The final NFL game of the league’s 2016 season means that it’s time for one final game pick from the contributors here at Acme Packing Company. Super Bowl LI features a tantalizing matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots.
The Patriots are the favorites at the Las Vegas sports books, holding a three-point advantage against the spread. However, APC’s writers are going the other way, as five of the six writers who made picks this week are picking the NFC champions to beat Bill Belichick’s squad.
Here are the picks, and give us yours in the comments.
Evan “Tex” Western
Patriots defeat Falcons 28-27
The Falcons’ offense has started out hot in nearly every game this season, scoring touchdowns on the opening drive of their last eight contests. Offenses tend to start slowly in the Super Bowl, however, whether due to nerves or the long layoff. I suspect that Atlanta will take just a bit longer to get going.
Ultimately, both teams have playmakers all over the offense. Nobody can keep the Falcons’ myriad talents under control for a full 60 minutes, but I still feel that the Patriots’ defense will get a couple of big plays. On the other side of the football, I suspect that the Patriots’ combination of power running with LeGarrette Blount and receiving backs in Dion Lewis and James White will give the Falcons’ defense fits.
Ultimately this pick, like so many others, comes down to a gut feeling. I like the way Atlanta matches up with New England, but I can see this game finishing with Atlanta’s defense needing to make one last stop against Tom Brady. I don’t have faith in that happening.
Jason B. Hirschhorn
Falcons defeat Patriots 28-20
Over the full duration of the 2016 season, the Patriots have narrowly edged out the Falcons as the NFL's best team. However, Atlanta's dirty birds have overtaken the New England dynasty during the postseason by virtue of their defensive improvement. Moreover, they possess the league's finest offense (one of the greatest in NFL history) and likely the MVP. Matt Ryan and the Falcons will deny Tom Brady and the evil empire their fifth Lombardi Trophy.
Falcons defeat Patriots 31-26
I want this to be true more than I believe it will be true, but after seeing the Falcons’ very thorough destruction of the Packers, I wonder how the Patriots will fare. New England’s defense is certainly much better than what the Falcons saw in the NFC Championship game, but Atlanta has so many weapons deployed so effectively that it’s hard to think that even Bill Belichick will slow them down. Belichick wants to take away what an offense does best, but what does he do when an offense does everything well?
Falcons defeats Patriots, 38-35
Talking intelligently about the Patriots is extremely difficult this year, because they played one of the easiest schedules imaginable even getting Brock Osweiler in a playoff game. I have no doubt they’re good, but I’m not sure they’re actually as great as some other Patriot teams. Football Outsiders thinks their pass defense in the regular season was worse than the Packer pass defense in the regular season, and that they were especially vulnerable to #1 receivers, but on the field they shut down opposing offenses quite well. A lot of that Outsider rank is weighting for quality of opponent, and since the Pats’ opponents were so terrible, that’s a lot of weighting. When I see a bunch of adjustments stacked up, I get skeptical of the numbers. That defense might end up looking like trash, but it’s entirely possible it’s actually very good. I honestly don’t know.
Here’s what I am sure of. The Pats generally have 2 huge advantages over everyone. The first is that they have the smartest coach in football history. The second is a top 5 all-time quarterback. The thing is, Atlanta has been very smart this season as well, especially in how they have attacked opponents, and I think the Belichick factor will be cancelled out. Atlanta is fine adjusting their tendencies to counter whatever is thrown at them, and they will never go conservative and allow a team back into a game. Tom Brady also has a big flaw that almost no one exploits, that being his inability to throw a good deep ball. Dom Capers is one of the few DCs I have ever seen exploit this, to great effect. I suspect Atlanta, confident in their offense’s ability to always catch up, will also dare Brady to air it out and beat up the many, many underneath guys. I’ve been very impressed by Atlanta this season, I think they’re walking in a bit underappreciated, and I think they pull off a shoot-out win.
Falcons defeat Patriots 34-24
Here is my statistical reality: I trust Matt Ryan and his offense more than tom Brady. Terrible, I know. Still, Brady threw 12 of his 28 touchdowns (43%) in four games. Those four games were against teams ranked in the bottom five of DVOA pass defenses (Jets x2 - 31st, Niners - 28th, and Browns - 30th). These teams all finished the season in the bottom ten of TD passes allowed and bottom five in team interceptions. Meanwhile, Brady played just three games, when including playoffs, against top ten DVOA pass defenses, he completed 54.6% of his passes with five touchdowns to three interceptions. He had a QB rating of 85.4 against these teams. Fair to say, Atlanta is not one of those teams (19th in pass defense DVOA). However, they are not one of those bottom dwellers either.
Whatever, right? Still, Matt Ryan played seven games in the regular season against top ten passing defenses using DVOA. How did he do? He threw 293.0 yards per game, 65.7% completions, 12 touchdowns and four picks for a QB rating of 102.9. Ryan did not blow up his numbers on inferior defenses. The Patriots are known for forcing you away from your strength, but better defenses have failed this year. My feeling is the Falcons get ahead and force the Patriots to play from behind, something they are not suited to do. It will take away the Patriots running game and make them predictable.
Falcons defeat Patriots 35-31
This isn’t a pick that I made with the analytical portion of my brain; this is a pick against the Patriots, plain and simple. Having gone to college in Rhode Island where 85% of the student body was from Massachusetts, Patriots fever was everywhere. And it was awful. The Patriots’ 2011 Super Bowl loss, while I was a senior on campus, was one of my fondest memories; a seething, thick smell of despair filled the air, and I reveled in it. The typical “holier-than-thou” act had come to a screeching halt. As an anti-Patriots guy, I can only hope to relieve that feeling once again.
Now, here’s how I’ve convinced myself that the Falcons will actually win this game. The Patriots’ defense has really only faced three or four competent quarterback all year (depending on your thoughts of Ryan Tannehill and Carson Palmer) and none of them are played near the level of Matt Ryan this season. Not only will Ryan and co. have a successful outing through the air, but Tevin Coleman can absolutely dice linebackers like Shea McClellin, Rob Ninkovich and Dont’a Hightower in the passing game. Similar to how New England likes to use their backs as pass-catchers, I see a big game coming from the duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. And besides, losing to the eventual Super Bowl champions makes the sting hurt a little less.