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Super Bowl 51 is almost upon us. The New England Patriots are looking to make history, while the Atlanta Falcons hope to lift their first Lombardi Trophy in franchise history. In a matchup featuring two high-octane offenses, the focus will be on the quarterbacks, and who will be able to perform on America’s biggest stage. Let’s break down the matchups.
Quarterback: Don’t you feel sorry for Matt Ryan? He will be the NFL MVP, and in his first Super Bowl, he has to go toe-to-toe with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, in their seventh Super Bowl. All due credit to Matt Ryan, he has had a historic year, but Tom Brady is arguably in his prime, at age 39. He takes care of the football better than any other quarterback in the league, and his experience on the big stage is second to none. Edge: Patriots.
Running Backs: I’ll be the first to say it: The duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman is the most dangerous in the league. They both are incredibly talented in all three parts of being a running back. They can run the ball, catch the ball and pass protect as well as any running back in the league. Watching the film on these two is highly entertaining, and they will be the key to the game. If they can play keep away, and leave Tom Brady on the bench, that is their best way to win. No disrespect to LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis, and James White, but the Pat’s trio of running backs are no match to the Falcons duo. Edge: Falcons.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: This is closer than a lot of people think. There is no denying the talent of Julio Jones. The big-bodied receiver is the best in the game and can work the short, intermediate and deep routes. The Patriots trio of Edelman-Hogan-Mitchell is highly underrated. Edelman has proven he is a top receiver in this league, when healthy. Hogan is the deep threat the Patriots have needed since Moss, and Mitchell has come along as the possession receiver the Patriots needed across Edelman. Martellus Bennett has excelled this year, as a receiver and a run blocker, and allowed the Patriots offense to move along without Gronk. Edge: Push.
Offensive Line: This is another close one, as both offensive lines have played outstanding this year. The tackle combination of Nate Solder-Marcus Cannon is the best in the league, and second-year guard Shaq Mason has excelled this season. For the Falcons, center Alex Mack and tackle Ryan Schraeder have been dominant this year. The struggles on the left side of the line hold this unit back, as guard Chris Chester and tackle Jake Matthews have been inconsistent. Edge: Patriots.
Defensive Line: These two defensive lines could not be more different. One loves to get after the passer, and the other is built to stop the run first. Vic Beasley, the NFL’s sack leader, likes to get upfield, but he must stay disciplined, especially if the Falcons are not in a comfortable lead. I honestly believe these two defensive lines will have zero impact on the game, since they are both not dominant units, and the offensive lines they will be facing are. Edge: Push.
Linebackers: This will be a key matchup on both sides since both teams love to use the middle of the field. The Falcons’ running backs are often matched up against linebackers because of the plethora of weapons on the outside, and that is not a matchup the Patriots want. Other than star linebacker Dont’a Hightower, the Patriots linebackers do not play well in space. On the other side, the Falcons linebackers play great in space but struggle against the run. The only reason I give the Patriots the edge is because of linebacker Dont’a Hightower, and his all around ability to stop the run, play in the space and blitz up the middle. Edge: Patriots.
Secondary: The Falcons wish they still had Desmond Trufant, as he was able to play man or zone. The rest of the Falcons’ secondary? They are not good in man coverage, which is good for head coach Dan Quinn’s system, but Brady shreds zones. I fully expect the Falcons to play mostly their cover-3 scheme, and just hope for Brady to make a mistake. The Patriots secondary? A lot more talented. Malcolm Butler is a top-five cornerback; Logan Ryan is a solid slot cornerback. Devin McCourty is a top-five safety and is extremely versatile. Since the Patriots have settled on their secondary rotation, they have been able to mix up their front seven assignments, and really make this defense excel. Edge: Patriots.
Special Teams: Bill Belichick has always liked to play it safe when it comes to special teams. Regarding coverage, the Patriots have the edge, with the likes of Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner, and Jonathan Jones. What the Patriots have lacked this season is consistent kicking and consistent returning. That is where the Falcons have the edge, as kicker Matt Bryant has been highly efficient this year, and returner Eric Weems has done a solid job. Edge: Falcons.
Coaching: Is this truly a question? No disrespect to Dan Quinn, who has been to 3 of the last 4 Super Bowls, but this is Bill Belichick we are talking about, one of the all-time greats, if not the greatest coach of all time. For the coordinators? It is a pretty close battle. Pats offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, and Falcons offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, are very similar offensive minds. They are both offensive geniuses, who never like to give the defense the same look. Patriots defensive coordinator, Matt Patricia, is a bright young mind, who likes to switch his game plan week to week. Falcons defensive coordinator, Richard Smith, has coached up some unique talents, including the outstanding Denver Broncos linebacker group. Edge: Patriots.
The final count goes to the Patriots, who win it with a 5-2 count, with two pushes. It is much closer than it seems, as both teams are equally talented. The main question is who will draw up a better game plan.