Written by Josh Jenkins
A match made in heaven.
But there are queries that shadow both squads.
Here are the questions that we think will determine who wins Super Bowl LI.
CAN THE FALCONS OFFENCE DELIVER ?
Atlanta has had a historically great offensive season, ranking amongst the top 10 all-time for points scored across the regular season. Some fears of big-game jitters were avoided when they put up 36 points against Seattle’s vaunted defence in the Wild Card weekend match, followed by an incredible display against Green Bay when Matt Ryan and the crew threw up 44 points.
Ryan will likely enter Super Bowl 51 as the league’s newest MVP but he owes as much to play-caller Kyle Shanahan as he does his dynamic and versatile group of weapons.
Julio Jones is the best wideout in football. Plain and simple.
Mohammed Sanu makes plays across the middle as often plays as a de-facto tight end.
Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman are the most versatile and dynamic pair of running backs in the game.
Throw in frequent cameos from Austin Hooper, Justin Hardy, Taylor Gabriel and big Levine Toilolo and you have a real quandary for the defence because with a well protected Ryan, you just can’t cover them all.
For the Falcons, starting the game with the ball and putting up 7 on the opening drive would give them the utmost confidence. They know their offence is electric but getting some proof of that on the opening drive of the Super Bowl would certainly help proceedings.
WILL TOM BRADY TEAR UP THE YOUNG FALCONS ?
Place a young and inexperienced defence in front of Tom Brady and you are at his mercy. Give Tommy and Belichick (and OC Josh McDaniels) two weeks to prepare for that young defence and murder will be on their collective minds.
Atlanta has an improving, athletic defence and it has continued to make more and more plays in the latter half of the season. Rush end Vic Beasley ended the season as the NFL’s sacks leader whilst former LSU standout Deion Jones developed into a premier mike linebacker. Robert Allford and Riccardo Allen have grown in the secondary and defensive expert Dan Quinn has ensured this defence has been on pace with its other-worldly offence.
But back to Bill and Brady.
Rob Gronkowski is not there, but he has been barely missed.
Julian Edelman’s play has risen to an elite level with some outstanding performances from Chris Hogan and running back Dion Lewis. Thumper LeGarrette Blount has been a weapon all season whilst off-season acquisition Martellus Bennett has been important with 87 on injured reserve.
Brady will be Brady in his seventh Super Bowl, searching for his fifth ring.
The Falcons are unlikely to rattle Teriffic Tom, but can they manufacture a couple of takeaways ?
JOINT MVP’S ?
In the two playoffs games for Atlanta, Coleman and Freeman have combined for 352 scrimmage yards and four scores. Both are as likely to rush for a 40-yard TD as they are to catch a wheel route and run it to the house. Shanahan utilises them most in big games (see the Falcons away win against Denver’s elite defence) and whilst Belichick will be keen on taking out Julio Jones, Coleman and Freeman could again be the knife that splits the opponents defence apart.
Team mates who play the same position are highly unlikely (OK, it’s no chance) to share the Super Bowl MVP award but Coleman’s burst combined with Freeman’s zip could make for a long day of chasing for Dont’a Hightower, Patrick Chung and co.
MALCOLM, THE GREAT… AGAIN ?
The last time New England collected a Lombardi trophy, Malcolm Butler had his DNA drenched all over the most important play of the game. 24 months later and Butler may again hold the key to a Patriots victory.
In his past six games, Matt Ryan has thrown for 18 TD’s without an interception. Butler will want to be the man to break that streak but his primary role will be his more important than a single pick, unless it’s on the one-yard line with a few seconds remaining. With an apparent sore toe, Julio tore up the Packers for 9 catches, 180 yards and a pair of dazzling touchdowns. Traditionally, Belichick has liked to take away the oppositions best weapon, and Jones is certainly that, but bracketing Julio leaves Sanu, Freeman, Coleman, Hooper, Hardy and Gabriel with juicy match-ups.
Ask me and IF Julio ends up with less than 50 yards and no trips to the paint, Atlanta cannot win, no matter how many weapons they have.
Josh: ATL 34-30, MVP Matt Ryan
Nate: NE 34-27, MVP Tom Brady
Tom: NE 31-27, MVP Tom Brady
Drew: NE 35-24, MVP Tom Brady