Yet another incredible NFL season is soon to come to an end as the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons touch down at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX for the playing of the Super Bowl LI this Sunday (6.30pm ET on FOX).
Here is our preview of the Super Bowl 51, complete with betting predictions and picks for the biggest game in American sport.
Tale of the Tape – Offense
When it comes to the key offensive stats, these teams have pretty similar numbers based on their regular season breakdowns. The same goes for the postseason where Atlanta ranks 1st in yards per game (457.5), passing yards per game (357.5), 5th in rushing yards per game (100), and 1st in points per game (40). In those same categories, New England ranks 3rd (404 YDS/G), 2nd (326.5 P YDS/G), 7th (77.5 R YDS/G), and 2nd (35 PTS/G).
(NE) Tom Brady vs (ATL) Matt Ryan
While two quarterbacks are never going to face the other directly, the matchup of these signal callers is almost always crucial to Super Bowl success, especially with offenses as potent as these two. Once again, the similarities are strong.
Given Tom Brady missed the first four games of the season courtesy of a suspension, the numbers you should look at are less in the totals and more in the yards per game. Matt Ryan finished the regular season second among all quarterbacks in this category, averaging 309 to Brady’s 296, which was good enough for fourth. The two also finished 1 and 2 in overall QB rating with Ryan edging out Brady 117.1 to 112.2. They finished 3rd (Ryan, 69.9) and 5th (Brady, 67.4) respectively in completion percentage as well.
Needless to say, Brady and Ryan, who is the current frontrunner for the NFL MVP award, were two of the best in football this year. In the postseason, this success has only continued as both Ryan and Brady have continued to put up great numbers leading their teams to Super Bowl LI. Ryan, in fact, has thrown seven touchdowns in the postseason with zero interceptions. To give that context, of the previous six quarterbacks to go through the playoffs without a single interception, all of them have won the championship.
Brady however is the oddsmakers’ favorite to win the MVP, as was discussed in our Super Bowl prop bet preview (where we picked him to win). He has put up decent numbers, but is favored much in the way that New England comes into this game as three-point favorites. Long story short, it’s hard to win the MVP, nearly impossible, if you’re on the losing team. But the Falcons are good enough to win and if they do, it will no doubt be because of Ryan and that incredible offense.
Tale of the Tape – Defense
If you’re looking for a reason why the Falcons are not favored with the top U.S. sportsbooks for Super Bowl betting to win this game, despite Ryan and the offense, then look no further than how the two teams match up defensively. New England’s defense was the stingiest in the NFL during the regular season, allowing just under 16 points per game to opponents, although nine of these games were against some of the league’s lowest ranked offenses. Atlanta was content on a formula of outscoring their opponents, which when you lead the league in points per game, is not hard to do.
They say defense wins championships but the Falcons are from the NFC South, so they know a thing or two about shoot outs and gun slinging contests. While their defense is going to fold like a cheap suit against Brady and the Patriots two-dimensional offense, an encouraging fact is that in 2009, when the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl, they did it with the league’s best offense and just 20th ranked defense. Only the 2011 New York Giants had a worst defense the year they won the Super Bowl, doing so against the Patriots.
If Atlanta did manage to win the championship, they would become the worst defensive team of all-time to walk away with the title. This is the seventh Super Bowl meeting pitting the league’s top offense against the league’s best defense, which the defense has won five of the previous six times. That is something this Super Bowl preview will need to factor in when we conclude with our betting predictions and picks.
Tale of the Tape – Intangibles
- 4-0: That is Tom Brady’s all-time record against the Falcons and two of those came against Ryan-led teams. The most recent meeting was in 2013 when the Patriots won 30-23, but this is the first time the two are meeting in the playoffs.
- Special Teams: This has become so important recently and both New England and Atlanta have had their struggles. Both have great kicking games led by (ATL) Matt Bryan and (NE) Stephen Gostkowski. The Falcons, thanks to their offense, had the fewest punts in the league but their coverage unit has struggled in the playoffs, allowing big returns and good field position to their opponents especially in the opener against the Dallas Cowboys, which Atlanta almost lost. Meanwhile, the Patriots led the league with 11 fumbles on kickoff/punt returns, which is the most by any team in a decade.
- 12-0: Under Belichick and Brady, New England has played 12 games in the playoffs against teams they did not face in that year’s regular season and they finished 12-0. Conversely, when the Patriots are in rematches, they are just 12-9 in the postseason. Unfortunately for the Falcons, they did not make it on New England’s 2016-17 schedule.
- Experience and Coaching: This is the seventh Super Bowl the Patriots have been to in the Brady/Bill Belichick era and the team is 4-2, with only the Giants being responsible for the blemishes. Meanwhile, this is just the second for the Falcons franchise overall and the first in the Ryan/Dan Quinn era. Most players on the Patriots roster have playoff experience with a great deal having Super Bowl experience. The same cannot be said for Atlanta, which is full of first-timers. When it comes to coaching, experience has proven to be vital and when it comes to Super Bowls, no one has more than Belichick.
Our Preview’s New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons Super Bowl Picks & Predictions
Evidenced by just a field goal’s spread on the sportsbooks’ betting lines, this one is going to be close. Atlanta’s offense should hold the pace early and the real test will be how good New England’s defense is, given they haven’t faced a test like this all season. If the Patriots can get Ryan off rhythm and cover Julio Jones, following their formula this season, they will be on their way to yet another title. These are our Super Bowl predictions:
- Take the Patriots -3pts @ best betting odds of -110 to win Super Bowl LI with 5Dimes, BetOnline or MyBookie. It is currently -120 with Bovada.
- As for the total points that will be scored in the Super Bowl, the sportsbooks have pitched the over / under between 58pts and 59.5pts depending on the firm. Our pick is to go over 58pts @ -115 with BetOnline (-118 with 5Dimes for same points). It is over 58.5pts @ -110 with MyBookie and higher than 59.5pts for +110 with Bovada.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.