Super Bowl LI Preview
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SUPER BOWL 51
NRG Stadium - Houston, TX
NEW ENGLAND (16-2) vs. ATLANTA (13-5) - 6:30 p.m. ET, Fox
Everyone's talkin' numbers this week - like the underdog Atlanta Falcons led the NFL in scoring this year (33.8 ppg) and that New England Patriots' mega-star QB Tom Brady threw 28 TDs to just 2 INTs in his 12 regular-season games -- but let's toss out stats for just a moment and concentrate here on two major themes for this Super Bowl bash in the Space City:
Number one, is the aforementioned Brady gonna be able to stay "comfortable" in the pocket against a Falcons' pass rush that figures to bring plenty of "A gap" or up-the-middle pressure?
Folks, we haven't heard anyone address it all this week but New England RBs LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis (who've combined for a modest 130 rushing yards in playoff wins against Houston and Pittsburgh) better be able to pick up the odd-man blitzer that comes at Brady or else even the four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback is gonna be showing "happy feet" and we know how that turned out for the Pats' in those two Super Bowl losses to the New York Giants (see 2007, 2011).
Number two, if you happen to believe that Patriots' head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia "always take away" the opponent's top offensive threat than the $64,000 question is this: Should the Falcons have any confidence that this high-octane offense starring QB Matt Ryan (730 yards passing with 7 TDs and 0 INTs in post-season victories against Seattle and Green Bay) can get "mission accomplished" if WR Julio Jones is held to, let's say, six catches for 55 yards?
It would appear that Jones must be a field-flipper here as he's been all this year and all this post-season despite nagging toe problems but if the Pats' chameleon defense can shut him down for the most part, than we say the only way Atlanta wins here is with RBs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman busting it for 150-or-so rushing yards.
The athletic New England secondary may "double" Jones or try its best to box him in with press coverage and thus take away the timing of Ryan's throws to his favorite target - might TEs Austin Hooper and/or Levine Toilolo be major pass-catching factors here while getting into open seams in the middle of the field? Could happen.
Now, back to Mr. Brady and the New England attack - and maybe you can blame us for potentially "burying the lead" and it is our belief the Patriots will indeed the run the ball closer to a 50/50 split with the passing game. Both Blount and Lewis will get plenty of shots behind this greatly improved offensive line - don't be totally fooled by the tandem's 3.3 and 2.7 yards-per-game respective average this post-season - and this may be a case where if the Patriots can "out-physical" the Falcons at the line of scrimmage than Brady's clever play fakes will freeze a secondary that can be fooled and that's why we believe WR Julian Edelman (16 catches for 255 yards this post-season) and AFC Championship Game star WR Chris Hogan (180 yards receiving and two TDs versus Pittsburgh) probably deserve your prop play attention as potential game MVPs.
The X-Factor - Gotta believe that the special teams will be a "wash" in Super Bowl 51 as Atlanta PK Matt Bryant (34 FGs in regular-season play) and New England PK Stephen Gostkowski (27 FGs) are both Pro Bowlers and must say the Falcons' coverage units have been excellent ... so where's the X-factor, you ask: Well, New England's left-footed P Ryan Allen (the Patriots always utilize a left-footed punter under Belichick for spin reasons) has deposited half of his eight post-season punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line while three others were "fair caught" and so the longer the field Ryan and Co. must navigate here, the harder it'll be for that Falcons' offense to score. Last year Denver's punt game was critical - and underrated - in its Super Bowl upset win against Carolina. Allen could be the real secret weapon for the Pats here.
Current Line: New England (- 3) and 59 points
Spread Notes - The Patriots zoom into this tilt on a seven-game ATS (against the spread) winning streak and overall New England's a heady 15-3 spread log. Note the AFC champs have covered 17 of their last 23 games when placed in the favorite's role while dating back to last year. On the flip side, the Falcons have notched spread wins in five of their last six outings and overall Atlanta is a solid 12-6 ATS including a 5-1 pointspread mark in the role of point-grabbers.
PATRIOTS vs. FALCONS HISTORY
Here's the last three head-to-head meetings between the Patriots and the Falcons (all home teams are in CAPS). Take note that the Patriots lead the all-time history between these two teams with 7 wins to the Falcons' 6 wins.
|2013||New England||+ 4||ATLANTA||30-23|
|2009||NEW ENGLAND||- 4.5||Atlanta||26-10|
|2005||New England||+ 2||ATLANTA||31-28|
In case you're wondering, the last time Atlanta beat New England was November 8, 1998 - the Falcons copped a 41-10 road win ... yes, the pre-Tom Brady/Bill Belichick Era.