Super Bowl LI Preview

By: Jason Earle

After two lopsided conference championship games last weekend, Super Bowl LI is set. The Atlanta Falcons proved that their commonly subpar defense is not enough to keep them out of the big game, while the consistently dominant New England Patriots stifled one of the most talented offensive sets in the NFL in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ “Killer Bs.” Atlanta rallied off a 24-0 halftime advantage to finish the contest with a 44-21 victory, while New England built second half momentum to increase a 17-9 halftime lead to a final tally of 36-17.

After an ACC Player of the Year Award at Boston College, an Offensive Rookie of the Year Award in 2008, and four Pro Bowl appearances including this season, the 31 year old Matt Ryan will play for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The man has waited for this moment his entire career. Throughout his NFL years, he has been tabbed as the quarterback who starts the season hot and plummets his team out of the playoffs by Week 17. It’s hard to dispute the evidence. Just last season, the Falcons jumped out to a 5-0 start that ended with an 8-8 season void of a playoff appearance. Some of those doubters were still prevalent this year. In 2012, Ryan led the Falcons to the NFC Championship before falling to a young Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers. In Ryan’s latest campaign, non-believers were confident that Aaron Rodgers was the more confident, consistent, experienced NFL quarterback that would surely advance Green Bay to the Super Bowl for a ninth consecutive Packer win. After all, a quarterback like Rodgers would torch that ugly Atlanta defense. That was not the case. By halftime, Matt Ryan had the Falcons up 24-0 after throwing two touchdowns and running for one. He finished the game with nearly 400 passing yards, five total touchdowns, zero interceptions, and zero sacks. The Atlanta defense held a stellar Packer pass offense to just three touchdowns, none of which occurred before the Falcons had already built a 31-0 lead.

This is the game Falcons supporters have been waiting for since a disappointing loss in Super Bowl XXXIII to the Denver Broncos eighteen years ago. In just his second year as head coach, Dan Quinn has led the team to its second ever Super Bowl appearance, and he has a prime opportunity to bring the franchise its first Lombardi Trophy. All the pieces seem to be in place for the Falcons. They have an All-Pro quarterback, one of the best dual threat backfields in all of the NFL, a receiving core with a top five NFL receiver in Julio Jones, and an improving defense led by Keanu Neal, Jalen Collins, and Vic Beasley Jr. What could possibly go wrong? The only problem comes in the opponent. Ultimately, the Falcons must face the 16-2 New England Patriots, led by four-time Super Bowl Champion Tom Brady and his trusty companion at head coach with six rings of his own, Bill Belichick.

Brady and Belichick, along with the rest of the New England Patriots, comprise probably the most evil, hated dynasty in all of professional sports. The Pats have been to seven Super Bowls since the turn of the millennium, winning four of them, and in 21st Century American sports, nobody likes the favorites; especially when they’re borderline cheaters. After Spygate, Deflategate, and now Alarmgate, the Patriots are certainly the most controversial franchise in all the NFL, maybe in all of sports. Bill Belichick is Darth Vader, and Tom Brady is Kylo Ren. That being said, it’d be pretty challenging to find a Patriots fan without a New England tie, especially now that “America’s team” is actually good. Regardless, the Pats are headed back to the Super Bowl once again, and they’ve done it without the best tight end in football in Rob Gronkowski who suffered a back injury in late November. One could argue the Patriots are better than ever before. That’s the scary part. What may be even scarier is the fact that this is a team that has won at least 12 regular season games in every season since 2009; they could only manage 10 that year. The Patriots could very easily be 18-0 this year. Had Tom Brady not been suspended in a Week 4 loss to the Bills, that likely would’ve been a Pats W, and the next loss closed with a controversial pass interference dispute against a talented Seahawks team. Those are the only two games the Patriots have lost this season. Good luck Atlanta.

They say that defense wins championships and that will likely be the case in this one. The Patriots and Falcons have two of the most dynamic, talented offenses in all of football; so the defense that is able to temper the opposing passing effort more effectively will likely be victorious. Nevertheless, we’re should be in for a shootout in the Super Bowl with the highest ever over/under at 58.
My prediction: Patriots 37, Falcons 24.

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