The 2016/17 NFL season comes to a close on Sunday, February 5th once the 51st Super Bowl has been completed. This year’s matchup features the AFC Champion New England Patriots squaring off against the NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.
The Patriots won the AFC East this year with an impressive 14-2 record and then got past Houston and Pittsburgh in their two playoff showdowns. The 11-5 Falcons were crowned kings of the NFC South and eased past Seattle and Green Bay in their postseason encounters.
This game features the league’s highest-scoring offense against New England’s lowest-conceding defense.
Patriots vs Falcons: bet365 NFL Betting Line:
- Point Spread: bet365 lists the Patriots (16-2 straight up, 15-3 against the spread) at -3 points at 10/11 with the Falcons (13-5 straight up, 12-6 against the spread) +3 points at 10/11
- Over/Under: 58 points at 10/11 for both bets
- Money Line: the Patriots are 4/6 to win the game with the Falcons 13/10
Patriots vs Falcons: A Closer Look at Super Bowl 51
The playoffs haven’t really been that competitive this season as most games haven’t been close, including New England’s 34-16 and 36-17 wins over Houston and Pittsburgh and Atlanta’s 36-20 and 44-21 beat downs over Seattle and Green Bay. However, most fans are hoping for a closer encounter in Houston and there’s a feeling it could be a shootout. The quarterback matchup is about as good as it gets with Atlanta’s Matt Ryan facing the Patriots’ aging Tom Brady. These two guys were basically the best at their position in the league this season when it comes to the stats.
They both get plenty of help from their respective offenses and are blessed to be working with excellent play callers such as Kyle Shanahan and Josh McDaniels. Both Ryan and Brady have proven to be hard to beat, but they’re not invincible. Brady isn’t the greatest at handling pressure and Ryan sometimes struggles when he’s faced with tight coverage. Malcolm Butler will be a key player for New England as he attempts to cover Mohamed Sanu or Julio Jones ad Ryan could end up throwing most passes to Austin Hooper and Levine Toilolo.
The running backs will play a big part of the game as they try to exploit their opponents’ defensive weakness. Atlanta has two of the best in the game in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman with Freeman being the slightly superior runner. However, the Patriots boast Dion Lewis, James White and LeGarrette Blount. The two teams had several common opponents this season as they both played San Francisco, Los Angeles, Arizona, Seattle, and Denver and both went 4-1. Ironically, Seattle managed to down both New England and Atlanta.
In the outings against common opponents, New England outscored them by a combined score of 119-82 and Atlanta beat them 168-88. Atlanta’s winning margin against those five teams was 20.5 points on average and New England beat them by an average of 11 points. However, Brady didn’t play in the Patriots’ two-point win over Arizona. There’s no doubt the Falcons’ offense this season has been one of the strongest and most explosive in NFL history with 540 points on season. This ranks eighth all-time in the annals of the league. The talent is certainly there and Shanahan has done a great job coordinating it, especially with Sanu and Taylor Gabriel.
The Patriots may have had a bit of an easier schedule overall, but they proved last week against Pittsburgh that they’re solid defensively with the likes of Butler, Devin McCourty and Dont’a Hightower. It appears linebacker Hightower isn’t 100 per cent health-wise, but he’s expected to play on Sunday. New England’s offensive struggled against Houston in the playoffs, but dominated Pittsburgh, so they should have the edge in that department. Key players here for New England will be Nate Solder at left tackle, Shaq Mason at right guard and Marcus Cannon at right tackle. Atlanta counters with some good players of their own in Alex Mack at center and Andy Levitre at left guard.
The experience factor favors New England as Brady has won four Super Bowls and will be playing in his seventh championship game with head coach Bill Belichick, who just celebrated his 17th anniversary with the club. This will be Ryan’s first appearance in a Super Bowl and it’s just the second time the Falcons have made it this far. Their first championship game outing resulted in a 34-19 loss at the hands of Denver in Super Bowl 33. A lot of underdogs and inexperienced quarterbacks have won the NFL title in the past 15 years though and we’ve seen experienced QBs such as Peyton Manning lose to Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger lose to Aaron Rodgers and Brady lose to Eli Manning. Brady himself also beat a more experienced Kurt Warner in the past.
Anyway, even though the quarterbacks are keys, football’s still a team game and there’s more than just one player to contain. Players such as New England’s Julian Edelman and Atlanta’s Jones will also need to be kept in check. Both Brady and Ryan like to spread their passes out as seven Patriots ad Falcons caught at least three touchdown passes this season. TE Martellus Bennett was tops in New England at seven and Gabriel and Jones each had six for Atlanta. Neither defense puts much pressure on the opposing quarterbacks, but when they do, Trey Flowers is the best for New England and Vic Beasley is solid for Atlanta. But in the end, the team that wins could be the one which decides to focus more on the pass rush than they usually do.