In only a few hours, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are looking to make history by trying to win their fifth Super Bowl victory whereas the Atlanta Falcons are trying to win their first. A win tonight would especially be historic for quarterback Brady and Coach Bill Belichick.
However, the Atlanta Falcons are no pushover, being the number one offense in the league, being led by NFL MVP Matt Ryan. Not only should the Patriots fear Ryan, but the Falcons’ whole offensive line – players such as Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman – are looking to light up and expose the Patriots’ defense.
Winning individual matchups will be the key to this game, and will also decide the fate of the Super Bowl. So let us take a look at five notable matchups.
WR Julio Jones vs. DB Malcolm Butler
Ever heard of David and Goliath? Well, this matchup will be Goliath vs, Goliath. On Atlanta’s side, you have the strongman Julio Jones, who ran the 40-yard-dash in 4.39 seconds, despite being 6’3 and 220 pounds. Jones is a real-life cheat code! He has averaged 100-plus receiving yards in three straight seasons and seems to be unstoppable. Based on his height and weight, at first glance, you probably wouldn’t think he can burn cornerbacks and shred through defenses. But he does it on a weekly basis.
Now, on the New England side is the defensive back Malcolm Butler, who gained his fame by intercepting Seattle Seahawks’ quarterback Russel Wilson during Super Bowl XLIX, to give the Patriots the win. This season, he had four interceptions and held WR Antonio Brown to only 77-recieving-yards during the AFC Championship Game. Butler will be looking to prove something after hearing all of the talk about Jones and the aggressive Atlanta Falcons offense.
WR Julian Edelman vs. DB Brian Poole
This matchup may not be the same caliber as the Jones vs. Butler battle, but it will definitely be something to watch during the game. Edelman, the slot receiver magician, creates and gains elusiveness while gaining separation with his quick cuts through the turf. Because of those qualities, this allowed Edelman to get the third most regular season yards by a slot receiver this season (724 yards). Edelman lined up in the slot for more than 50 percent this season, so when he does during the Super Bowl he’ll be seeing his friend, Brian Poole.
Brian Poole was undrafted during the 2016 season but quickly earned his keep by rising up the depth chart. Desmond Trufant’s season-ending injury also gave him a little boost. Poole was ranked in the top 10 among facing slot targets. Both teams have asked both of these players to do things they aren’t used to doing, and they both have executed well. It’s now time to see who’s better.
RB Devonta Freeman vs. LB Dont’a Hightower
At 5’8 and 206 pounds, Devonta Freeman is extremely agile despite what he lets on. One second is all it takes for Freeman to take off through the pocket and be gone all the way to the end zone. His explosiveness is one that should be respected, even giving his own teammates a hard time to catch-up. The 24-year-old’s style of running fits perfectly into Falcons’ offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme.
Patriots’ middle linebacker Dont’a Hightower is looking to put the brakes on Freeman by properly reading his runs and stop him as a pass-catcher. This season, Hightower only allowed 241 receiving yards when targeted in coverage. Because of his versatility, he was named second-team All-Pro in 2016.
QB Matt Ryan vs. DB Devin McCourty
Matt Ryan, otherwise known as ‘Matty Ice,” has not thrown one single interception since Week 13 and threw for 730 yards against playoff caliber teams since then. Atlanta’s quarterback clocked in eight games this season where he averaged nine yards per pass attempt. His precision is extremely consistent, threading the needle through tight windows. We could talk about Ryan all day, but he may have his hands full with a certain Patriots’ defensive back.
Devin McCourty, one of the league’s best safeties, is looking to conquer Matt Ryan. His instincts and ability to read plays and players in addition to his speed make him a force to be reckoned with. Just seeing McCourty on the field will be enough for a quarterback to not throw in his zone. He’s allowed a 76.9 passer rating in coverage and has the skills to change teams’ offensive plans completely.
QB Tom Brady vs. Falcons Secondary
The Atlanta Falcons defense is quite young, besides for a few exceptions. Rookie Keanu Neal quickly rose to fame as one of the league’s best safeties after being chosen in the 2016 draft by Atlanta. In addition, cornerback Jalen Collins, who was chosen in the second round of the 2015 draft, has been forced to take on larger roles due to injuries such as Trufant’s. However, even though the defense has many skilled players, their shakiness and inexperience could be their downfall.
New England’s quarterback Tom Brady is looking to shred and expose this young Falcons’ secondary. Brady is like a good bottle of wine, he only gets better with age. This season, he threw for 3.554 yards with a completion percentage of 67.4. Out of all those yards, he only threw two interception and a whopping 28 touchdowns. Will the young Falcons secondary be able to overcome their shakiness and be able to stop the veteran quarterback? We will find out tonight.
Prediction: New England Patriots 27, Atlanta Falcons 31