Roundtable: Who’s going to win the Super Bowl?
For the first time since 2004, the Super Bowl has returned to Houston. Matching up the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons, Super Bowl LI is set to kickoff at NRG Stadium, Sunday at 5:30 p.m.
Sports Editor Leonard D. Gibson III:
Two words: Tom Brady
Brady’s revenge tour has one last stop in Houston, and there’s no brakes in sight.
In the 2016 regular season, he had his arguably best performance ever, despite having to sit for four weeks due to Deflategate. He broke the NFL’s touchdown-to-interception ratio, throwing 28 touchdowns and only 2 picks. His passer rating of 112.2 is good for second in his career, behind his 2007 season’s score of 117.2. To top it off, he did all of this at the age of 39.
Brady is unstoppable, and I don’t think the Falcons are going to be able to handle him. The Falcons are No. 25 in total defense and No. 28 in passing defense. Brady is going to have it his way when he’s on the field. If they can’t slow Brady down, their defense is going to fall apart quickly.
If the Falcons are going to have any chance at winning, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are going to have to outperform the Patriot’s offense substantially to make up for the difference in defense.
The Patriots’ defense is No. 8 in total defense and No. 12 in passing defense.
Ryan had an MVP-caliber season with 4,944 passing yards, 38 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions. He had the highest passer rating in the 2016 season with 117.1 and exceeded his previous best by 18 points.
If you’re comparing Ryan to Brady, you’ll find that the only concrete argument against Ryan is his zero Super Bowl rings compared to Brady’s four.
There is no doubt that Julio Jones is the best receiver going into the Super Bowl. After his stellar performance against Green Bay, Jones will thrive on Sunday, regardless of the result. He put up 1,409 receiving yards in the regular season, just 40 behind first place.
The Patriots’ leader in receiving yards is Julian Edelman with 1,106 yards, 300 less than Jones. To top it off, Edelman has 98 receptions, and Jones only has 83.
Hopefully Jones’ toe injury won’t slow him down, but according to ESPN, he was a limited participant in Saturday’s practice. Without Jones being 100 percent, I don’t believe the Falcons have any chance at winning.
The combination of Ryan’s consistency and Jones’ explosiveness gives the Falcons the possibility to win it all on Sunday. The Falcons are, for some reason, a Cinderella story coming into the Super Bowl. For weeks now, everyone assumed it would be the Cowboys and the Patriots. Nobody mentioned the Falcons, even though they have proven themselves to be one of the best teams in the NFL.
I think it’s going to be a shootout, and in the end, the Patriots are going to edge out the Falcons in a nail-biting finish. Both teams are going to come out of the gate hot, and I wager the punting units won’t make too many appearances. At the very least, it’s going to be an entertaining game.
Patriots 48 – Falcons 44
Assistant Sports Editor J.D. Smith:
In a season marked by the unwarranted suspension resulting from Deflategate, quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots will look to prove that revenge is a dish best served cold on Sunday night.
This matchup features experience against flash, as the Patriots play in their league-leading ninth Super Bowl, while the Falcons are in their second overall and first since 1998. Brady and head coach Bill Belichick are in their seventh together, while Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and second-year head coach Dan Quinn are in their first.
The Patriots head into the contest against the Falcons favored by three points after having no trouble with the Houston Texans and Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC playoffs. An unstoppable Brady-led offense and league-leading defense will contain Atlanta en route to their second Super Bowl title in 3 years.
Despite Brady being suspended for the first four games and superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski sidelined early with an injury, the Patriots went 14-2, winning the AFC East for a record eighth straight season.
Brady was near-perfect in the regular season throwing for over 3,500 yards and 28 touchdowns against just two interceptions, the best touchdown-to-interception ratio in league history. At 39, Brady proved age is just a number as he seamlessly worked newcomers Martellus Bennett and Chris Hogan into the offense.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman was again Brady’s top target in the regular season, catching 98 passes for over 1,100 yards and three touchdowns. Edelman proved again to be his security blanket, resulting in 55 first downs, more than 20 above second place Bennett.
Offensively, the Falcons are a powerhouse, leading the league in points scored behind the high-powered air attack led by Ryan. After another successful regular season, Ryan was able to silence many of his critics by dismantling the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers on their way to Houston.
Ryan passed for nearly 5,000 yards in the regular season while putting up 38 touchdowns against 7 interceptions. Leading receiver Julio Jones caught 83 balls and was second in the league with 1,409 yards and six touchdowns.
The rushing attack is a two-headed monster of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Together, they combined for 1,599 yards and 19 touchdowns in the regular season while Freeman also caught 54 passes for 462 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively the edge goes to the Patriots who led the league, giving up only 15.7 points per game. The Falcons, meanwhile, were ranked No. 25 in defense, giving up 24.9 points per game.
The Patriots secondary features standout cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan and is led by safety Devin McCourty. In the AFC Championship, they held the Steelers receiving corps to 314 yards and one touchdown, with all-pro Antonio Brown catching seven passes for 77 yards.
While this will probably be a high-flying affair, the Patriots defense will be able to force a stop, while Brady will find endless holes in the Atlanta secondary leading him and head coach Bill Belichick to their fifth Lombardi Trophy together.
Patriots 41 – Falcons 34
Senior Staff Writer Peter Scamardo:
The more I think about this Super Bowl, the more I think about the national championship game. On the one side, you have the clear favorite. A team with 14 wins, a top scoring defense and all the momentum they could ask for. On the other side, a team with a top scoring offense, a stud quarterback and a hunger from missed opportunities in the past.
The similarity is striking. Brady and the Patriots might not be undefeated, but it’s the NFL. They are however just as frightening as the Alabama Crimson Tide. They are a team that makes you ask “How do you beat them?” But just as Deshaun Watson and the Clemson Tigers had the answer, so too does Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons.
The Patriots are a team that have all the tools to win. That is why they are in the game. But they are used to it by now. The majority of them were on the team that won two years ago. This isn’t anything new to them.
In contrast, the Falcons are hungry. The franchise has only been to the Super Bowl once in 51 years and have not been since 1998. 2012 looked to be the year that they might win it all, but a loss in the NFC Championship Game stopped them short. At the time, they thought that they might only need one more year, but a 4-12 finish in 2013 left them as far away from where they were the previous season as they could hope.
Ever since that loss, the franchise has been remodeling itself to become a winner. Gone is Mike Smith and Tony Gonzalez. In came Dan Quinn and Davante Freeman, in came Tevin Coleman and Taylor Gabriel, in came Kyle Shanahan and Alex Mack, in came Jack Matthews and Vic Beasley.
Kyle Shanahan completely changed the Falcons offense when he arrived with Dan Quinn in 2015. Shanahan has been the offensive wizard that has had success wherever he has gone, and in Atlanta he has made the Falcons into more than just Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. Now they are a real threat that can run it with either Freeman or Coleman, or pass it to Gabriel or Mohamed Sanu. And with Shanahan bringing all-pro center Alex Mack over from Cleveland, Ryan has a line that can protect him to find Julio for the deep play.
But of course Dan Quinn cannot be forgotten, the mastermind behind the Legion of Boom. Everyone knows the Falcons are going to score, that is not going to be the issue in this game. The issue is stopping Tom Brady. The Falcons defense is not Seattle, but they’re pretty good.
Vic Beasley is a stud edge rusher who can get to any quarterback in the league. If the Falcons want to win, he and the others will need to get to Brady as quickly as possible. As the game against the Texans showed, they have to make Brady uncomfortable in order to win. Because if Brady has forever to throw in the pocket, it does not matter how good the defensive backs are.
Patriots 35 – Falcons 42