This year’s edition of the “Big Game” has all the makings of a classic. The NFL’s hottest quarterback and likely league MVP, Matt Ryan leads an Atlanta Falcons squad which led the NFL in scoring and are in search of their first Super Bowl title in franchise history. But they’ll have to do so against arguably the greatest of all-time, as Tom Brady seeks to capture a ridiculous fifth Super Bowl for the New England Patriots since 2002.
If you’re still on the fence about who to back, listen up, we’ve enlisted the help of those who know these teams best to persuade you. Expert NFL bloggers Rich Hill of Patriots blog Pats Pulpit and Aaron Freeman of Falcons blog FalcFans, strap on the pads to debate not just who the best team in the NFL is, but which team will cover the spread when the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons clash in Super Bowl LI Sunday night at NRG Stadium in Houston, for the right to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
WHY THE PATRIOTS WILL COVER
Richard Hill is the managing editor at Pats Pulpit. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter @patspulpit and @PP_Rich_Hill.
The Patriots have the No. 1 defense in the league in points allowed
The Patriots allowed fewer points than any other team in the regular season. The Falcons scored more points than any other team. Atlanta boasts an ugly 1-5 record when they score 30 or fewer points. The Patriots allowed 31 or more points just once all season. If the Patriots limit the Falcons offensive production, then the Falcons will struggle to keep up with the New England offense that can score on any given drive.
Tom Brady is a perfect fit to take down the Falcons defense
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn imported a defensive playbook from his time with the Seattle Seahawks and the Patriots have had plenty of success moving the ball against this style of play. These defenses are vulnerable to quick horizontal routes and deep post routes up the seam, both of which are specialties of the Patriots offense. WR Julian Edelman and WR Chris Hogan are going to be big factors in the game.
LeGarrette Blount is a bulldozer
The Falcons have the 29th ranked run defense by DVOA, while the Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount ranked 8th in the NFL in rushing yards and 1st in rushing touchdowns. The Patriots offensive line matches up well against the Falcons defensive front because Atlanta relies on smaller, faster players. If the Patriots can manhandle the Falcons defense, then the Patriots should be able to succeed on the ground and supplement their passing attack.
WHY THE FALCONS WILL COVER
Aaron Freeman is the founder of FalcFans and co-host of the Locked on Falcons podcast. You can follow them on Twitter @falcfans and @lockedonfalcons.
Not All About Julio
The Patriots first priority will be preventing Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones beat them. But the Falcons have found ways to win even when Jones has been quiet throughout 2016. The Falcons are 5-0 in games this season when Jones has been held to 60 or less yards. Yet in those games, quarterback Matt Ryan combined to throw for 1,341 yards, 10 touchdowns, 1 interception while completing 72.5% of his passes for a passer rating of 115.6, which would still be the best mark in the league in 2016. The Falcons offense has been exceptional at still managing to fire on all cylinders regardless of Julio’s dominance, forcing their opponents to defend every player and the entire field rather than just focus on one player.
Dynamo Out of the Backfield
Seahawks running back C.J. Prosise gained 153 total yards against the Patriots in Week 10. Bengals running back Gio Bernard had 94 total yards against them in Week 6. Dynamic backs that can impact both on the ground and in the passing game have given the Patriots defense problems this season. Falcons running back Tevin Coleman had 163 total yards against a much better Denver Broncos defense in Week 5. Similarly he should be able to feast against a slower group of Patriots linebackers and could be a huge “X factor” in this game.
Ball Don’t Lie
The Falcons defense will need help from turnovers and fortunately the Patriots might be due for some. While Patriots quarterback Tom Brady isn’t prone to throwing interceptions, he and other teammates could be compelled to cough up the ball via fumbles. Brady had four fumbles over the final five games of the regular season while running back Dion Lewis has three in his last five, including two against Houston in the playoffs. Falcons defensive end Vic Beasley led the NFL with six forced fumbles in 2016 while teammate in safety Keanu Neal wasn’t far behind with five more. Both players could get an opportunity to force an untimely turnover on Sunday.