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Super Bowl LI Preview and Prediction – Connor

Photos courtesy of Getty Images North America and Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY SPORTS. Image designed by First and Fan Team.

Bill Belichick has been a part of 10 out of the first 51 Super Bowls in NFL history. Tom Brady now enters his seventh Super Bowl. No coach and quarterback duo has seen more success in the NFL than Brady and Belichick. While age is a reasonable doubt to call into question, Tom Brady seems to find a way to improve each year. As long as the Patriots offense has Belichick, New England will be successful. Tom Brady may have missed the first four games, but the Pats still found a way to start the season off with three wins and one loss. They’ve seen various offensive stars go down with injuries, yet they continue to win. Now, is this a testament to Tom Brady’s leadership on and off the field, Belichick and Josh McDaniel’s strategic genius, or the bewildering fact that any New England Patriot’s backup has the ability to become the next unforeseen superstar in the matter of one game. Whatever the Patriots’ offense is doing right, Super Bowl 51 will go their way if they “just keep swimming.”

Let’s look at this more closely. Brady’s favorite target, Julian Edelman, only has to catch six passes to stand behind Jim Rice as the second all-time leader in postseason receptions. The Patriots offense has so many receiving weapons up and down the depth chart. Chris Hogan leads the NFL in yards per catch, and is measurably faster than any Falcons cornerback or safety. Even more impressive: the leader in touchdown receptions for the Patriots? Martellus Bennet. The injury riddled TE2 for the majority of the season caught seven touchdown passes. Combine that with eight other players receiving a touchdown and you have an offense that can attack from any angle. Include LeGarrette Blount, the league leader in rushing touchdowns, and you have a seemingly untouchable offense. James White and Dion Lewis operate as pseudo-wide receivers in the backfield, Bennett is arguably the best blocking tight end in the league, Brady is a combination of raw intelligence and skill, and their offensive line continues to give Brady plenty of time to find the right option. On paper, this offense should win, right?

Well, Matt Ryan has something to say about that. Currently the favorite for league MVP, Ryan boasts the highest scoring offense in the NFL with an average of 33.8 points per game. Add in Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu, a dangerous WR1 and WR2 combo, as well as the unstoppable rushing duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, to get a yards per game second only to the New Orleans’ Saints. It’s no doubt that the Falcons’ offense throws weapons at defenses and confuses them with quick gameplay. The Falcons have only been held under 20 points once this season, and there’s no stopping their dominant offense now. Matt Ryan has finally proved himself as an elite quarterback and his undefeated start last year was no fluke either. His matchup against Tom Brady is not actually the important matchup on Sunday, however. Both teams have unbelievably strong offenses, and despite their strategic differences this will certainly be a high scoring game. The winner will not be decided by who has the more dominant offense, but rather which defense create the more opportunities for their offense.

Let’s compare. The Patriots led the league in scoring defense, only allowing 15.6 points per game on average. Atlanta ranked 27th in the NFL in the same category, and allowed 156 more points than the Patriots over the course of the Regular season (406 points scored against the Falcons vs 250 points scored against the Patriots). So it’s a no brainer right? The Patriots defense gives up fewer points so they’ll win? Well the reason for the Falcons success has been the fact that they score first in almost every game, and outscore opponents 139 to 68 in the first quarter alone. Their high scoring offense has bailed out their defense, and while the points allowed is an alarming stat, it’s not the tell all of the Falcons’ d. Dan Quinn, the Falcons’ head coach, enters his third Super Bowl in four years after previously serving as the defensive coordinator for the Seahawks. Remember, this is the same defense that held Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay packers to a scoreless first half and overall horrible showing in the NFC Championship game. Quinn’s mentality is a quick and powerful defense that sends multiple men to confuse the quarterback -“Fast and physical,” as Quinn describes it. Linebacker Vic Beasley, leading the lead in sacks, has certainly bought into this system. Although he has not recorded a sack this postseason, his 15.5 sacks and 6 forced fumbles in the regular season are not something to ignore.

The Patriots defense is a completely different story. Under the guidance of the league’s next Bill Belichick (you heard it here first) in Matt Patricia, the Pats defense are very patient. They have allowed the fewest yards after catch in the NFL this season, and focus on immediately tackling ball carriers rather than delaying them as reinforcements attempt to strip the football, a common tactic. The New England defense boasts the second best rushing defense in addition to a top 10 passing defense. The make or break for both teams in this matchup is whether or not the Patriots defense can stop Matt Ryan.

I expect a great showing from both offenses. Matt Ryan and Tom Brady are the two favorites for MVP, which is announced tomorrow. Ryan and Brady both have a variety of reliable receiving options, and combine that with each team’s strong rushing offenses and it should be a high scoring matchup. Like many of the other games this postseason, the more dominant defense will rise as the victor. The Falcons defense destroyed the Packers, while Green Bay’s D looked lost against Matt Ryan. The Patriots’ defense boasts many league leading statistics, but at the end of the day Ryan has been able to blow past supposedly strong defenses. I have to give this matchup to Tom Brady, however. The Pats defense can cause enough matchup issues against Ryan, and Brady will be successful as always. But, like the last six Super Bowls the Patriots played in since 2001, expect a close game with less than a 7 point lead going into the final moments of the game.

Final score: Patriots 33 – Falcons 27

Super Bowl MVP: Tom Brady

We can go through a few guys for this, maybe Edelman or Hogan step up with a few touchdown receptions. Maybe Blount or Lewis go off. Maybe Malcolm Butler has some key batted passes and another game saving interception at the goal line. Any Patriots player could come up big in this game, but no player will have a greater role than Brady. He already has three Super Bowl MVPs (should be four, sorry Deion Branch), and his collection will only get bigger. The only person I could see dethroning Brady for this game’s MVP is Bill Belichick if he put on a uniform and scored the game winning touchdown like Coach Scarborough in The Longest Yard. Maybe we don’t appreciate it as much with the rise of social media, but Brady is a once in a lifetime NFL legend, and he’s still playing.

Post halftime show reaction: Hmm, I forgot that Lady Gaga was a singer. Not bad I guess.

Connor Dolan
Connor is co-founder of First And Fan and head of all website operations. He's a die hard Boston sports fan with a passion for sports, media, and all things David Ortiz.