Aahhh! Yes, I know you’ve probably heard way too much about this game already, but I wanted to gather up some cool links and info anyway before the big game. Let’s get right into it:
New England Patriots
Quinn has refuted the idea of “Seattle East,” but it’s hard not to throw superlatives on a defense as fast and exciting as the Falcons. Still, this is the ultimate test.
How is Gronk only 27??!
I’m mimicking something Peter King said on Charlie Rose yesterday: if New England is going to have a chance with Atlanta’s offense, it has to start by shutting down the run and then going from there.
And New England has the right personnel to do it, from Alan Branch to Texas alum Malcom Brown and Nebraska’s Vincent Valentine. Unfortunately for the Pats, Branch, Valentine, and run-stuffing LB Dont’a Hightower have seen limited participation leading up the Super Bowl with injuries.
This is a pretty anonymous linebacking group, to be honest; Detroit Lions fans will know the name Kyle Van Noy, and college fans remember Dont’a Hightower from his Alabama days. (265 pounds at linebacker! Wuh-da-hell.)
And what do ya know, Atlanta will be playing a lot of rookies on the defensive side of the ball.
To be fair, this underdog thing has gone their way before.
Lastly, I’ll leave this heart-melter right here. Watch out.
An organized and coherent starting off point if you don’t know much about the players. On offense, the Falcons have invested big in Matt Ryan, their offensive line, and the starting wide receivers; meanwhile, they’re paying all their key running backs and tight ends under $1,000,000. On defense, they’ve put most of their money into the defensive line and corners.
Speaking of, contract negotiations are sure to be taking place between RB Devonta Freeman and the Falcons’ front office after this game is over. But for right now, this duo is pretty hard to stop.
These teams are mirrors of each other, in a way. While New England’s defense has to be worried about missing tackles because of Atlanta’s speed, Atlanta’s defense has been having some problems of its own all season long.
Atlanta’s defense is young, fast, and they’ve been drafted by guys who are really good at spotting talent. But there are some holes to be found if you look closely.
His energy is similar to guys like Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh.
This was a great overall piece by USA Today.
The behind-the-scenes stories are one of the biggest reasons why I love the game - and there always some good ones around championship time.
Five Thoughts, And A Prediction
To maybe state the obvious, but I think that this will be a classic game. Both teams are compelling and dynamic, with a lot on the line for both sides. For New England, this is about solidifying a dynastic resume. For Atlanta, it’s a culmination of a season of proving that the Falcons - who are going to just their second Super Bowl ever - belong.
Both sides will have a lot to plan for, some clever coaches who will try to trip up the opposition, and neither side will quit if they’re down two scores.
I’ve said it before, but New England’s run defense has to be amazing for them to have a chance. Even if Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman get bottled up consistently, they can still throw a lot at this New England team. (Leaking the runners out into the flat comes to mind.) It’s conceivable that someone like Alan Branch gets Super Bowl MVP honors if New England does win this thing.
And as for the injury reports, I wouldn’t put much stock in it. All the run defenders will be ready to give it their all in the last game.
New England is famous for taking away the other team’s best player, but I’m not sure that’s the way to go against Atlanta. In fact, Atlanta’s whole offense is built on being able to take advantage of not using their #1 receiver.
Instead, I think New England tries to simplify the game down for their defense: take away the run game and some of the secondary pass options, and make the game as simple as possible for New England’s players. That way they can keep their aggressiveness and try to force turnovers.
I won’t fall into that trap of New England’s persistent anonymity; I know their defense is legit, and peppered with guys who would chop off an arm to turn a 6-yard gain into a 5.5-yard gain. But I also think nobody in the league can stop Julio Jones. If it does happen, I’ll need to pick my jaw up from the basement.
Jokes aside, I think Atlanta’s defense is underappreciated as well; their front seven is more than just Vic Beasley and a bunch of somebodies, and their rookies are very solid, mature players. Dan Quinn has shown he’s a very good communicator, which is tremendously important for situations like these.
As a result, I’m betting this will be a lower-scoring game than many would predict. New England wants to score, but they also want to keep the ball out of Matt Ryan’s hands as much as possible. Ditto for Atlanta, although a slower-paced game favors the Patriots with LeGarrette Blount.
If the Patriots can take some things away from the Falcons, which I think is a safe bet, the Falcons will still be able to matriculate down the field on talent alone. They do not, however, want to go three-and-out very often and give the ball to Tom Brady. So both sides will be feeling their way down the field, trying to not to give up that pivotal turnover or give the other side much life.
My prediction: Falcons 24, Patriots 23.