Football games are made up of three elements, offense, defense, and special teams. Atlanta is playing New England so let’s have a look at those elements as they relate to both the Falcons and the Patriots.
And, oh, yes, owners play a role, too. Let’s address that up front and be done with it. The Falcons’ owner, Arthur Blank, looks like he belongs in a Woody Allen movie. In his beautifully tailored vested suits and Gable mustache, he looks like he wouldn’t be caught dead in any one of his 2,274 Home Depot stores.
His counterpart, Patriots owner Robert Kraft has donated a Super Bowl ring to Russian Premier Vladimir Putin which is presently on display amongst other gifts at the Kremlin. Go ahead, Google that nugget.
A brief comment about coaching. This will be Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn’s first Super Bowl rodeo. Bill Belichick has been to so many Super Bowls, he has saddle sores. Good coaching counts. Edge to Belichick. When he was assisting Bill Parcells, he got the Tuna enough wins to get him into the HOF. Parcells never even mentioned Belichick by name in his acceptance speech. When Belichick gets in, it will be as the second greatest coach to Vince Lombardi in NFL history, and strictly on his own.
Offense: If Julio Jones catches nine or more passes, the Falcons will win. That doesn’t mean if he catches fewer, the Falcons lose. It’s entirely possible he’ll catch only three but those could well be seventy-yard touchdowns. Brady threw 432 passes this season. Only two–that is not a misprint–two were intercepted and he was sacked only 15 times. Ryan was picked off only seven times of 534 thrown but had 37 sacks. Both are terrific quarterbacks, prolific and skilled at reading defenses. But Ryan has Julio and Brady doesn’t. Passing game edge goes to the Falcons. Running the ball, they were within 200 yards of each other for the entire season and both achieved 13 touchdowns rushing. Running games are a wash.
Defense: Both teams are nearly equal on defense, giving up fairly similar yardage against both the run and the pass with Atlanta giving up about thirty yards a game more against the pass than the Patriots do. Look for Brady to hit receivers over the middle more against Atlanta zone defenses for shorter gains. Look for Ryan to hit Julio Jones in stride crossing over the middle to get him deep fast. I haven’t seen many bubble or tunnel screens by either team. The Pats really shine against the run, giving up a miserly 88 yards per game while Atlanta clocks in at 104. Memo to Pats: Stop Julio Jones.
Special Teams: It gets very interesting here. Atlanta is 34 of 37 on field goals with the longest being 59 yards. New England is 27 of 32 with 53 yards the longest. That six-yard difference in kicking distance might come into play late. On PAT’s, Atlanta holds a slight edge at 98 to 94 percent success rate. Kickoff and punt returns are pretty equal. Both teams have lost ten fumbles throughout the 2016 season. Both coverage units do a great job, holding net punting to slightly over forty-one yards. Special teams are a wash with Atlanta holding that slim edge on successful long range field goal kicking.
So who is going to win? If Ryan and Jones click often enough for big gains, Atlanta wins. If the New England staff can find a way to stop that, the experience of Belichick and Brady will carry the day. My pick: New England 28 vs Atlanta 24.