The Atlanta Falcons throttled the Green Bay Packers last weekend in the NFC Championship Game, beating Aaron Rodgers and company by a score of 44-21. The Falcons’ quarterback, Matt Ryan, was surgical, throwing for 375 yards and four scores. The game was never really in question as the Falcons jumped out to an early lead and never looked back. In the night-capping AFC Championship Game, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots carved up the Pittsburgh Steelers to a tune of 36-17. Future Hall-of-Fame QB Tom Brady put on a show, connecting with Chris Hogan 9 times for 180 yards and two touchdowns. A Falcons-Patriots Super Bowl, by all indications, should be football at its best. The bowl pits Ryan versus Brady, and the top scoring offense versus the number one scoring defense. The heavyweight matchup, set to take place Sunday, Feb. 5 at NRG Stadium in Houston, has all of the ingredients to be a Super Bowl classic.
With the overwhelming favorite for league MVP at quarterback, the Falcons’ offense has been lethal this season. On his way to an 11-5 record and two convincing playoff victories, the Falcons have lit up stadium scoreboards like a Fourth of July fireworks show. In the regular season, the Falcons averaged 33.8 points per contest, good for the eighth-best output in the history of the NFL. While Ryan has been thoroughly dominant, the weapons at his disposal make his job a heck of a lot easier. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined to account for over 1,500 yards on the ground and close to another 900 yards through the air in the regular season. Freeman is the thunder to Coleman’s lightning, and in tandem they wreak havoc on opposing defenses.
The Falcons also possess arguably the most dynamic receiver in football: Julio Jones. Although he has been battling through various foot injuries for much of the second half of the season, Jones is playing at an All-Pro level yet again. He displayed his ability in the NFC Championship game, in which he caught 9 passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns (the same stat line as Hogan), including a 73-yard touchdown that essentially put the nail in the Packers’ coffin. But perhaps the most significant difference in the Falcons offense this season versus seasons passed is the free agent acquisitions of receivers Mohamad Sanu and Taylor Gabriel. The threat of these two speedy wideouts has allowed the Falcons to punish teams who choose to double team Jones. While the Falcons’ offense has been other-worldly, a team cannot make the Super Bowl without a competent defense, and the Falcons have just that. Led by Vic Beasley Jr. and his league leading 15.5 sacks in the regular season, the Falcons defense bends, but does not ever seem to break.
Despite Brady being suspended for the first four games of the regular season due to the DeflateGate saga, Bill Belichick ’75 still managed to guide the Patriots to their seventh Super Bowl appearance in the past sixteen seasons. After returning from his four game suspension, Brady posted the best touchdown-to-interception ratio (28:2) in league history, while throwing for just a shade under 300 yards per game. He managed to do that despite the loss of All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, who played sparingly in just eight games before undergoing season-ending back surgery in early December. While Brady has elevated the likes of Julian Edelman, Martellus Bennett, and Chris Hogan, he is aided most by the ground attack delivered by 250-pound wrecking ball LeGarrette Blount, who in the regular season accounted for a league-high 18 rushing touchdowns. New England also boasted the best scoring defense in the NFL and only surrendered just over fifteen points per contest. Brady and Belichick paired with a top-tier defense? Stop me if you have heard that before.
Prediction: Patriots 27 – Falcons 20
Can Belichick devise a plan to stop, or at least limit, the dangerous Falcons attack? History says that not only can he, but he will. Red zone defense will be the deciding factor in this game. Atlanta will certainly move the ball, but the key for the Patriots will be to limit the Falcons to field goals rather than touchdowns once they get inside the twenty yard-line. Ultimately, the experience of Brady and Belichick, along with some timely defensive stops by the Patriot defense will lead New England to their fifth Super Bowl victory in the Brady-Belichick era.