New England (16-2) vs Atlanta (13-5)
When: Sunday, February 5th 2017
Where: NRG Stadium, Houston, TX
Time: 6:40 ET | TV: FOX
Tom Brady will look to become the first quarterback to win five Super Bowls when his New England Patriots battle the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI from NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. Brady, who already holds Super Bowl records for yards (1,605), TDs (13), pass attempts (247) and completions (164), will look to help give head coach Bill Belichick his record fifth title, surpassing Chuck Knoll’s four. Brady is making his seventh appearance in the Big Game, earning three Super Bowl MVP awards and leading New England to four championships along the way. The Patriots allowed a league-low 15.6 points per game, setting up the sixth matchup since the NFL merger in which the top-scoring offense (Atlanta) opposes the team that permitted the fewest points. The defense has won four of those five meetings. Despite its rankings as the toughest defense against which to score, New England is not viewed in the same light as the dominant unit that carried Denver to last year’s Super Bowl win or a team like the ’85 Bears despite limiting eight of its last nine opponents to 17 points or fewer. The Patriots rank in the middle of the pack in sacks (34) and interceptions (13), but they are No. 3 against the run, allowing 83.9 yards per game, and eighth overall in yards allowed (308.9). While New England scored six fewer points per game than Atlanta for the season, they averaged 30 since the return of Brady, who threw 28 touchdown passes and two interceptions in 12 games and threw for 384 yards and three TDs in the AFC title game against Pittsburgh. Chris Hogan had a breakout game with nine catches for 180 yards and two scores versus the Steelers, while Julian Edelman recorded a team-high 98 receptions and LeGarrette Blount recorded an NFL-leading 18 rushing touchdowns during the regular season.
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While New England has a terrific offense, the Atlanta Falcons have the best unit this season led by veteran QB Matt Ryan, who is the front-runner to win league MVP. Ryan had a mediocre 2015, but set career highs in passer rating (117.1), yards (4,944), completion percentage (69.9) and touchdowns (38) while tossing only seven interceptions this campaign. Ryan was almost perfect in playoff routs of Seattle and Green Bay (730 yards, seven TDs, zero INTs) and has a near-unstoppable weapon in wide receiver Julio Jones. The superstar wideout battled injuries all year, but still accumulated 1,409 yards in receiving and made the Packers defense look like Swiss cheese by making nine catches for 180 yards and two scores in the NFC Championship Game. Ryan has thrown 18 TD passes and zero interceptions during a six-game winning streak for Atlanta, which has scored 234 points during that span. The Falcons also feature a solid 1-2 punch in the backfield, with the tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combining for 19 rushing touchdowns while adding 85 catches and five scores through the air. The Falcons tied the Patriots for the league lead in coughing up the football this season, committing only 11 turnovers. The biggest weakness might be the defense, but they improved significantly throughout the year and into the postseason. Linebacker Vic Beasley recorded 15.5 sacks to lead the unit that allowed 25.4 points per game for the season, although it held six of its last eight opponents to 21 or fewer.
When this line of Patriots -3 first came out, I thought it was low. I was predicting maybe 4 or 4.5 at the most. I really liked the Patriots right off the bat and after almost two weeks, I like them even more. Brady and Belichick are the best QB/Coach tandem in the history of the league and that alone gives them the advantage even before kickoff. I know Atlanta has a terrific offense, but if you look up and down their schedule, they played some of the worst defenses in the league and some of them twice. It seems that the last two weeks is when everyone is finally realizing that New England has a pretty solid defense. The Falcons only have five guys on the roster who have been in a Super Bowl and I expect some early jitters out of them including Ryan. The Patriots will make sure Julio Jones does not go off against them. Atlanta also doesn’t know what type of offensive plan the Patriots have set. Sometimes they’ll run Blount like crazy, and other times he’ll barely touch the ball. I know everyone hates New England, but I really do think they will win this game easily and Roger Goodell will present Brady with the Super Bowl MVP trophy.
Pick: Patriots -3