boston and New Orleans are sick of, and rooting against. It's not Eli Manning standing in the Pats' way to their fifth Super Bowl title, it's
Matty Ice Matt 'Skidmarks' Ryan. Belichick and the Patriots will do what it is they do. They will systematically breakdown the Falcons in this game. It may not end up being a Super blowout (unfortunately), but the Pats will control the game by forcing Atlanta to play on their terms.
While no elation will match that of the Saints winning the Super Bowl, the Falcons losing this game will be the next best thing. Savor it, along with the 2017 4th place NFC South finish that awaits Atlanta in its aftermath. Call it hate if you must, but facts are facts. For one important Sunday, Black and Gold will adorn Patriot White and Blue. It may be a means to and end, but the Patriots truly represent the best option you could hope for in this spot. Facts are facts, stats don't lie, the New England Patriots will leave Houston with the Lombardi Trophy once again.
Super Bowl LI Champion: New England Patriots
Final Score: Patriots 24 - Falcons 20
Super Bowl LI MVP: QB - Tom Brady
There you have it folks, another Super Bowl and another NFL season in the books. I don't know about you, but I can't wait to get it all started all over again. Let's get ready for the march toward Minneapolis, Minnesota for Super Bowl LII. Now its your turn, leave us your final score and MVP picks in the comments section below!