Well, those two Conference Championship games were complete duds. The Falcons and Patriots dominated from the start in each game, controlling both sides of the ball, and winning with ease. While Brady and Ryan have both appeared dominant this season, the similarities stop there with respect to this Super Bowl. Matt Ryan will be playing in his first Super Bowl game, having failed to reach the big game during his previous four trips to the playoffs. While Ryan has made five playoff appearances (certainly nothing to sneeze at for the 9th year veteran), Brady will be searching for his 5th Super Bowl victory in his 7th trip to the big game, an astonishing achievement. Irrespective of what happens in this game, there is no doubt in my mind that he is the GOAT, but if Brady is able to persevere in what will have to be a solid performance given the potency of the Falcons’ offense, he will leave no doubt. What do our writers think? Each dissects the game and gives you his prediction below. In case you are tracking at home and/or relying on a particular writer for betting purposes today, here are the writers’ records throughout the playoffs (in order of ML picking performance).
Stephen Wendell: I don’t have much to add than what I alluded to in the introduction above. Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense have been incredible, and I don’t think they choke in this Super Bowl. Rather, I think Belichick figures a way to slow them down, the Pats get an opportune turnover as they usually do, and Brady plays flawless football en route to a Patriots victory and Brady’s 5th Super Bowl Championship. Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Falcons 21.
Matt Papson: The greatest coach ever vs. a great coach. The greatest quarterback ever vs. a great quarterback. The greatest offensive coordinator ever vs. a great offensive coordinator. Kyle Shanahan has gotten the most of some average & slightly above average NFL quarterbacks. Brian Griese, Chris Simms, Matt Schaub, RG3, Kirk Cousins, Brian Hoyer (there was an aging Donovan McNabb in there too). Matt Ryan was the first great quarterback he got to work with, and they’ve been great together. While there’s no doubt Shanahan is thoroughly prepared for this game and wants desperately to win, he’s also the current head coach of another NFL football team (the 49ers). That’s kind of a weird dynamic to balance while preparing for and calling the biggest game of his life. Plus, the opponent isn’t exactly a pushover. Bill & Tom are unanimously considered among the best ever — here and there somebody will have one or the other second or third on their “list”, but nobody with an opinion worth listening to has them outside the top 3. The appearance in this game should cement them at the top, but a win would leave no doubt. Everybody cites the 4 rings, but what’s crazy is just how good Brady has been after his first 3 Super Bowl victories. If you only took his career since 2005 (most of which coincides with Josh McDaniels as OC), Brady would STILL be in the discussion for greatest ever, and maybe even considered it. Since 2005 (not including ’08; injured), he’s won 134 of 172 games, completed 64.5% of his passes, and averaged 33 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. He’s made 11 playoff appearances (every season), appeared in 8 conference championships, 4 Super Bowls, and he’s won at least one Super Bowl, maybe two. That is an absolutely insane career in an of itself. I can’t root against greatness, and I certainly won’t bet against it. Projected Score: Patriots 27 – Falcons 23.
Kyle English: I believe the Falcons can put up points against the Pats with their offense so I think this game comes down to how well the Falcons defense plays. They’ll need to generate a pass rush on Tom Brady without sending the house and they’ll need to win (or at least tie) the turnover battle. I would love to see Matt Ryan win the big one and will be cheering hard for the Falcons, but I don’t believe their defense will do enough for him. Pats win yet another one… Projected Score: Patriots 34 – Falcons 28.
Robert Cowper: The Patriots of recent memory certainly know how to win Super Bowls – more importantly they know how to keep those games close. In the six Super Bowls the Pats have played in since 2002, the scoring margin was a combined 20 points. If the game turns into a shootout I don’t believe Brady & Co can keep up with the stable of playmakers the Falcons have on offense so I think we are going to see Patriot game planning at its best. We’ll see a heavy dose of Blount and I would take him as my MVP pick at +2000 odds and hope for one of his signature three 1-yard TD games. I think it will be a typical Patriots Super Bowl, about 40 total points and comes down to a Gostkowski field goal. Given how well my predictions have gone so far this playoff season, we’ll probably see a 45-38 scoreline but I’m going with my gut again. Projected Score: Patriots 22 – Falcons 20.
Matt Goodwin: I’ve had one big miss in a red-hot playoffs and that was in thinking Aaron Rodgers scorching run would continue in Atlanta, who demonstrated to me they have what it takes to be Super Bowl Champions. To me this game is about an opportunistic defense and an offense that RSO player and numberFire Editor Brandon Gdula wrote about this week as historic. In my mind, that all starts with the free-agent signing of center Alex Mack from the Cleveland Browns. Mack, who was Pro Football Focus’ top run blocker at the position, also anchors a line that gives MVP candidate Matt Ryan all sorts of time to make big plays to many different receiving options, including both playmaking running backs (Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman). While it is hard to go against Tom Brady in his quest for a fifth ring, I just don’t think he has the same support on offense that the Falcons do, especially in a run game that frankly disappointed in its two playoff games. Aside from Dion Lewis’ three touchdowns against the Texans which is really only fantasy relevant, the Patriots yards per carry was atrocious. Without a good ground game, the underrated and opportunistic Atlanta defense (remember head coach Dan Quinn anchored a Super Bowl blowout for Seattle) and Vic Beasley can get pressure on Brady. So while all the intangibles swing towards New England and Brady, in a game to me that feels like a virtual heat, I’ll take Julio Jones to be the difference maker and Matt Ryan to get MVP honors in a Falcons win. Projected Score: Falcons 30 – Patriots 27.
Nick Andrews: The Big Game. The Show. Whatever you call it this matchup was surprisingly not the one that people realized they wanted until it happened. If you are a Patriots fan you want to see Brady get his 5th title to confirm his G.O.A.T. status. For everyone else sick of them you are hitching your wagon to “anybody else” which is played by a young, exciting Atlanta team. While most people have this game being a high scoring, back and forth affair (O/U at 59) Super Bowls generally are not. Looking back at the last two #1 scoring offenses to play in the Super Bowl the 2013 Denver Broncos scored eight points and the 2007 Patriots scored seventeen. Good games just don’t feature score after score, blowouts do. These two defensive-minded head coaches are too good to not have a game plan that revolves around feeling out what the other is doing in the first half and adjusting for the second half. Similar to their meeting two years ago when Quinn was a coordinator for the Seahawks. That game finished 28-24 which should be the template for predicting this game. Projected Score: Patriots 24 – Falcons 20. **Bonus MVP Prediction** Julian Edelman 120 yards, 2 TDs.
Dave Sanders: Could this be one of the highest scoring Super Bowl’s ever? Vegas thinks so with an over/under of 59 (as of Thursday), which will be the highest Vegas has ever projected in Super Bowl history if it stays over 57. We all know that the big game features two of the league’s top offenses, but Tony Khan (@tonyrkhan on Instagram) shared several stats that truly quantify what we’re seeing: 1) Both teams rank among the top three teams in offensive line stability (% of snaps taken by the same players). This speaks to the importance of continuity among the offensive line and that both lines are fairly healthy. 2) The teams also rank 1st and 2nd in QBR, Passer Rating, TD/INT, and YAC/Completion, which makes sense with Ryan and Brady playing possibly the best football of their careers. It’s never smart to bet against Brady in the postseason. Projected Score: Patriots 37 – Falcons 27.
Bernard Faller: This should be a fun one. There is no dominating defense in the Super Bowl for the first time in years. Instead we have what many would consider the top two offenses in the NFL. The key to this game is if the young Atlanta secondary will avoid the big mistakes that leave receivers wide open for Tom Brady to take advantage of. The Patriot defense largely avoided these types of blunders this year. They won’t stop the vaunted Falcons offense but do just enough to make them work for their points. Projected Score: Patriots 34 – Falcons 31.
Luke O’Connell: Dante drops one of the most famous lines in all of literature at the start of arguably the greatest epic poem ever written: “Midway upon the journey of our life/I found myself within a forest dark,/For the straightforward pathway had been lost.” (Inferno, Canto I, 1-3). The straightforward path is precisely my point of concern after attempting to analyze the Falcons’ chances against the Patriots. If the Falcons lose, it will be largely because of the interior line play of the New England Patriots. After PFF sorted them near the bottom of the league last season (25th) they have ascended from the inferno with Dante Scarnecchia, their offensive line coach. The bright lights will shine on the usual names, but if you don’t hear the names Joe Thuney, David Andrews, and Shaquille Mason then you can be sure the Falcons have not beaten the Patriot’s guards and center with interior pressure. No straight path to Brady means Atlanta will find all is lost. RSO Angle: Who will be the more expensive contract/trade commodity between Dion Lewis and Tevin Coleman? Both men will not be able to hide talent or usage on the biggest stage. Projected Score: Patriots 30 – Falcons 27.
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