Super Bowl 51: Picks, predictions, odds for Patriots-Falcons
The Patriots, and Bill Belichick, and Tom Brady, and Robert Kraft? They’re always here, at the Super Bowl — seven times now since the three convened in Foxborough 16 years ago.
The Atlanta Falcons, though … they’re almost never here, living most of their 51 years of existence on the outside looking in, envying the likes of the Patriots, almost never even expecting to be in position to get there.
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That’s over now, and the Falcons are on that final step, for just the second time ever, and the first time in 18 years. And with that, the aforementioned look at the two teams’ relative experience with Super Bowls can be tossed aside, because it pretty much doesn’t matter if you’re the better, more composed, more prepared team.
How many times you’ve been there can become irrelevant fast. The Patriots are the best example, as the team that rolled into New Orleans for Super Bowl 36 as overwhelming underdogs to the dominant recent champion Rams and took them down.
The Patriots have won four of their six previous trips. The Falcons lost the one previous trip. But the Falcons didn’t sneak in or get lucky. The numbers, especially from the presumptive MVP Matt Ryan, speak for themselves.
On Super Sunday, their time will come to speak for themselves against the NFL’s dynasty of the 21st century.
Here are SN’s picks and predictions for Super Bowl 51.
Super Bowl 51 picks, predictions: New England Patriots (-3) vs. Atlanta Falcons
Sunday, Feb. 5, 6:30 p.m. ET, FOX
David Steele (straight-up pick): It has been repeated often that in previous Super showdowns between the No 1 offense and the No. 1 defense, defense usually wins. That would be the Patriots’ defense against the offense tied for the eighth highest-scoring ever.
But as smart, resourceful and well-coached as that defense is, they haven’t seen anything close to what Ryan, Julio Jones, the two-headed backfield monster of Tevin Coleman and Devonte Freeman, the deceptively deep well of receiving weapons, and an underrated line can do.
So the Falcons’ offense can hold its own; it won’t shrink from the moment. The Falcons’ defense, though, won’t be so fortunate.
The unit has gotten better over the last two months, in that it won’t cost its offense chances to win or make games closer than they should be. That won’t be nearly enough against Brady, though. Unless it can be that kind of punishing, non-blitzing pass rush that has bothered Brady over the years — including earlier in the playoffs by the Texans, and last year’s playoffs by the Broncos — Brady will do what Brady does.
In a potentially exhilarating face-off between two superior quarterbacks, that will be enough to give the Patriots another Lombardi for their trophy case.
Vinnie Iyer (pick against spread): Brady and Ryan is a Super Bowl QB duel for the ages. The Patriots’ defense has been terrific, but it hasn’t faced anything close to the Falcons’ high-flying offense this season. The real matchup to watch, and more critical for the NFC team, is Atlanta’s young defenders vs. Brady.
There’s a lot of speed, quickness and toughness in coach Dan Quinn’s group. The Falcons’ secondary has compensated well for the loss of shutdown corner Desmond Trufant. Their green linebackers have grown up fast and get around the field in a hurry, led by pass-rushing beast Vic Beasley Jr.
They are aggressive and hard-hitting, but Brady needs to get to them before they can get to him. He’ll find good mismatches in the middle of the field, and the Patriots can counteract the Falcons’ strengths with Dion Lewis and Julian Edelman.
Brady should also get consistent support from LeGarrette Blount in the power running game to open up a few shots downfield to AFC title game hero Chris Hogan. Although the Falcons will be a little prepared for this based on facing their own offense in practice, the Patriots’ specific versatility within their scheme is difficult to slow down. The Falcons’ weaknesses in the red zone will be exploited by both run and pass.
That leaves it to Ryan to match Brady drive for drive. So far, few teams have been able to keep up with Ryan in the NFC. The Patriots will do their best to take Jones out of the game, but the Falcons will know this and make sure they get all their other targets involved. Out of the backfield, it’s extremely challenging to slow down both Freeman and Coleman because how well their skill sets are used in the ideal situations.
Atlanta OC Kyle Shanahan, SN’s Coordinator of the Year for 2016, will have utmost confidence he can match wits with New Endland defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. The Falcons will stay in it by avoiding turnovers and consistently scoring.
The game will likely come down to a few third- and (maybe) fourth-down stops in the red zone. It’s easier to count on the Patriots to come through with those, and that’s why they will win the game by four points.
Patriots win 31-27 and cover the spread.