This year’s Super Bowl is a matchup between two very equally-matched, equally-powerful teams, the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots. Now about this time last year you could’ve seen the Patriots being in SB LI, but definitely not Atlanta. This team really came out of the grave it’s been in for years and years, since 2012 really when they lost to the 49ers in the Conference Championship.
Atlanta was broken, small, weak, kind of a pushover for bigger teams like the Packers, the 49ers, the Seahawks, even the Cowboys just a few years ago, and today they stand as the single most dominant, most explosive offense in the NFL- only in opposition to the Patriots. The past few years, Matt Ryan has been an interception machine inside the 20, and has graduated to having the most pass yards, and the most pass TDs in the league, more than Brady, Rodgers, and Roethlisberger who typically lead the race. It sure looks like Ryan will win the MVP given his performance in the playoffs against such high-caliber teams, but that doesn’t mean at all that they can win this Super Bowl (ask Cam Newton about it, he’ll probably storm out).
If there’s one thing New England has over Atlanta, it’s playoff and Super Bowl experience; not only experience, but also recent experience. They’ve been in the playoffs every year since 2003, and have been in six of the last 14 Super Bowls. Now, the Patriots have the most Super Bowl experience, the first team to go to nine SBs. They have rings, Atlanta does not, that’s what half of this battle is going to come down to- how each team handles the pressure. Brady thrives in the playoffs, and he makes his receivers and his team shine like gold on the big stage, Ryan’s inexperience hinders him, but he is not to be underestimated as he’s put up 40+ points on two playoff-caliber teams. But on Brady’s side, he’s faced the best defense in the league, and a defense who’s had a turnover for a streak of six straight games.
How will Atlanta win the game? Atlanta HAS to win this game on both sides of the ball. If they focus on offense too much the Pats will take total control with throwing that ball down field and scoring a touchdown on every drive. The Falcons defense has to rush Brady, they have to make him make a bad decision, and have to create turnovers. In every Super Bowl with the Patriots if they turn the ball over at least once, they have about a 50% higher chance to lose the game from that point on, and Atlanta has been a turnovers powerhouse lately, with at least one every game for the last 10 games. Along with their defense their offense has to stay hot, healthy, and focused. They have to move the ball down field like they have been, they have to pound that Patriots defensive line, and then switch to a short passing threat, the Pats DBs are too good down field, and if Julio isn’t open, Ryan will have to run around quite a bit.
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How will the Pats win the game? New England has to stop the Atlanta offense at all costs, don’t let them run the ball and take away the passing attack. The Falcons’ o-line is the better of the two so a lot of what New England will have to do is cover Atlanta’s receivers rather than blitz. Never leave Julio Jones open way down field, up in the field, not even in the backfield. Put the best guy on the best guy and maybe double down on him. Be careful of Ryan’s rushing attack, because he is a nightmare for defenses, he’s very underrated but a very quick guy and can pick up a lot of yards, and won’t go down on the first hit. On the offensive side of the football, the Patriots must move down field and move quickly like they always do. Their average drive time on scoring drives is about 3:19, compared to Atlanta’s average scoring drive 4:02. Get their offense on the field longer and tire them out, score quickly, and wear down that defense with a good rushing attack.
Now I know what you're thinking about this time of year, Who can possibly beat New England, in the playoffs with home field advantage throughout? Well the only teams who have proven so multiple times are the Broncos, Ravens, and of course the Giants (on the big stage twice as you probably know). So this year, who can beat the Patriots with the unstoppable and constantly changing offense that they have? Well, my answer to you is none other than the Steel City natives themselves, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers have by far the most explosive offense on the AFC, and could really be the only team (besides the Patriots) who could beat the Falcons in a shootout (the Falcons have by far the best and most explosive in the league, and have really just outscored all their opponents this season, hard not to see them in my Super Bowl picture).
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Offense isn't the only thing Pittsburgh has under its belt, their defense has been great in the playoffs against a young Dolphin team, with 3 turnovers in their wild card win (2 fumbles and an INT) and going into the Chiefs' house this week the winner of the turnover battle will ultimately be the winner of that game. The Steelers are also red-hot right now, with an eight game win streak including their victory over the Dolphins last week, making their momentum an even bigger threat to deal with. Although the Steelers may have the upper hand, it's still no match for Tom Brady and the team under him in playoff mode, we haven't seen a team like this ever, a team so unstoppable in the playoffs that they are compared to the Alabama Football of the NFL in that you know they're always good, and always one of the best teams if not the best.
This year's NFL regular season has been a rather odd one, well for some people. The Chiefs clinched a first-round bye in the playoffs for the first time since 2003, when they lost that round to the Indianapolis Colts 38-31. What's even more interesting is the Raiders clinched a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2002, when they went to the Super Bowl and lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who could've had a spot this year for the first time since 2007, which that team lost to the Giants who would go on to win the Super Bowl against the undefeated New England Patriots. Both Super Bowl teams from Super Bowl L took the ultimate "L" this year in not making it to the playoffs, the Browns almost went winless and the Patriots almost went loss-less, even without Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski for the first four games (of course also without Gronk for the last seven games). However, the biggest story this year might just be one about the Dallas Cowboys. Critics said they were doomed from the start even with a hot new running back in Ezekiel Elliott, they didn't have a good enough quarterback for this season, then after their first game and first loss to the Giants, rookie QB Dak Prescott out of Mississippi State University stepped up as a leader, and won the Cowboys 11 straight games, and they were ranked #1 for a few weeks over New England, after their loss to the Seahawks. The Cowboys this year have been maybe the most entertaining team to watch play football, with probably the best offensive line and rushing attack in the NFL. They now go into the playoffs with two rookies leading the pack, unusual for most, but they may actually have this under more control than they think. The only thing they have to really worry about in the playoffs are the Giants. The only team who has beaten Dallas (I don't count the loss to Philly in week 17) and they've done it Twice. So moving onto the playoffs, on the NFC: Dallas and Atlanta with the first round byes, this is the first time in five years since Seattle hasn't had a first-round bye week in the playoffs, speaking of which we also have Seattle and Green Bay with the first two home games for the NFC, and the last two teams, the New York Giants (who are great as a Wild Card team) and the Detroit Lions. On the AFC side we have no surprise with New England clinching another first-round bye and home field throughout the playoffs, next are the Kansas City Chiefs who haven't had that first-round bye since 2003, and haven't been past the divisional round of the playoffs since '93. After these two teams we have another playoff-friendly team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, then the Houston Texans, finally we have Oakland and the Miami Dolphins.
This Saturday, the Texans take on the Raiders, who are out their starting QB Derek Carr, to a broken leg; the Texans however, not looking as good they've just lost their starting QB Tom Savage to a concussion, leaving Brock Osweiler to start this week. Osweiler has been the starter for Houston all season, until he threw 2 interceptions in the first half against the Jaguars in a divisional matchup that could've cost them the playoffs, Savage has only started the last two games but has been significantly more accurate than Osweiler has all season, Osweiler has 15 TDs and 16 INTs this season; while Savage hasn't thrown a TD pass, he's had a 63% completion rate, and sadly having no passing TDs he still has a better TD/INT ratio than Osweiler, proving that Brock probably needs to leave Houston, or at least stay on the bench. Oakland QB Matt McGloin has also had 0 TDs and 0 INTs making this game probably the most defensively-important game in the playoffs. Granted the only defense McGloin has played against are Indy's and Denver's, he will definitely have a rough game against the Texans in Houston.
Also this Saturday, the Lions will travel to Seattle in a Wild Card battle. Detroit's chances to win, with a still-injured Matthew Stafford loom low, especially going into the playoffs with a 3-game losing streak. However, the other teams the past 10 years that have gone into the playoffs with 3-game losing streaks, have gone on to win it all- those teams being the 2007 Giants and 2010 Saints. And given Seattle hasn't been who they were early on in the season as of late, the Lions just have that much a better opportunity to upset the Seahawks and begin a run for the playoffs.
Sunday are the other two Wild Card match-ups; first we have the Miami Dolphins traveling to Pittsburgh, a rematch of the week six game in Miami, when the Dolphins embarrassed the Steelers 30-15. Now Pittsburgh is playing for revenge, and a date with New England, and a shot at the Super Bowl. This match-up should be heavily skewed in the Steelers' favor, since not only have all their starters sat out this past week vs the Browns, but Miami is playing behind a young quarterback, Matt Moore. Not only that, the Dolphins are playing against a highly explosive Steeler offense, and will be hard to stop Pittsburgh. Either way the winner of this game should face certain defeat next week as the winner travels to Foxborough to take on the playoff-favorite New England Patriots, who actually have the highest chance to win it all this year at 2/1 odds, the Cowboys tailing the Pats with 7/2 odds.
The second match-up on Sunday to conclude our Wild Card weekend is the New York Giants versus the red-hot Green Bay Packers. However the term red-hot would be appropriate for both teams, the Giants are the only team to have beat the NFC favorite Dallas Cowboys- and they did it twice. Green Bay, on the other hand, has won six straight games, and doesn't intend to stop for anything. Both teams have been in the Wild Card round, and gone to win the Super Bowl in the past, the 2007 Giants and the 2011 Packers. This, by far, will be the most exciting game this weekend.
My picks for this weekend: Oakland, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and New York.