Throughout what has been yet another improbably successful season for the New England Patriots, the team has stuck closely to this year’s rallying cry: One More.
With one more victory this Sunday, the Pats would secure their fifth Super Bowl win in the Brady-Belichick era, a feat that has yet to be accomplished by any duo in NFL history.
One more would certainly cement their names in legend, but pulling off this last win will be anything but easy – even for a team that has made a career out of making it look easy.
Super Bowl LI, beginning tonight at 6:30 PM, will see the ever-sharp Tom Brady and his dynamic offense square off against the explosive Atlanta Falcons, led by newly-minted MVP Matt Ryan.
The matchup is a classic duel between the forces of good and evil, with much of the country rooting to see Atlanta triumph over the Patriots, who have been well-established as the league’s villains for the past fifteen years.
Both teams have unquestionably earned their spots in the ultimate championship game in sports.
Matt Ryan has been enjoying an extraordinary breakout season after nine years with the Falcons, throwing for nearly 5,000 passing yards. The team has led the league in points scored this season, with an average of a whopping 33 points per game. Their play has only continued to improve over the past six games, with Ryan throwing 18 touchdowns without a single interception. The deep roster of weapons includes star receiver Julio Jones, as well as a deadly running back combination in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
In short, the Falcons have only been gaining steam, with no ceiling in sight.
And then there’s the New England Patriots. Despite his controversial four-game suspension at the beginning of the season, Tom Brady made his own case for MVP in 2016. At age 39, the oldest quarterback in the NFL is playing some of the best football of his career. Despite playing in four fewer games than Ryan, Brady still managed to throw for 28 touchdowns and a mind-boggling two interceptions, a ratio that easily led the league.
With the notable exception of Randy Moss, Brady has never had the luxury of elite wide receivers. If there is one thing Bill Belichick is famous for other than winning, it is spending as little money as possible on relative no-names, and making them look like champions. This year’s team has continued that trend, with breakout newcomer Chris Hogan stepping up as a much-needed deep threat to complement the short passes to staple Julian Edelman. The welcome return of Dion Lewis as a passing back has also served as a change of pace for LeGarrette Blount, who led the NFL with 16 touchdowns this season.
The Patriots scored an average of 27.6 points per game in the regular season, third-highest in the league. There is little question that the Pats’ offense has continued to be dominant under Brady, Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
The area where the Falcons struggle, and where New England often does not get enough credit, is on defense.
Although Atlanta’s defensive performance has improved in the postseason, they have allowed the fifth most first downs in the NFL this season and the sixth most points per drive. Including the playoffs, they have given up an average of 20.5 points per game to opposing teams.
Meanwhile, the Patriots defense surrendered only 250 points to opposing teams, a league low, with only 27 touchdowns allowed in the entire regular season. In addition, the defensive line gave up the third fewest yards to running backs, which may bode ill for Freeman and Coleman.
The Patriots are three-point favorites to defeat the Falcons, an unsurprising number in a Super Bowl matchup with the league’s first and third highest scoring offenses. Despite both teams being red-hot, Belichick’s steady hand and Brady’s experience is expected to win out over Matt Ryan’s resurgence.
However, odds have been defied before. In 2001, when the (formerly) St. Louis Rams were favored to win by 14 points, Tom Brady rallied with the first of what would be many spectacular two minute drives to pull off the upset. The tables would later be turned in 2007, when New England fell to the New York Giants after an undefeated season despite being 12-point favorites.
Regardless of this Super Bowl’s victor, a storyline will have a happy ending. Matt Ryan has more than earned his MVP status, and a Super Bowl ring would be the diamond-encrusted cherry on top of what has been a spectacular season for a deserving team.
Meanwhile, anyone who has watched Tom Brady play in 2016 knows that he feels he still has something to prove. The controversy of Deflategate may be over, but Brady is still furious. His “Revenge Tour” has led to the doorstep of yet another Super Bowl, in the best shape of his life, and absolutely nothing short of another ring will satisfy him.
No matter who prevails, such a titanic matchup is undoubtedly worth watching.