By Shawn Lealos
The Atlanta Falcons had one of the best seasons of any NFL team in 2016 and have roared into the second Super Bowl in franchise history. However, in order to win their first NFL Championship, they have to beat the New England Patriots, a team that has played in more Super Bowls than anyone in NFL history, with this being their ninth appearance in the big game. The Patriots also won four of those Super Bowls, all behind current head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. Here is a look at the New England Patriots heading into their Super Bowl 51 game against the Atlanta Falcons.
New England Patriots Season Record
The New England Patriots finished the season with an NFL-best 14-2 record, one win more than the NFC-leading Dallas Cowboys and three wins more than the Atlanta Falcons. The only two losses of the season came in a surprising shutout by the Buffalo Bills without Tom Brady and the second a 31-24 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
New England Patriots On Offense
Jim Harbaugh coached the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl and he coached the Michigan Wolverines back to respectability in the college ranks. He called Tom Brady, a former Michigan quarterback and the current New England Patriots quarterback, the best player of all time.
“If you can play that good, that consistently great year-after-year-after-year-after-year, game-after-game-after-game-after-game, nobody’s ever done that,” Harbaugh told ESPN. “Nobody’s ever done it like Tom Brady has. He’s the best of all time.”
No matter what changes the Patriots make on offense—and they change receivers and running backs almost every season—Tom Brady just keeps on winning. At the age of 39, Brady threw for 3,554 yards with 28 touchdowns and only two interceptions in the regular season. The numbers could have been better, but Brady spent the first four weeks suspended for Deflategate.
His targets aren’t all household names, but provide Brady with a lot of weapons to spread the ball around to. LeGarrette Blounte ran for 1,161 yards with an NFL-leading 18 rushing touchdowns. With Rob Gronkowski out with injury, Martellus Bennett stepped up as the new go-to tight end and finished with 73 receptions for 701 yards and seven touchdowns. In the postseason, Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman ranked second and fourth in receiving yards in the playoffs, combining to catch 29 balls for 530 yards and three touchdowns.
New England Patriots On Defense
New England ranked eighth in the regular season in total defense, third against the rush and 12th against the pass. That is where the Atlanta Falcons have a slight advantage with their second-ranked passing offense. Neither Matt Ryan nor Tom Brady throws interceptions, so the fact that the two teams rank third and fourth in turnover ratio shouldn’t come into play in Super Bowl 51.
This is also a New England Patriots defense with little in the way of stars. No one player broke 100 tackles this season, with three eclipsing the 80 tackle mark. They were a middle-of-the-road 16th in sacks—equal to where the Atlanta Falcons finished—with Trey Flowers leading the team with seven. Malcolm Butler finished with four interceptions and two fumble recoveries in the regular season. The Patriots won’t beat Atlanta on defense.
New England Patriots Players To Watch
Tom Brady – There is one player on the New England Patriots team that can lead them to victory and that is Tom Brady. He has won four Super Bowls in his career and is good enough to win his fifth in 2017. Atlanta has to stop Brady to win this game.
LeGarrette Blount – Matt Ryan has proven that he can win games on his own, and if he has the ball, Atlanta will more than likely score points. That means keeping the ball out of Ryan’s hand, and LeGarrette Blount can help with that if he can control the clock on the ground.
Super Bowl 51 comes down to which team scores the most points, because neither defense is strong enough to dominate the opposing offense. Matt Ryan can score at will and New England won’t stop him. Tom Brady can score at will and the Falcons won’t stop him. That means this game comes down to Matt Ryan vs. Tom Brady and which quarterback plays the strongest. The odds say to stick with Brady—who has won four Super Bowls—over Ryan, who is playing in his first one. However, Brady is 1-2 in his last three Super Bowls and the Falcons have enough firepower to beat anyone. This game is up for grabs, and no matter who wins, it should be a very entertaining Super Bowl.