The Dirty Birds of Atlanta have been a tortured franchise ever since they joined the NFL in 1966 but they have a chance to put all the bad memories behind them when they take on the Patriots in Super Bowl 51. For the Falcons, this is just their second ever appearance in the world championship game and their first since 1999. Atlanta will not, however, be looking to party like it’s 1999 as they were thumped by the John Elway-led Denver Broncos the last time they competed for the Lombardi Trophy.
Atlanta set a precedent for offensive greatness this season and if the Falcons finish the job on February 5 with another explosive performance, they should go down as one of the best – if not the best – offenses in the history of the game. The Falcons opened as a 3-point underdog and as the title of this article implies, I’ll be taking the Falcons to win straight up and here are the three reasons why I think they will.
Patriots Struggle Against Good Quarterbacks
It’s absolutely no secret that the Patriots haven’t exactly played a murderers row of quarterbacks this year. Their defense faced just two signal-callers – Joe Flacco and Russell Wilson – who finished the year in the top 10 in passer rating and got off incredibly easy in terms of their schedule, by playing the five worst offenses in the league. Flacco and Wilson both put up great numbers against the Patriots and the Seahawks QB was actually able to lead his team to an emphatic win at Foxborough as a 7.5-point dog.
An argument I’ve heard against this is “what about what the Patriots did to Ben Roethlisberger?” Well, what about it? Big Ben finished the season 12th in passer rating and did not have even close to the number of weapons that Matt Ryan has at his disposal. Losing Le’Veon Bell in the first half was a death blow to the Steelers as Ben’s numbers drop off significantly with him out of the lineup and that was definitely the case in the AFC Championship Game.
Mr. Matty-ice Ryan, on the other hand, has an unlimited arsenal. He has possibly the best wide receiver in the game in Julio Jones and great secondary and tertiary options in Mohamed Sanu Sr. and Taylor Gabriel. Combine those weapons with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in the Falcon backfield and it equals Ryan finishing the year as the most efficient quarterback with a league-best 117.1 passer rating.
When the Pats Don’t Take the ball away, They don’t win
This leads into my second point, which is the Patriots’ complete reliance on making the other team turn the ball over. In its only two losses all season, New England failed to create a single turnover. The problem here is that the Falcons do not give the ball away. They finished the year with just 11 giveaways – seven Matt Ryan interceptions – and have not turned the ball over once in the playoffs.
I like that trend to continue come this Super Bowl Sunday as I don’t believe all this hype around the Patriots defense. Yes, they’re the No. 1 scoring defense in the NFL but if you believe in the efficiency rankings – and I do – then you know the New England pass defense is nowhere near elite. The Pats finished the regular season as the 23rd-best team at defending the pass, according to the Football Outsiders, and as you’re probably well aware, the Falcons have the No. 1 most efficient passing attack in the NFL.
If the Pats don’t create turnovers in this one, they likely won’t win. And if they take risks trying to create takeaways and they miss? Matt Ryan will send them to the burn ward.
Falcons Defense is highly underrated
Many, including the man on the other side of this pick, Justin Hartling, will cite the Falcons’ poor defense as their reason for taking touchdown Tom and ballistic Bill in this one but I’m telling you that this idea is a myth.
It’s true the Falcons gave up the fifth-most points in the league this year but it’s also true they played in the highest-scoring division in football. Combine that with the fact they’ve given up an average of just 20.38 points over the course of their last eight games and that they gave up 9.4 points per game in the fourth quarter of the regular season because teams were chasing them when Atlanta was up by two or more scores – I’d say this defense is actually pretty damn good.
The secondary of the Falcons – that’s somehow improved without Desmond Trufant – held the scorching-hot Aaron Rodgers in check in the NFC title game and was even able to pick him off. They were able to do this with the help of their ever-improving defensive line that includes a man named Vic Beasley who’s sacked the quarterback 15.5 times since the start of the season.
What this game really comes down to is whether the Patriots can keep up with the juggernaut that is the Falcons offense. I think Atlanta’s defense slows them down just enough and I like the Dirty Birds to win 35-31.