By: Zach Weisleder
The Falcons and Patriots Will Save a Boring Postseason
Super Bowl 51 will feature the top scoring offense versus the top scoring defense. The Atlanta Falcons led the NFL in points for this season (33.8 per game), and the New England Patriots led the NFL in points allowed this season (15.6 per game).
There have only been five occasions since the merger where the NFL has seen the #1 ranked defense square off against the #1 offense in the Super Bowl. In these five games, the top defenses have proven to be too much to handle for the opposition, holding a 4-1 record against the top offense. However, these matchups don’t always live up to expectations. The most recent Super Bowl where the top defense battled the top offense was in Super Bowl XLVIII, a game that was decided early in the first quarter. In that game, the Seattle Seahawks demolished the Denver Broncos 43-8. This win for Seattle came against a Broncos offense that set a regular season scoring record that season. An example of a finals matchup between a top defense and offense that exceeded expectations was Super Bowl XXV, a game in which Bill Belichick, the New York Giants defensive coordinator at the time, helped lead the Giants to a 20-19 win over the Buffalo Bills. Belichick also won Super Bowl XXXVIII with the New England Patriots when working with the top ranked defense, and is aiming to go a perfect 3/3 come February 5th, and gain his 7th title as a head coach. Super Bowl games that feature the top defense and offense in the NFL typically surpass Vegas over/under predictions. Super Bowl XXV was the only instance when the point total fell short of the pregame over/under. In the other four occasions, the combined score of both teams surpassed the Vegas expectation. Yet most of these games were disappointing. On February 5th, things will be different.
Historically speaking, great defenses usually defeat great offenses in the Super Bowl. However, Atlanta has the ability to change this historically proven truth, if their offense continues to dominate, and their defense continues to over achieve. The Falcons ended the 2016 regular season on a four-game winning streak, secured a first round bye, and haven’t looked back. Matt Ryan manhandled an elite defense in Seattle during the divisional round, in which he threw for 338 yards and three touchdowns. As a result, the Atlanta Falcons stunned many with a convincing 36-20 win. The Falcons played even better when they met the Packers in the NFC Championship game. Matt Ryan threw for 392 yards, and had four passing touchdowns, and one rushing touchdown. When the clock ticked zero, Atlanta put up an astonishing 493 total yards in a 44-21 victory. Although this offense took advantage of a mediocre Packers defense, the Falcons had a comfortable lead for the majority of the game simply because their defense bested Aaron Rodgers offense. In this matchup, Atlanta’s defense allowed just 21 points against a Green Bay offense that scored 34 points the week before, in Dallas. When the playoffs started, many including myself believed that the Falcons offense would not be able to carry a mediocre defense. Through two playoff games, Atlanta’s defense has allowed just 20 and 21 points against good offenses, averaging nearly 5 less allowed points per game than during the regular season. If this strong defensive play continues against the Pats on Sunday, Atlanta’s offense can win the big dance. When Kyle Shanahan is calling plays, and Matt Ryan is executing the way he has, especially with superstar wide-receiver Julio Jones, this Super Bowl can very well be a shootout. If the Falcons offense picks up where it left off, and defense doesn’t get torched by Tom Brady, the Lombardi trophy should belong to Atlanta.
On the other hand, the New England Patriots, led by the best player/coach duo in sports history in Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, will be more prepared than ever for their 7th Super Bowl appearance together. The New England Patriots were unbelievable this regular season. While Tom Brady was serving a four game suspension at the beginning of the year, the Patriots proved to the NFL world that they can still compete without Brady, going 3-1. After his four game suspension, Tom Brady led New England to an 11-1 record in their final 12 games, most of which did not include Superstar Tight End Rob Gronkowski, or renowned Linebacker Jamie Collins, who was dealt to Cleveland earlier in the season. When New England played its first game after having a first round bye, the Pats proved that they are more than just Brady’s team. In that game, Brady completed just 18-38 pass attempts, threw two touchdowns, but also had two interceptions. Even with a below-average performance from TB12, New England’s defense, as well as a three-touchdown performance from Dion Lewis, allowed the Pats to breeze past the Texans 34-16. Going into the playoffs, there were no teams in the AFC that I believed had any chance against the Patriots other than the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that the Patriots annihilated in the AFC championship game. Brady lit up the Pittsburgh defense throwing for 384 yards and three touchdowns. The Patriots defense also only allowed 17 points against an offense that includes arguably the best Wide Receiver in Antonio Brown, the best running back in Le’veon Bell, and a dominant quarterback in Big Ben. New England has the #1 defense in the NFL this season statistically, the best Quarterback in the NFL in Tom Brady, and a coach who will construct a deadly game plan, Bill Belichick. If Tom Brady and company are on their game, I wouldn’t be surprised if this game is a blowout.
It’s hard to imagine Atlanta beating New England, but if Matt Ryan’s offense clicks from the get go, and we see another strong performance from Atlanta’s defense, they can do what Eli Manning was able to do twice, beat a favoured New England Patriots team. However, if Tom Brady and company are on their A game, expect this game to be over before it starts.
Have a different opinion, or just want to talk about the excitement of next Sunday? Comment in the comments section and start the debate!
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