Three things to watch for in a Super Bowl rematch that will play out Sunday night at Gillette Stadium:
Don’t judge yet
The Patriots and Falcons, who met in last season’s epic Super Bowl, are two of the more disappointing teams in the NFL through six weeks. The Patriots are just 4-2 and they had to scratch and claw for three of those four victories. The Falcons, meanwhile, are just 3-2 and are coming off back-to-back losses to AFC East teams – Buffalo and Miami. Adding insult to injury is that both of those losses for Atlanta came at home, and the loss to the Dolphins came after a bye week.
Much like the Patriots, however, Atlanta is far from a finished product. Head coach Dan Quinn pointed out this week that the Falcons didn’t hit their stride until December last year, and the results bear that out. The Falcons were just 4-3 through mid-October last season and also lost to Philly and Kansas City in November and early December.
Low scoring affair?
It’s safe to say that Matt Ryan won’t be winning back-to-back MVP awards. The Falcons’ QB has thrown as many interceptions as he has TDs so far this season (six) and is 20th in the NFL in passer rating – behind the likes of Josh McCown, Tyrod Taylor and Case Keenum. In their past two games, the Falcons have put up just 34 points total (17 in each loss).
Similarly, the Patriots have averaged just 21.5 points per game in their last two games (narrow wins over the Jets and Buccaneers). That’s a far cry from the 32.25 points per game they were averaging through the first four weeks.
Unlike the Super Bowl, which ended with a final score of 34-28 in overtime, this game could be played in the high teens or low 20s.
Stop the run
Expect the Falcons to try and feed the ball to dynamic running back Devonta Freeman as much as possible Sunday night. It’s no coincidence that Freeman’s best game of the season so far (21 carries, 106 yards, 1 TD at Detroit in Week 3) was also the Falcons’ best overall game of the year (a 30-26 road win against a quality opponent). Freeman’s backfield mate Tevin Coleman got as many carries (9) as Freeman did in last week’s 20-17 home loss to Miami, and the Falcons’ coaching staff surely will want to rectify that situation against the Pats.
The Pats are allowing 115.8 rushing yards per game (20th in the NFL) but are coming off a strong rush defense effort against the Jets in which they allowed just 74 total yards on the ground.