I’m going to warn you. This is a prediction piece. So if you don’t like predictions, stop reading. Especially if you’re looking for somebody to give the Atlanta Falcons a chance to upset the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI.
Yes, I said “upset.” If the Falcons are hoisting that Lombardi Trophy when it’s all said and done on Sunday in Houston, it will be an unexpected turn of events.
The Patriots have been a three-point favorite in this game from the start. But forget about the spread. You don’t need to give me the odds to tell me what I already know: the Patriots will win and they will cover.
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Any other result will be an upset.
I feel this way because I don’t envision any scenario in which Atlanta’s defense slows down Tom Brady. Not one.
Of the three defenses the Patriots will have faced this postseason, the Falcons’ is by far the worst of the three. Houston had one of the best defenses in the NFL, and yet, the Patriots still scored 34 points in the Divisional Round. Pittsburgh’s defense was mediocre all-around, at best, and Brady carved them up for 384 pass yards and three touchdowns.
Now, it’s Atlanta’s defense that’s trying to prevent the Patriots from putting up 30-plus points for the first time since Week 15. If the statistics mean anything at all — and they do — then the Falcons won’t be the team to pull that off.
Atlanta’s pass defense ranked 28th in the league during the regular season, allowing 267 yards in the air per game. And it’s not like you get better after your top cornerback — Desmond Trufant — suffers a season-ending injury in November.
Then there’s the eye test. Anybody who’s watched the Falcons play defense this season will tell you that the numbers don’t lie. Some will use the NFC Championship to argue that claim. They’ll try to tell you that what they did to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers’ offense is worthy of some respect, entering the Super Bowl.
Atlanta shut out Green Bay in the first half, and in both of their playoff wins, the Falcons’ pass rush has shown an ability to get to the quarterback. Which, as you know, is the blueprint to being competitive against the Patriots.
But there are a couple factors that make Atlanta’s recent defensive performances somewhat deceiving. First and foremost, both of those playoff wins over Seattle and Green Bay were in Atlanta. And that place was absolutely rocking.
Don’t tell me that home field in the Georgia Dome with that crowd noise wasn’t an advantage for the Falcons’ defensive line in those games. Also, the Seahawks and Packers had plenty of offensive line issues this season.
Fair to say that the Patriots don’t have that problem. They had serious offensive-line struggles last year, thanks to injuries and bad coaching. But now they’re healthy, and Dante Scarneccchia has un-retired. And for most of this season, we haven’t really been talking about New England’s O-line. That means they’re doing their job.
Jadeveon Clowney was able create some havoc in the Divisional Round, but that’s a testament to how physically dominant and athletic he is. I don’t see the same type of talent on the Falcons’ front, even if they’ve shown the ability to get to the quarterback the last two games and slow down some damn good offenses.
On Sunday, the Patriots’ offensive line will be the best offensive line the Falcons will see in the postseason. And with a secondary that’s one of the worst in football, Brady is set up to have a big day in Houston. He’s going to have his way with the Falcons’ defense. Brady should be able to do whatever he wants, all game long.
That means Matt Ryan will need to have a perfect game if he wants a chance to win his first championship.
And I got news for you. That’s not going to happen.