New England Patriots (-3) v. Atlanta Falcons (O/U: 58.5)
High-octane offenses collide in Houston for Super Bowl LI, as Tom Brady and the Patriots square off with Matt Ryan and the Falcons. Brady is in search of his fifth Super Bowl ring, while Ryan seeks his first ring and the first NFL Championship for the city of Atlanta.
The Patriots bring a fairly sturdy defense with them to Houston; they allowed just 15.7 PPG during the regular season (no team allowed fewer), and a total of 33 points in the two playoff games they’ve been involved in. And while Atlanta’s defense has improved somewhat since September, they were still ranked in the bottom-third by PPG (24.8) during the regular season. They held Seattle and Green Bay’s offenses in check in the first half of their games with them this January but face a tall order trying to stymie Tom Brady away from the Georgia Dome.
Atlanta primarily got to Aaron Rodgers through the blitz in the NFC Championship Game. It’s well-known that Brady thrives when opposing defenses blitz him, and Atlanta’s front four doesn’t possess the threat that Denver did when they knocked Brady around in last year’s conference title clash. Furthermore, the Patriots led the NFL in YAC (yards after catch) during the regular season, while the Falcons were the worst defense by YAC allowed in that span, so expect Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan to be highly productive in this one.
And even without Rob Gronkowski for most of the season, New England was still among the most efficient teams in the red zone (ninth at a 63.7 percent TD rate). Conversely, Atlanta’s defense put up all the resistance of a wet paper bag when playing under the shadow of their own goalposts (72 percent TD rate, worst in the league).
Ryan and company had a similar regular season red zone TD rate (63.2 percent), but New England’s defense was much stronger at combating opposing offenses with the backs against the wall than Atlanta’s (50 percent TD rate, seventh-best in football).
But the Falcons will face difficulty even getting to red zone on Sunday. The Patriots were third-best in rush defense, meaning Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman’s contributions could be limited, especially once they fall behind. The Falcons receiving corps led by Julio Jones will frustrate even the great game-planner Bill Belichick, but New England should be able to make enough stops to secure the win.
Prediction: Patriots 30, Falcons 23