After four weeks of pre-season football, seventeen weeks of following the Cleveland Browns, and three rounds of less-than-stellar post-season action, Super Bowl LI from Houston is finally upon us, and by all accounts this should be fun.
Two of the top offenses in the sport will square off Sunday evening as the New England Patriots look to add yet another title to their storied dynasty. In their way will be the surprising Atlanta Falcons. Despite losing Desmond Trufant earlier this season, Dan Quinn’s squad has burst onto the scene with a youthful defensive group and an elite scoring attack.
Super Bowl LI promises to be a thrilling affair following a particularly dreary three rounds of playoff football. Coming off of a profitable season of NFL spread betting, we’ll look to finish things off on a high note with the season’s final game and yet another ATS winner. Please read on below for a full game breakdown, in-depth analysis, and an official betting pick for the Patriots and Falcons in Super Bowl LI.
Super Bowl LI Betting Odds:
New England Patriots -3 (-110)
@ Atlanta Falcons +3 (-110)
Over 59.5 (+100)
Under 59.5 (-120)
Betting odds provided by Bovada.lv
Patriots vs Falcons Super Bowl Spread Pick:
We all know about the prolific natures of both Atlanta and New England’s dominating scoring attacks. But where there remains some debate is over the quality of the defensive play from these units. One area that I’ve heavily focused on in my research for the Super Bowl, is Atlanta’s ability to stop the run. It’s atrocious, and it has only gotten poorer as the season has gone along. They actually rank dead last in defensive DVOA against the run between Weeks 10-17. The gameplan here for the Patriots should be fairly simple. Hand the ball to the beast that is LeGarrette Blount early and often, and have the burly back wear down the soft interior of Atlanta’s defensive line.
Atlanta has been weak defending the run on first downs, and look for a solid running start to make things much easier on Tom Brady and the passing game. While Atlanta’s pass defense has improved as the season has gone along, there are still holes and a ton of question marks for this youthful, and relatively untested stop unit. Atlanta will likely try to generate a lot of pressure up front and look to blitz to make up for a pretty insignificant pass rush. This will likely play right into Tom Brady’s hands as he usually handles the blitz incredibly well. If the Falcons adopt this strategy, Brady and the Pats should be able to heavily exploit man-to-man coverage downfield and in the secondary.
Specifically, Atlanta has a big weakness in the slot and this is a personnel mismatch the Patriots should be able to exploit at will on Sunday evening. Undrafted rookie Brian Poole typically mans the slot, and he’s been pretty poor of late at covering the opposing team’s third or fourth options. Brady is elite and finding the open receiver, and looking at Poole is a big area that can be exploited.
Additionally, New England is diverse in how they can creatively beat you. They’re blessed to have the elusive Dion Lewis back, which is bad news for the Falcons trying to get stops. All season long, Atlanta really struggled to limit running backs catching balls out of the backfield, and the Pats love to do this – and do it well. Both Lewis and James White are talented pass-catchers and should be able to do some damage in short-yardage situations specifically.
While the Falcons’ defense has held up without Desmond Trufant, and played pretty well of late – this is not a group that is well-equipped to stop the Pats’ juggernaut offense right now. They can’t consistently generate pressure against a solid New England offensive line, and will need to over-commit in the trenches just to let Brady know they’re there. As a result, holes will open downfield and nobody spreads it out better than Brady does. Look for another vintage gameplan and outing from Tom Brady on Sunday evening.
On the other side of the football, the Falcons offense is no joke. This is likely the top unit in the game right now, and enters with all the confidence in the world. And even though New England does possess a pretty solid defense of their own, it is worth noting they haven’t played many units that compare to what Matt Ryan and Julio Jones can offer.
One thing that New England has done very well all season long has been defending against the run. Alan Branch is a beast in the middle of New England’s defensive line and he should continue to bottle up anything the Falcons throw at them. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are key parts to the Falcons’ ground game, but their success will be limited in Super Bowl LI. This is also likely true because the status of Falcons’ centre Alex Mack is in serious question. Mack is an elite blocker on Atlanta’s offensive line, but a fibula injury has coach Dan Quinn seriously concerned. Mack will play, but if he’s ineffective or not at his best – it’ll definitely play to New England’s advantage.
When Freeman and Coleman aren’t successful in running the football, we’ve seen the Falcons struggle at times. When Matt Ryan isn’t working from 2nd-and-short or 3rd-and-short scenarios, it can make things very difficult on any offense, and that’s what the Patriots will likely be successful in doing. Bill Belichick is a mastermind at eliminating a key element of an opposing team’s offense, and don’t be surprised if he focuses a lot of his energy on eliminating the run game opposed to Julio Jones.
Speaking of Jones, expect Jones to be bracketed downfield by the talented duo of youngster Eric Rowe and Logan Ryan, and look for the blanket that is Malcolm Butler to scoop up either Taylor Gabriel or Mohamed Sanu. As the film will likely show, some of Atlanta’s worst offensive outings tended to come when teams shut down Sanu and Gabriel, just because truly stopping Julio Jones is likely impossible.
With running options likely stifled, and the passing game to get forced into longer-than-usual situations, Atlanta will surely try and get their duo of talented backs involved in receiving out of the backfield. Again though, the Pats will have an answer. They don’t give up many yards on these little screen plays, and in fact, gave up the fewest yards on them of any unit in the entire league. While the Falcons still possess an elite-level offense with some dominant gamebreakers, it is hard to envision them scoring at the rate they’re used to. New England has a skilled and very smart stop unit, and with the gameplan they’ll employ – it’s going to be tough to beat Belichick on Sunday.
Expect this to be a close, back-and-forth affair for much of the contest. With two elite offenses taking the field, look for a bunch of fireworks and exciting offensive plays. New England’s defense likely isn’t as good as it is currently ranked, but yet still should be a lot more effective at stopping Matt Ryan, than Atlanta’s will be at limiting Brady. New England has a great secondary, can stop the run, and will likely do a better job protecting their quarterback. While Atlanta’s defense has held on in the final stretches of the season, look for the magic to wear off in Houston. They won’t generate much pressure on Brady, and with time and space in the pocket – Brady is going to find open receivers, especially in the slot. Once the Pats get up, look for them to put this game to rest with some powerful, clock-killing running from LeGarrette Blount.
Lots of people seem excited to predict a New England demise, but I’m not sure the Falcons are structured in the right manner to pull it off. New England has been dominant for sometime now, and still were very much so in 2016-17. Expect a Patriots win in relatively comfortable fashion. It will however be somewhat close, and I don’t foresee them ever pulling away, but Brady and Belichick will always be in control. I’d advocate the Patriots -3, and really get excited if it somehow gets down to -2.5 before kickoff at some books. Something along the lines of 30-24 seems fitting for Super Bowl LI, as the Patriots add one more chapter to their 21st century greatness.
PICK = Patriots -3 (-110)