IMG_1285The New England Patriots are alone.  With their ninth Super Bowl appearance this year, and a remarkable seventh game in the last 15 years, the New England Patriots will have played in the most Super Bowls in NFL history.  This year, the Patriots return to Houston for the big game, a location where they won their second Super Bowl 13 years ago today.
Just like in Super Bowl XXXVIII, the Patriots will face a team from the NFC South, the Atlanta Falcons.  Super Bowl LI will be the second time the Falcons have played for the Lombardi Trophy, the first came in 1999 when the “Dirty Birds” were shellacked by the Denver Broncos 34-19 in Super Bowl XXXIII.  The present-day Falcons come in as the number one scoring offense in the NFL with 540 points scored and face a huge test in the Patriots and the top-ranked scoring defense.  The Pats have allowed just 250 points all season long.
Super Bowl LI marks the sixth time that the league’s top offense and top defense play each other.  In the previous five instance, the team with the best defenses are 5-and-0.  Will history hold true on Sunday?  A-Mac has five things that will play a huge role in deciding Super Bowl LI.

  1. Julio Jones – As exhibited by his 180-yard and two touchdown performance last week against Green Bay, Julio Jones will be the most explosive receiver the Patriots will face this year.  Jones has finished in the top two in receiving yards in each of the last two years. It will be interesting to see how Bill Belichick decides to cover Jones, with either man coverage with stud corner Malcolm Butler or with a double-team coverage.  Either way, expect Jones to be targeted a ton on Sunday.
  2. IMG_1283Julian Edelman – The Falcon pass defense is pretty suspect in 2016.  Atlanta allowed the second most receptions and fifth most receiving yards and touchdowns in the regular season.  While this obviously bodes well for quarterback Tom Brady, it should benefit the Patriots top receiver, Julian Edelman, quite well.  In the last nine games, including playoffs, Edelman has caught at least eight passes six times and has been targeted more than ten times in eight of those games.  If Edelman sees double-digit targets again, he could be in for a Super Bowl MVP performance.
  3. Dion Lewis – In the 16 games, both regular season and playoffs, Dion Lewis has been healthy to play in his Patriot career, New England has a record of 16-and-0.  Since coming back in Week 11, Lewis has topped 100 total yards just once, against the Denver Broncos.  The Falcons ranked just 17th against the run, so if Lewis gets the ball both through the air and on the ground Lewis could also have a big day.
  4. Vic Beasley – While the Falcon defense is not the second coming of the 1985 Chicago Bears, they do have a few playmakers.  The one guy that can turn the game around for Atlanta is the league’s sack leader, Vic Beasley. The Houston Texans showed in the divisional round, the way to stall out Tom Brady and the Patriot offense is to pressure Brady up the middle, and with 15.5 sacks in 2016, Beasley is the one guy that can disrupt the New England attack.
  5. IMG_1284Matt Ryan – The Boston College product is no stranger to the Boston sports scene, but his senior season in Chestnut Hill was overshadowed by the championship seasons of the Red Sox and Celtics and the Patriots quest for an undefeated season.   Ryan had a career year for Atlanta in 2016, registering second in the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns while being the league’s top-rated quarterback.  Having weapons like Jones, Devonte Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Taylor Gabriel and Mohamed Sanu would help any quarterback have a career year.  While the Patriot defense is looked as the number-one ranked defense, they did rank only 12th against the pass.  Matt Ryan could be the one that exploits the Patriots defense and get Atlanta their first professional sports championship since the 1995 Braves.

Prediction: History has a tendency to repeat itself in Super Bowls.  While the Falcons boast a balanced offense with top five rushing and passing attacks, the Patriots are the more balanced team with the fourth best offense to go with that top-ranked offense.  With the offense to go with the stingy defense, the Patriots should be able to control the game early passing the ball and running down the clock with Lewis and LeGarette Blount.
While winning Super Bowl LI give the New England Patriots five Super Bowls, still will be tied with the Cowboys and 49ers for second behind the Pittsburgh Steelers and their six titles.  What would be historical is a win would give Tom Brady and Bill Belichick the most individual championships amongst quarterbacks and head coaches, further solidifying their Hall of Fame resumes.

Final Score: Patriots 38, Falcons 24

Super Bowl MVP: Julian Edelman – 12 receptions, 144 yards, two touchdowns.

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