The New England Patriots face off against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI on Sunday, Feb. 5 at 6:30 p.m. (Courtesy of Getty Images)
The New England Patriots breezed past the Steelers 36-17 in Foxborough during the AFC Championship game, but the Super Bowl in Houston will not be so easy.
New England travels down to Texas with the top scoring defense in the league, but their adversary totes the eighth-highest scoring offense in the history of the NFL.
For Patriots fans looking for something to hang their confidence hat on, just look to the Atlanta Falcons’ pass defense. They ranked 28th out of 32 teams in the league this year, allowing 266 yards per game.
Looking further than the stats, their defensive backs are relatively young and inexperienced. Their first four defensive backs on the depth chart only have 11 years combined experience in the NFL. Tom Brady has played in more Super Bowls (7) than all their defensive backs have had years in the league individually. In order for the Falcons to stay competitive, their offense will have to perform like they have been all season.
The Atlanta Falcons have had to rely on Matt Ryan to win them games this year, scoring 33.8 points per game while allowing 25.4 points per game. They will be facing the best scoring defense in the game, as the Patriots have only allowed 15.6 points per game, and everyone knows defense wins championships. It is unclear whether the roof of the stadium will be closed or open, but Atlanta would surely prefer it closed as they play home games in a dome.
Critics say the Patriots’ defensive stats are better than the talent, as they have not had to face particularly talented quarterbacks. Matt Ryan and his deep wide receiving core will be the toughest test of the year and the Patriots would not have it any other way.
Back in December of 2012, before Malcolm Butler was even in the NFL, he tweeted “I wanna check Julio Jones…lol… real talk doe..”
I wanna check julio jones…lol……real talk doe..
— Malcolm CB Butler (@Mac_BZ) December 23, 2012
Butler could not have predicted he would have that opportunity, but he could potentially get his wish. In some matchups where Butler’s size is a disadvantage, he will cover the second option while the first option is double teamed.
Julio Jones is certainly a large, talented receiver who just put up 180 yards and two touchdowns in the Falcons NFC Championship Game. Jones is too talented to be completely shut down, but the Patriots’ coaching staff has a decorated history of at least containing Pro Bowl wide receivers.
In the AFC Championship game, Butler only allowed Antonio Brown to catch seven passes for 77 yards. That “shutdown” of Antonio Brown, if you could call it that, was due to a lot of help for Butler from the safety position.
With so much attention on Atlanta’s wide receivers, the other key to this game is the Patriots’ pass rush. The defensive line and linebacking core have done well to stop the run this year, but are ranked 18th out of 32 with 34 sacks on opposing quarterbacks. Matt Ryan was sacked 37 times this season which is tied for the sixth-highest in the NFL.
If the Patriots can get to Matt Ryan and cause a few turnovers, the damage of the Falcon’s offense will be mitigated.
Overall, the New England Patriots match up better than the Atlanta Falcons. They are comparable on the offensive side of the ball, but Atlanta’s defense does not come close to the level of New England’s. If a team cannot stop Tom Brady, and it does not look like Atlanta has the assets to do so, then the Patriots usually win.
Look for Brady and Belichick to secure their fifth championship as a duo.
PS – Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. is the greatest of all time regardless of the Super Bowl LI result. Don’t @ me.