Kevin A. Lewis' Super Bowl 51 Prediction
This year’s Super Bowl features the highest over/under in Super Bowl history (58.5 points). These are arguably the two best offenses in football. The Falcons are the eighth highest scoring offense in football and the Patriots are the usual well-oiled machine. All season long, both offenses have put up gobs of points and that is exactly why the over-under is what it is.
Atlanta’s offense scored on an obscene 56% of their offensive possessions. That is the second highest mark in the last 17 years (the 2007 Patriots, 57%). The Falcons have been up to their usual tricks in the playoffs as they’ve scored on 13 of 18 possessions against the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers. The Falcons offense has many different guys that can beat you and they attack in many different ways. Kyle Shanahan has done a terrific job exploiting opposing defenses and helping lead Matt Ryan to an MVP caliber campaign. Bill Belichick has been known to try and take away the thing that you do best and live with whatever else. It’s not really about stopping one guy, per se, as much as it is about stopping or minimizing a thing that you like to do. The thing with the Falcons is: there is no one thing they like to do more than the rest. It will be interesting to see what Belichick cooks up to try and slow down one of the best offenses to grace a football field.
The Patriots had the #1 defense in football this season scoring wise. It’s pretty clear that the defense isn’t as good as that particular number would lead you to believe since they played the weakest schedule of offenses in football. How the Patriots choose to defend Julio Jones is one of the more fascinating aspects of this football game. Jones averaged a career high 17 yards per reception and he led the league in catches for over 20 yards with 31. He went crazy against the Packers to the tune of 9 catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler with the potential of safety help provides a far stiffer test than Ladarius Gunter did. Maybe Bill decides to let Malcolm Butler take Taylor Gabriel or Mohammed Sanu out of the game and bracket Julio with Logan Ryan and Devin McCourty. I think that’s the likely outcome.
The Falcons runningbacks have run roughshod on the league for the majority of the year in both the passing game and the running game. Tevin Coleman returned from injury in week 10. Since then he and fellow RB Devonta Freeman have combined for 170 total yards per game, 17 touchdowns and six catches per game. The Patriots struggle against pass catching backs as they surrender 7 receptions and 52 yards per game to opposing backfields. Thankfully for the Patriots cause, their run defense is stout as they allow 3.6 yards per carry to enemy backs, which is good for third best in the NFL. The versatile Falcons backs and how Belichick chooses to try and defend them will be fun to watch.
The best medicine for the Falcons is to keep their offense off the field. The Eagles spotlighted this in their week seven win, as they held the ball for 38 minutes and they ran 38 times for 280 yards. I don’t see the Patriots employing this kind of extreme gameplan as they employ possibly the greatest quarterback ever and the Falcons defense is considerably better now as opposed to then. When LeGarrette Blount is on the field, the Patriots run the ball 65% of the time. In the plays that either Dion Lewis or James White are on the field, the Patriots passed the ball 56% of the time. The Falcons run defense was 20th in yards per carry allowed and 31st in each catches allowed(6.5) and receiving yards allowed(52) to running backs. Dion Lewis might get quite a bit of work in this game and I don’t know that the Falcons have the type of players needed to shut him down.
The Falcons defense ranked 23rd in points allowed as they allowed 25 PPG. They ranked 17th in rushing yards allowed at 104.0 YPG and also ranked 27th in passing yards allowed at 263.5 yards per game. Part of the scoring defense and passing defense was that the Falcons put up a lot of points and had other teams in comeback mode. They do have three rookies on their defense, however, and have been bad the majority of the year. They have been better in the playoffs but they faced a struggling Seahawks offense and a Packers defense that did whatever they could to shoot themselves in the foot. Tom Brady, arguably the greatest QB to live, offers a different kind of test. It’s a test I think the Falcons could ace and win the Superbowl. I’m just not going to pick against New England, mostly because I feel this game will come down to whoever can get one more stop than the other. I trust New England’s defense to do that far more than I trust Atlanta’s.
Prediction: New England 34 Atlanta 31