Sunday, the NFL season officially comes to a close when the New England Patriots take on the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. Kickoff time is scheduled for around 6:30 PM ET. Here is my official prediction for the game:
Super Bowl Game Information
Game: New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons
Date/Time: Sunday, February 5, 2015 at 6:30 p.m. ET
Location: NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
Television: FOX - Joe Buck & Troy Aikman (Pregame at 2:00 p.m. ET)
Odds: The Patriots are 3 point favorites, with the over/under at 58.5 points
National Anthem: Luke Bryan | America the Beautiful: Cast of Hamilton
Halftime Show: Lady Gaga | Prop Bets
Post-Super Bowl Show: 24: Legacy
Patriots vs. Falcons - 5 Storylines to Watch
1. Offensive Explosion: During the regular season, the Falcons averaged 33.8 points per game, while the Patriots averaged 27.6 points per game. In two postseason games, they are averaging 40.0 and 35.0 points per game, respectively. Although the Patriots' defense allowed a league low in points per game during the regular season (15.6), the anticipation is that this game should be a high-scoring affair.
In the Falcons’ last eight games, including the postseason, they have out-scored opponents 37.5 to 20.5. During that same stretch, the Patriots out-scored opponents 29.6 to 12.9. The margin of victory on average is typically by 17 points for each team, which means no matter how each club goes about it, they are used to getting out to fast starts and putting points on the board. The Falcons’ defensive prowess has also improved significantly since the first half of the season, as evidenced by how they shut down the Green Bay Packers two weeks ago.
2. Julio Jones and Alex Mack: Injuries are something to follow in the postseason, and heading into this game, the Falcons are the team with the disadvantage. The Patriots have missed their big weapon Rob Gronkowski, but they’ve been used to life without him and it obviously has not impacted their win/loss record. Much of the Falcons’ success this season, i.e. what helped elevate them to the Super Bowl vs. years’ past, was the performance of free agent center Alex Mack. He’s going to try to play through the Super Bowl with a broken leg, though, something that once destroyed the Browns when Kyle Shanahan was their offensive coordinator. Star WR Julio Jones is also battling through a sprained toe:
That could mean more action for former Browns WR Taylor Gabriel, who stepped up all season but had a few miscues in last week’s NFC Championship game that were kind of swept under the rug.
3. The Running Games: For gameplan purposes, will each offense continue to use their explosive passing games to put points on the board, or will they take the “risk” that they can use their ground game to put together lengthy drives in a more defensive-oriented affair? Neither team has had an explosive ground game this postseason — the Falcons are averaging 3.4 yards per carry, while the Patriots are averaging 2.9 yards per carry.
Each team has running backs with game-changing skills. When LeGarrette Blount is on, he can punish a defense with his physicality. Dion Lewis is a skilled receiver and all-around threat. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman have both done more damage as receivers this postseason. But will Kyle Shanahan dare risk a more dedicated rushing attack in the Super Bowl, especially with the status of his center in question?
4. Delivering the Big Kick: In any given year, “clutch” would be synonymous with Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski. He was 27-of-32 during the regular season, but missed three extra points (46-of-49) after not having missed any in 2015. He also missed an extra point in the AFC Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
We’re at the point where we know Gostkowski is a capable kicker, but the mental game could be taking over, especially if he sets up to make a game-tying extra point some time in the game. Matt Bryant, on the other hand, is coming off the best season of his long career. He was 34-of-37 during the regular season, including a long of 59 yards. He was 56-of-57 on extra points, although he also missed one during the NFC Championship. In a postseason where we saw Dan Bailey (Cowboys) and Mason Crosby (Packers) both shine in a high-scoring, drama-filled NFC Divisional Playoff game, could kickers play a big role in the Super Bowl?
5. Matty Ice vs. Tom Brady: This is the year where Matt Ryan got over the hump, being named MVP of the NFL. Last year’s MVP, Cameron Newton, fell completely flat in the Super Bowl, though. Will we see the same disappointment for another first-time MVP going up against a more “veteran” team led by Tom Brady? I mean, we’re at the point where Brady will be playing in his seventh Super Bowl. If it weren’t for Eli Manning and those pesky New York Giants, he’d be undefeated in the Super Bowl.
Talking as a Browns Fan
There are plenty of former Browns players, coaches, or front office people on both teams, which you can review here. I don’t mind which team comes away victorious. The Patriots are no doubt tiresome to many fans, but I have a respect for an organization that is so good and well-coached that they can reach this level of success in their sleep. The Falcons have continued to persevere, blowing away the expectations and shattering my prediction (in the NFC Championship) that they would run into a buzzsaw that was Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. As it turns out, the Falcons were the buzzsaw.
The Alex Mack injury is going to be big for the Falcons. Even if it’s not noticeable in a major way, it could be the type of thing where all of the little things add up in the Patriots’ favor. In a high-scoring game, one slip up will give New England the edge that they can hang on to.
New England Patriots - 27
Atlanta Falcons - 24
Additionally, I'll take Brady to be the MVP, the post-game poured drink to be lime/green, and for the pre-game National Anthem to last 2:05. Be sure to submit your own picks in our DBN Pick'em.