Super Bowl LI preview: New England Patriots
For some, the Super Bowl represents a chance to make their childhood dreams come true.
For others, it’s an accreditation of all the hard work put in year after year. But for two members of the New England Patriots, Super Bowl LI represents a chance to cement their legacies as the greatest of all time.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick are looking to become the first duo to ever win five Super Bowls together. Already leaders in many all-time regular season and playoff records, a win on Sunday would put them in a category all to themselves.
In a season where Brady was suspended for the first four games and superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski was sidelined early with an injury, the Patriots went 14-2, winning the AFC East for a record eighth straight season.
They secured the number one seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, winning a pair of rematches en route to Houston.
After a round one bye, the Patriots easily defeated the Houston Texans by 18, despite turning the ball over three times. Although the Texans defense forced Brady into two sacks and two interceptions, the Patriots defense made their mark with three interceptions off Houston quarterback Brock Osweiler.
In the AFC Championship, the Patriots defense held the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers offense to just 17 points and forced them into two turnovers.
Brady was flawless leading the offense, going 32-42 with 384 yards passing and three touchdowns. Wide receiver Chris Hogan, a pickup from the Buffalo Bills, caught nine passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns, matching the earlier performance from Falcons star Julio Jones.
The Patriots represent a team that is well-balanced, ranking third in scoring offense and first in scoring defense in the regular season. Brady set an NFL record in touchdown-to-interception ratio, throwing 28 scores against just two giveaways.
Their rushing attack is led by the two-headed monster of LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis. Blount finished the regular season with over 1,100 yards rushing and a league-leading 18 touchdowns while Lewis has excelled in the postseason.
After missing most of the year recovering from knee surgery, Lewis became the first player since Gale Sayers to score a touchdown receiving, rushing and on a kickoff return in their Divisional Round game against the Texans.
The most underrated aspect of the Patriots in 2016 was their defense. They gave up a league-low 15.7 points per game while forcing opponents into 23 turnovers.
The secondary features Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler, whose interception sealed the victory over the Seattle Seahawks. Butler led the team with four interceptions in the regular season, often matched up against an opponent’s top receiver.
While their offense should have no trouble carving up the Falcons defense, the real problem will be containing Atlanta’s high-powered offense.
The Falcons led the league with 34.3 points per game and feature one of the scariest receivers in Jones. The secondary will have to contain him, while also not being beat by newcomers Mohammad Sanu and Taylor Gabriel.
Atlanta also features a fierce rushing attack that will need to be controlled. Led by Dont’a Hightower and former University of Houston star Elandon Roberts, the Patriots front seven will be in for a tough test.