Super Bowl LI Preview
A Position-by-Position breakdown of Super Bowl LI
Considering Brady missed the first four games of the season, it would be quite unfair to compare season stats in this situation, but let’s take a look at what each quarterback has done in the postseason thus far. Matt Ryan has had an incredible postseason up to this point. The eight-year veteran quarterback has been put to the test, already defeating a tough defense in the form of Seattle and a powerhouse and red hot offense that was the Green Bay Packers. His 132.7 quarterback rating is what makes Matty Ice standout. Yes, Ryan does have better weapons than on offense solely because of star wide receiver Julio Jones, but it’s his impressive postseason touchdown to interception ratio that even puts him in the conversation to compete with Brady in a Super Bowl. On the other hand, Matt Ryan is going up against one of, if not the greatest quarterback of all time, especially in the postseason. Ryan has bested Brady’s five to two touchdown to interception ratio this postseason as well by putting up seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
What makes Brady so good is his playoff experience and ability to lead a team in the playoffs. Not once has Matt Ryan ever even been to a Super Bowl game. At the same time, Brady has played in six Super Bowls and has a 4-2 record in those games. Looking at the playoffs, Brady has a record of 24-9 in his postseason career compared to Matt Ryan’s 3-4 post season career record. I’m not saying this is just some other game for Brady, but in some ways it is. Brady has been in this position too many times to make mistakes. Who knows? Matt Ryan may come out not feeling nervous, but in his first super bowl, the odds of that happening are very slim. Ryan’s inexperience may cause some unintended consequences. Oh, and did I mention Brady has never lost to the Falcons in his sixteen year career?
The combination of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman has been a very big bright spot for the Falcons this season. Once again, Freeman had a 1,000 rushing yard season, On top of that, Freeman was able to haul in 54 receptions for 462 yards. Combing for over 90 receptions on the season, both Falcon running backs are dual threats out of the backfield.
As for the Patriots, their running back depth is also quite impressive. Dion Lewis is also a dual threat coming out of the backfield. His ability to hit gaps and run routes is one that always keeps the defense guessing. In the same backfield, comes LeGarrette Blount. Blount, a power back, has had himself another 1,000 plus yard season this year. Blount’s strength and resistance are two qualities that no other running back on the field will best him in this coming Sunday. Despite Blount’s major success in the touchdown category this season, he had 14 of his 19 touchdowns come from within three yards of the goal line. James White can also be noted as a Patriot running back, but it’s hard to see him as a true runner when he had 60 receptions and only 39 carries this season. Expect to see White in the slot if anything.
The Falcons core running backs are both ones in which can run the ball well and with speed and power. When you have two running backs that can do it all as opposed to two backs that really only specialize in one attribute, you know you’ll give the opposing defense more trouble.
One question that never really seems to have a sure answer is determining whether or not the Patriots have a deep threat within one of their wide receivers. Many thought that the Patriots had that deep threat within Malcolm Mitchell, but his 28.6 receiving yards per game squashed that theory pretty quickly, The Patriots are composed of quick wide receivers whose jobs are to get open mainly somewhere across the middle of the field. There never seems to be that over-the-top mentality with the Patriots mainly because none of their wide receivers possess the height for those sorts of catches, Regardless, Edelman, Hogan, and Mitchell have done their jobs this year by racking up 2,187 yards on 168 receptions as a unit.
As for the Falcons, they have deep threats and quickness on their side. It’s no secret that Julio Jones is one of, if not the best wide receiver in the NFL. His ability to catch passes over the top is one thing that Malcolm Butler will have a hard time with this coming Sunday. Jones had 1,409 receiving yards this year over 83 receptions, averaging a monstrous 17 yards per reception. What’s scary about the Falcons is how many options they have. Five receivers on their team had over 20 receptions this season. Versatility is what makes the wide receiving core so good. Jones can go deep, or he can break free on a drag route over the middle. Sometimes you just can’t cover him. At the same time, the Falcons have the very speedy and elusive player Taylor Gabriel, whose fastest run this year was clocked at 21.5 mph.
Brady has proven this year that he can turn any receiver and option on the field into a great asset, but it never hurts to have an abundance of options. Overall, the comparison of the two respective wide receiving cores is very close. That being said, the one and only reason that gives the Falcons a slight edge at wide receiver is because of MVP candidate Julio Jones
The signing of Martellus Bennett showed to be a fantastic decision made by the Patriots organization. Bennett most definitely developed into one of the most viable options for Brady. With Gronkowski out for most of the season, Bennett proved he can be the sole tight end in New England and still be successful. His performance this year has turned a lot of heads and has also stirred up a lot of talk about a big contract extension for himself. Bennett went for 701 yards and seven touchdowns over in 2016. It was Bennett’s single season record in touchdowns.
For the Falcons, ever since Jacob Tamme went down with a season ending injury, Austin Hooper has been the go to TE. Hooper has been quiet this post-season, only putting up 33 yards on three receptions. His regular season was also nothing special, as he posted 271 yards over 19 receptions. The 22 year old tight end is experiencing his first post-season ever.
There’s not much to argue here, Bennett has the experience and numbers to back up the fact that he will be the best tight end out on the football field on Sunday.
The Falcons defense has struggled all season long. Coming in as the 27th ranked defense in the NFL, the Falcons defense is simply no match for Tom Brady. The Falcons defense has given up the fourth most touchdowns in the league while giving up an average of 25 points per game to the opposing offense. Nothing here stands out for the Falcons. The Falcons have let up more yards, touchdowns, and yards per play than the Patriots this year.
Many say that the Patriots defense has been very overrated this year, having quarterback matchups like Landry Jones and Bryce Petty twice. New England was able to squash that statement during the AFC championship, where they defeated the Steelers 36-17. Leading the league in points allowed with 15.6 per game, the New England defense is nothing to mess around with.
It will always come down to more than raw skill and stats. It is the experience in situations like the Super Bowl that puts teams in a position to win. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are heading into their seventh super bowl while Matt Ryan is heading into his first. Now, Dan Quinn does have a lot of experience, now heading into his fourth super bowl in his head coaching career, but does he have enough to beat the Patriots?
It really comes down to one question for the Falcons, can they stop Tom Brady? If they cannot, which is likely, then it is going to be very difficult for them to keep up against this offense Brady is running. It’s the Falcons who have to go up against the number one defense in points allowed, not the Patriots. It will take great coaching and direction from the respective staffs if either team wants to win this game. When talking about coaching in the playoffs, there is nobody else you would rather have than Bill Belichick.
By the end of this week, expect Tom Brady to have enough rings to fully cover one hand.
MY PREDICTION: PATRIOTS 41, FALCONS 27
All stats came from: pro-football-reference.com