The New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons were able to defeat their respective opponents in their conference championship games and clinch an appearance in Super Bowl 51 in Houston, Texas. For the Patriots, this will be their NFL-record ninth Super Bowl appearance, and seventh appearance for the Brady-Belichick duo in New England. In stark contrast, this will only be the second Super Bowl appearance for the Atlanta Falcons and first since 1998.
The Patriots are probably the best team from top to bottom in the NFL. Out of the four teams remaining prior to championship weekend, the Patriots had, by far, the best defense out of the bunch and feature one of the most prolific offenses that I have seen in the past couple of years, even without Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots have not been able to generate a ton of pressure on the quarterback, but the secondary has played above and beyond their expectations for this season.
Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan have really turned it on this year, especially in the playoffs. Butler in particular has turned into one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL and can really match up with any receiver. This statement will be tested as Butler may get the task of covering Julio Jones in the Super Bowl. Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung provide unique skill sets at their respective positions and give the Patriots a number of different scheme options on defense. Chung can stuff the run with the best safeties in the league, but can also cover bigger tight ends or shiftier running backs. McCourty has quietly become the hard-hitting safety that he was paid to be, as well.
Offensively, we all know what type of team this is. Even without Gronk, the Patriots were able to move the ball with relative ease as Julian Edelman was able to remain healthy and key additions Malcom Mitchel and Chris Hogan were able to make massive impacts. If a team wants to try and shut down all of the Patriots receivers, which is nearly impossible, then the Patriots will unleash their triple threat at running back in James White, Dion Lewis, and LeGarrette Blount. They all offer a unique skill set and it is damn near impossible to stop all of them in the same game.
Now, lets get to the Atlanta Falcons. Yes, they are probably the best team in the NFC right now and seem to be clicking, specifically on offense, at the right time. However, the Falcons have never been here before and I think that is a massive x-factor that many media pundits are overlooking.
The Super Bowl is the biggest sporting even in the United States. Players have to answer thousands of questions for media outlets all over the country. It is truly a spectacle if someone takes a step back and realizes the moment they are in. Could a young player on Atlanta get butterflies or tense up? Absolutely. Hell, could Matt Ryan or Julio Jones be one of those players? I think so.
But regardless, lets talk as if the Falcons don't crap their pants when the lights are the brightest. While the Falcons feature arguably the best offense in the NFL, their defense has been horrendous. To be perfectly honest, they remind me a lot of the Pittsburgh Steelers. They have a good quarterback in Matt Ryan (Ben Roethlisberger), an elite receiver in Julio Jones (Antonio Brown) and a great running back in Devonta Freeman (Le'Veon Bell). Now, it isn't an exact comparison, as Julio Jones is probably better than Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell is probably better than Devonta Freeman, but I think it is a decent comparison.
Additionally, the Falcons have an absolutely terrible defense. According to Derek Havens of PatsFans.com, the Falcons rank 25th in yards allowed per game, 28th in passing defense, 17th in rushing defense, and 27th in points per game. Furthermore, the Falcons led the NFL in scoring with 33.8 points per game. When teams have made the Super Bowl with the highest scoring offense, since 2005, they are 1-5. Simply put, the Falcons are your typical dome team.
I don't want to overreact, but I just think this is a mismatch for the Patriots. The Patriots have been there before and shred zone defenses, which the Falcons love to play. There is simply too much inexperience for me to think the Falcons can knock off the Patriots.
Don't worry, there will be more Super Bowl coverage as we get closer to next Sunday's big game.