Tonight, the New England Patriots will meet the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI in Houston.
I’ll be honest: as someone who has lived one-third of Atlanta sports heartbreak (Braves) and who has never liked the Patriots, I’ll be rooting for the Falcons to win tonight. But objectively, I think the Patriots will win their fifth Super Bowl.
While there are several stats being around favoring the Patriots that are truthfully irrelavant (the team wearing white jerseys has won 11 of the last 12 Super Bowls, the Patriots are 7-2 with referee Carl Cheffers, the Falcons haven’t won a playoff game outside Atlanta since 2002, etc.), here are five legitimate reasons why the Patriots will hoist the Lombardi Trophy tonight:
5. Trends Favor New England
There are several stats that, while based on games in the past, show overall trends that favor the Patriots. For instance, the Patriots are 12-0 in the playoffs in the Belichick/Brady era against teams they didn’t face in the regular season (compared to 12-9 in rematch games).
The Patriots, who are tonight’s betting favorite, are 15-3 against the spread this season, compared to underdog Atlanta, who is 12-6.
Sunday is Falcons coach Dan Quinn’s first meeting as a head coach against Bill Belichick; previous coaches making their debut vs. Belichick are 3-22.
The Patriots are 16-0 in games Dion Lewis has played since he signed before the 2015 season, while they are 7-0 since losing star tight end Rob Gronkowski for the season to injury.
An experience factor can sometimes be overblown, but it may have legitimately played a role in last year’s Broncos victory over the Panthers. The Patriots are clearly the more experienced team, with players on the current roster having appeared in Super Bowls XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLII, XLVI, and XLIX.
Patriots QB Tom Brady has appeared in six previous Super Bowls, while the entire Falcons roster has appeared in five previous Super Bowls combined.
Quinn has actually coached in two of the last three Super Bowls before tonight, as Falcons defensive coordinator in Super Bowls XLVIII and XLIX, but this just his 35th game as an NFL head coach, finishing his second season with Atlanta.
Both teams enter tonight’s game with a strong offense, but the Patriots clearly have the stronger defense.
Atlanta’s offense is second in total yards (New England is fourth), and has scored the most points per game (33.8) in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Patriots defense has allowed the least points in the league, while the Falcons rank 27th of the 32 teams.
This Super Bowl is the seventh between the stingiest defense and the highest-scoring offense–in the previous six, the team with the top defense is 5-1. Perhaps there really is something to the old adage “defense wins championships.”
While these two teams are the top two in the league in the offensive efficiency metric, the Patriots (7th) defensively outrank the Falcons (22nd) by far. Some will point to the fact the Patriots have played nine games against seven of the league’s nine worst offenses (which may why their defensive efficiency isn’t even higher), but their defense was very strong two weeks ago, holding the explosive Steelers offense to 17 points in the AFC Championship.
2. Tom Brady
While Falcons QB and NFL MVP Matt Ryan has had a phenomenal season in his own right, throwing for 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns and a historically good 7-0 touchdown-interception ratio in the playoffs, many (including me) expect Tom Brady to embrace the moment, as he always seems to do, and have the better game.
Brady threw for 3,554 yards and 28 touchdowns this season, even after missing the first four games due to the “Deflategate” suspension, and his 28-2 touchdown-interception ratio is the best for a single season in NFL history. He’s done this at the age of 39, and doesn’t seem to be slowing down at an age when many players have already been retired for a few years.
In six previous Super Bowls, Brady has thrown 13 touchdowns against four interceptions, averaging 267 yards per game, including 328 against Seattle (and Dan Quinn’s defense) two years ago. With a win, Brady would become the second-oldest Super Bowl-winning quarterback, and would be the winningest quarterback in Super Bowl history with five titles. Brady has three previous Super Bowl MVPs, and a fourth would be a record, breaking a tie with Joe Montana.
1. It’s Not Wise to Bet Against The Belichick-Brady Patriots
Since taking the Patriots head coaching job in 2000, Bill Belichick’s team is 201-71 in the regular season (including a 5-11 debut before he got things turned around), and 24-9 in the playoffs with four Super Bowl titles, with every playoff game coming during Brady’s tenure. The Patriots have basically ruled the NFL since 2001, and if not for two New York Giants upsets of New England in Super Bowls, they would have six titles in the Belichick/Brady era.
Every Super Bowl the Patriots has played has been close, and in they have shown their ability to win the game in the clutch, especially offensively, on the biggest stage in American sports.
This is no disrespect to the Falcons, although they will probably play that card with most of the national media picking against them; this is simply an acknowledgement of the Patriots incomparable ability with Belichick and Brady to win, plain and simple.
I’ve picked against New England before because I wanted them to lose, and I have learned it is usually a mistake to bet against the Patriots.
Super Bowl LI
New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons
Sunday, 6:30 pm ET, FOX
at Houston, Tex. (NRG Stadium)
Patriots: 16-2, def. Pittsburgh 36-17 in AFC Championship
Falcons: 13-5, def. Green Bay 44-21 in NFC Championship
Betting Favorite: Patriots by 3
Prediction: Patriots 31, Falcons 27
For what it’s worth…
Overall Record: 79-54-1
Last Week: 1-1
College Overall Record: 67-48
NFL Game of the Week: 12-6-1
Game of the Week: 10-5
Big Game Guarantee: 3-7
Upset of the Week: 4-6
Closer Than the Experts Think: 4-6
Not Closer Than the Experts Think: 7-3
Overhyped/Bad Spread Game: 5-5
Group of Five Game of the Week: 7-3
Is This Futbol?: 8-2
Is This Basketball?: 8-2
Toilet Bowl: 6-4