With the Falcons beating the Packers 44-21, and the Patriots destroying the steelers 36–17 in Sunday’s conference championship games, the country has seen just two competitive playoff games out of the 10 played to this point.
Will the Houston Super Bowl on Feb. 5 be any different?
For that answer, let’s get an early look at the factors that will determine the winner of Super Bowl LI.
Here come the two best quarterbacks: Just about any way you slice it, this is a matchup between the top two passers in the league. Whether you look at passer rating, QBR, or yards per attempt, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and New England’s Tom Brady ended up No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the statistics department. They are masters of their craft, have plenty of weapons around them, and have two of the best play callers (Kyle Shanahan and Josh McDaniels) on the sidelines. To beat Brady, you have to disguise and change up both the pressure and coverage looks on just about every snap. The Falcons, to this point, have not shown the ability to do that. That will be an important factor in the game. Ryan has been having trouble with tight, disciplined coverage. With Malcolm Butler locking up either Julio Jones or Mohamed Sanu, and Logan Ryan on the other with safety help, Ryan may have to make a living throwing to the running backs and TEs Levine Toilolo and Austin Hooper. The Patriots have had more issues with supporting actors than those in starring roles. The Falcons have the ability to exploit that.
The running backs will be a huge factor: Sure, the quarterbacks may get all the attention, but the running backs from each team are used to taking advantage of the shortcomings on opposing defenses. The Falcons have one of the most talented duos in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Freeman is clearly the better runner, but Shanahan loves to use both to exploit mismatches in the pass game. McDaniels likes to use Dion Lewis and James White in a similar fashion via the pass, and Lewis has taken over as the every-down running back. LeGarrette Blount is the short yardage and finish-the-game bruiser.
Atlanta’s offense is awesome !! Under the spotlight of the Super Bowl, this Falcons offense may finally get its due. We’re talking about a unit that can rival the best fireworks show for explosiveness. They scored 540 points this season, which is tied for eighth all time with those 2000 Rams. Sure, the team is uber-talented with WRs Jones, Sanu and Taylor Gabriel, and RBs Freeman and Coleman, but don’t underestimate the job coordinator Shanahan has done. At this point, everyone thinks it’s all about the talent. However, Sanu was an underachieving No. 2 with the Bengals and Gabriel was a Browns castoff before this season. Freeman and Coleman were thought to be decent players, but not game changers. That all changed this season because of the way Shanahan designs plays and attacks defenses. There are very few better at taking an opponent’s tendencies and then using it against them.
What’s in common? The Falcons and Patriots each had five common opponents (Denver, Seattle, Arizona, Los Angeles and San Francisco) and went 4–1 (each team lost to the Seahawks, with Atlanta losing on the road and the Patriots at home). The cumulative scores were 168–88 for Atlanta; 119–82 for New England. The Falcons had an average margin of victory of 20.5 points, and the Patriots were at 11.0. The Patriots scraped by without Tom Brady in their two-point victory over the Cardinals, a team the Falcons beat by 19.