The storyline for Super Bowl LI between the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots could not be more simple or intriguing – the NFL’s No. 1 offense squaring off against the league’s stingiest defense. Yet when quarterback Matt Ryan and Atlanta’s high-voltage offense take the field on Sunday night at Houston’s NRG Stadium, solving New England’s defense hardly is their only challenge. There also is a wall of history on the opposing sideline in the persons of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, widely considered among the best quarterbacks and coaches of all-time.
Ryan is expected to be named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player following a brilliant season in which the Falcons averaged 33.8 points, but the Patriots are making a record ninth appearance in the Super Bowl – including seven since 2001 behind the Belichick-Brady tandem. “I don’t think there’s much Bill and his staff hasn’t seen before,” Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, poised to become the next coach of the San Francisco 49ers, told reporters. “They’ve seen a lot of football and they do it as good as anyone.” Brady is making his seventh appearance on the league’s grandest stage, earning three Super Bowl MVP awards and leading New England to four championships along the way. The Patriots yielded a league-low 15.6 points per game, setting up the sixth matchup since the NFL merger in which the top-scoring offense opposes the team that permitted the fewest points (the defense has prevailed in four of the first five meetings).
TV: 6:30 p.m. ET, FOX.
LINE HISTORY: The Patriots opened as 3-point favorites immediately following the Conference Championship games two weeks ago and the spread has yet to move off that key opening number. The total hit the betting board at 58 and has crept up slightly to 58.5. View the complete line history here.
WEATHER REPORT: NRG Stadium in Houston is a retractable domed stadium. There have been reports that the league has requested for the roof to be open if weather allows (most likely due to Lady Gaga’s halftime performance which could take place partially high above field level). If the roof is, in fact, open for the game the forecast is calling for overcast skies with temperatures in the mid-70’s for game time.
WHAT BOOKS SAY: “Currently, we have 54 percent of the handle on the Patriots. The public is fairly split on their pick and the sharps that have showed up so far are on the Falcons. The total is not as balanced as we have almost 75 percent of the action on the over. If we move off the key number of -3 it will most likely be the day of the game.” Scott Cooley of BookMaker.eu
Patriots – WR M. Mitchell (Probable, knee), TE M. Bennett (Probable, knee), WR C. Hogan (Probable, thigh), WR D. Amendola (Probable, ankle), RB B. Bolden (probable, knee), LB D. Hightower (Probable, shoulder), DL J. Sheard (Probable, knee), K S. Gostkowski (Probable, illness), QB J. Brissett (Questionable, thumb), CB C. Jones (Questionable, knee), DB N. Ebner (Questionable, concussion), G T. Jackson (I-R, knee), TE R. Gronkowski (I-R, back), T S. Vollmer (I-R, knee), LB J. Freeny (I-R, shoulder), TE G. Scruggs (I-R, knee).
Falcons – C A. Mack (probable, ankle), WR Julio Jones (Probable, toe), DE A. Clayborn (I-R, bicep), S K. Ishmael (I-R, shoulder), TE J. Tamme (I-R, shoulder), CB D. Trufant (I-R, pectoral), DE D. Shelby (I-R, achilles), LB S. Weatherspoon (I-R, achilles), NT C. Mayes (I-R, foot), LB T. Starr (I-R, undisclosed), CB A. King (I-R, foot), WR D. Fuller (I-R, shoulder).
ABOUT THE PATRIOTS (16-2, 15-3 ATS, 8-10 O/U): Despite its status 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 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 contest, and eighth overall with 308.9 yards per game surrendered. While New England scored six fewer points per game than Atlanta for the season, it averaged 30 since the return of Brady, who threw 28 touchdown passes and two interceptions in 12 games and carved up Pittsburgh for 384 yards and three TDs in the AFC title game. 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 registered an NFL-leading 18 rushing touchdowns during the regular season.
ABOUT THE FALCONS (13-5, 12-6 ATS, 15-2-1 O/U): Ryan rebounded from a pedestrian 2015 campaign with a spectacular season, setting career highs in passer rating (117.1), yards (4,944), completion percentage (69.9) and touchdowns (38) while tossing only seven interceptions. Ryan was superb in playoff routs of Seattle and Green Bay (730 yards, seven TDs, zero INTs) and has a near-unstoppable weapon in wideout Julio Jones, who despite battling injuries still wracked up 1,409 yards in receiving and riddled the Packers by making nine catches for 180 yards and two scores in the NFC Championship Game. The Falcons also feature a strong 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. Linebacker Vic Beasley registered 15.5 sacks to lead an improved defense that allowed 25.4 points per game for the season, although it held six of its last eight opponents to 21 or fewer.
* Patriots are 5-0 ATS vs. a team with a winning record.
* Falcons are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 games overall.
* Over is 6-1 in Patriots last 7 playoff games.
* Over is 4-0 in Falcons last 4 playoff games.
* Patriots are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 meetings.
* Over is 5-1 in the last six meetings.
For a full list of hot and cold trends click here.
COVERS CONSENSUS: 51 percent of Covers bettors are siding with the underdog Atlanta Falcons. As for the total, 70 percent of wagers from users are on the Over. View full consensus data here.