As the city of Houston prepares to host the Super Bowl for a third time, the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons get ready for the final game of the 2016 NFL season, happening five weeks into 2017. Two extremely potent offenses with one quarterback who is already a living legend, and another who needs a win at this level to put himself on the right track in order to become one.
No one game is like the other. What worked for the Falcons against the Packers isn’t necessarily the right plan when facing the Patriots. Bill Belichick is a master of changing his offensive and defensive approaches depending on opponents, and not letting old habits sink in for the worse. He could stun everyone in one game by letting Brady’s arm rest and work LeGarrette Blount to the ground. He can go just pass, and feature a wide receiver no one heard of before, suddenly putting in an All-Pro performance.
Obviously, there are things we’re going to see anyway. Matt Ryan is going to look for Julio Jones first all the time. The question is if Jones isn’t in a good position to catch the ball, will Ryan have enough time to find his other very useful targets, like Devonta Freeman and Mohamed Sanu. Tom Brady likes to look for Julian Edelman first, but even without Rob Gronkowski, he has plenty to work with. Martellus Bennett, Chris Hogan, not to mention the touchdown power of LeGarrette Blount, who finished with 18 in the regular season.
The historic implications of this game are clear: The Patriots have a shot of joining the exclusive 5-Super Bowl championships club, which currently holds three franchises: The Steelers, Cowboys and 49ers. The Falcons are trying to get out of the club with 0 Super Bowl rings, making their second visit to the big game. They hope things go better for them than they did 19 years ago when they faced the repeating Denver Broncos.
The best offense in the NFL (33.8 points per game) against the best defense in the NFL (Pats gave up only 15.6 points per game). The last time the Falcons didn’t score over 30 was in a 29-28 loss against the Kansas City Chiefs. They’ve put up 80 points in two games in these playoffs, including 36 against the Seahawks. The Patriots haven’t had a team score more than 20 against them since their 30-23 win over the Ravens. They gave up 16 and 17 in the postseason, beating the Steelers and the Texans.
The focus, in the end, will be on the quarterbacks. Matt Ryan, who has put up some impressive numbers this season (maybe MVP worthy) and overall in his career, has an excellent opportunity to propel himself into a new echelon in terms of his place among the quarterbacks of the past. Not where Tom Brady is, but maybe putting himself on the right path? Only if he wins. For Brady, it’s much bigger. He has a shot at becoming the first quarterback with 5 Super Bowl rings. He has a shot of being the first 4-time Super Bowl MVP. Some people will never put him on top of the all-time quarterback rankings. For those who have their doubts, this could be the final achievement that gives them the necessary nudge.