The day that many had circled on their calendars is finally here as the (4-2) New England Patriots prepare to host the (3-2) Atlanta Falcons in a rematch of last year’s Super Bowl (8:30pm ET Sunday on NBC).
Atlanta and their fans don’t need reminding of how that game went. Leading 21-3 at the half and 28-9 entering the game’s final quarter, the wheels fell off for the Falcons who were outscored 19-0 in the fourth. The Patriots tied the game, sending it to overtime where New England scored the game-winning touchdown, thus completing one of the greatest comebacks in sports history.
For Atlanta and New England to meet mere months after that epic collapse by the Falcons is pretty rare. This is just the third time in the last 20 years and just the seventh overall in which the two teams who met in the Super Bowl the year prior will meet in the following season.
Then and Now
While on paper this is indeed a Super Bowl rematch, with some of the biggest key playmakers on both sides still in their respective teams’ uniforms, some might say there has been too much turnover for this to be a replication of last year’s game.
The NFL allows a 53-man roster and of that roster, the Falcons are returning just 35 players from last year and the Patriots just 36. Of course, the head coaches are the same and both Bill Belichick (NE) and Dan Quinn (ATL) have acknowledged the significance this game has had on their calendars.
Last year, New England reached the Super Bowl on the back of their top ranked defense in the NFL. Likewise, the Falcons reached thanks to having the league’s best offense. This year however, neither team has really experienced the same success.
New England’s Defense has Fallen Off
The Patriots are ranked almost dead last defensively as far as total yards and are 30th in points per game on the season, an over 10-point increase from last year. The biggest difference has been the inability of the defense to limit big plays downfield, which last year was a huge strength. New England allowed just 44 passes of 20+ yards all of last year, which was basically an average of just three per game. This was definitely a significant part of the team’s defense as limiting the big plays allowed the Patriots to control the game and not allow opponents to get momentum or mount a comeback when faced with a scoring deficit to climb. This year, this has not been the case as the Patriots have already given up over half of last year’s total, with 26 pass plays over 20+ yards, and it’s only been six games.
Another big difference on defense has been the team’s ability to limit yards after the catch, a crucial job of any NFL defense. The Patriots ranked first in the NFL in this category last year but this year they are 29th, with almost a two-yard more differential.
Defensively, the secondary has really struggled and it has led to perhaps the worst-defense ever in the Belichick era. New England has allowed 300-yard passing games in all six of their games this year, which is double what any other team has done. Additionally, the Patriots are dead last in the league in total yards per game and pass yards per game, which is unprecedented for this team. Compared to ranking third last year in rushing defense, New England is also down in that category, ranked just 20th.
Atlanta’s Offense Struggling
Fortunately for the Patriots and their defensive woes, Atlanta really isn’t in the same position to exploit them as they would have been a year ago. Of course, the falloff hasn’t been nearly as bad as it has been for New England, but it has still been noticeable especially as far as explosive playmaking and not turning over the ball.
Last year, the Falcons were one of the best teams when it came to making the most of every passing and rushing attempt. This year however, Atlanta has just a handful of 16+ yard passing plays and 12+ rushing plays, which they got with ease last season. One of the biggest reasons for this has to do with injuries, as both Julio Jones and Taylor Gabriel dealt with them entering the season. Both are on the field now but quarterback Matt Ryan still seems to be adjusting given he didn’t get to work with the full complement of his receiving corps in the preseason. Another contributory factor is the team’s confusing decision not to stick with the ground game, which was fifth best in the NFL last year and ranked just 11th in 2017.
Perhaps the worst number for Atlanta though is how often they have turned over the ball. Last year, the Falcons were the best, committing just 11 turnovers in a full 16 game season. That’s less than a turnover per game and really is a fantastic sign of why this team was so good. This year, it’s not that Atlanta is bad in that area as far as a league-wide sense, but compared to last year, the numbers are glaring. The Falcons already have seven turnovers compared to the 11 of all last year and Ryan already has six interceptions compared to his seven total last year. This is a turnover percentage of about 14 compared to it being just over six percent in 2016.
There is reason to remain hopeful about Atlanta’s offense returning to success and finding consistency especially in the passing game. So far, the Falcons faced two of the league’s best defenses, which impacts their offensive number, but have yet to face on their upcoming schedule, four of the league’s worst.
Our Preview’s Atlanta Falcons vs New England Patriots Picks & Betting Predictions
All eyes are going to be on this game for sure and for the Falcons, a win here could be a serious confidence booster as the season continues.
While New England’s defense has not been the best by any means, the team has gotten by on the strength of their offense and is still one that if it comes down to a shootout, is probably going to outscore any opposing offense they face.
So to our betting predictions and picks, and with the spread as it is, these are our betting recommendations to take on the bookmakers that accept United States’ players: