Super Bowl Preview: Falcons versus Patriots in a Seattle Seahawks world

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Two of the NFL's elite, Matt Ryan and Tom Brady square off in Sunday's big dance.
Two of the NFL's elite, Matt Ryan and Tom Brady square off in Sunday's big dance.

The New England Patriots play the Atlanta Falcons for the championship of the National Football League in Super Bowl LI this coming Sunday at 3:30 pm PT. What both teams have in common this season is that they each lost to the Seattle Seahawks, although the Falcons clearly got revenge in the playoffs. What should a Seahawks fan look forward to in this game?

If the Falcons win Seattle can say they lost to the best team in 2017

This is basically meaningless, true. But any season that ends in another team winning the Super Bowl is a season without meaning to a long-time 12. Sure, one can pull for one team over another in any game that does not include the Seahawks, but the emotion is lacking for the most part. (See more on this last point a bit later.)

Seattle lost to the Falcons in the playoffs, however, so if Atlanta goes on to win the Super Bowl at least Seattle can say they did not lose to someone’s sloppy seconds. My father, bless his soul, used to say that if you are going to lose at least lose to the best. While long-term I cannot say that Atlanta is better than Seattle, the Falcons were clearly better and healthier than the Seahawks at season’s end. My hope is that the Falcons go on to defeat the Patriots simply because they defeated Seattle.

Atlanta should have every expectation of winning the game as well. They had the number one ranked offense nearly the entire season for a good reason: they are really talented. Quarterback Matt Ryan probably should be the league’s Most Valuable Player as he was productive for all 16 games, not just three-quarters of those games. Plus, his numbers were better than the Patriots’ Tom Brady overall.

Ryan threw for more touchdowns than Brady (38 to 28, respectively) and had a higher completion rate (69.9 to 67.4). While Ryan threw five more interceptions than Brady, Ryan had a better QBR (117.1 to 112.2).

I know what Patriots fans will say, “Brady was better!” Trying to get the average Patriots fan to admit anyone might be better than their patron saint, even momentarily, is impossible. Just attempt to argue with them about who is the greatest quarterback in the history of football. Suggest anyone other than Saint Tom and they might insist you have never watched a football game before. Ryan was better this year, though, and the numbers prove it.

Atlanta’s offense was not good just because of Ryan, of course. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan did a spectacular job of getting the most out of the Falcons talent. He incorporated two running backs into the system and both are versatile in that they can catch and run. The receiving corps was excellent and, even on those rare moments when Ryan was not his M.V.P.-quality self, was able to catch passes.

And let us be honest, the Falcons have an absolute freak in wide out Julio Jones. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick may be the greatest coach in the history of the game (other than Bill Walsh, of course; let us not get silly) and has an incredible (the people in charge of Cover32 are paying me by the superlative in this article, by the way) ability to take away the best option of the opposing team. But Jones is a different breed of lion.


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The Patriots may very well win this game, and they might do so even if Jones has a good game. Taking away the best options of other teams is one thing, but with Jones one might recall the Jack Nicholson line from Batman, “Wait till they get a load of me!” Jones’ numbers were not amazing (see, another superlative!) against the Seahawks in the playoff game as he had just six catches for 67 yards and a touchdown, but it just felt like he dominated his position. And against the Green Bay Packers, he had that little 73-yard touchdown reception where nothing much happened. Absolutely nothing. Nothing to see here…

The Patriots defense will be tough to overcome

The Falcons led the N.F.L. in scoring, but the Patriots were number one in scoring defense. The Patriots did this even after they got rid of Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins. As I said before, Belichick is really good. Belichick may be the best at scheming to his players’ strengths. Even without Brady the Patriots win games. Why? Because Belichick knows how to coach to each player’s strength and uses those strengths in his game plan.

This is truly the impediment to the Falcons winning: The Patriots may have a talented defense, but they are not the most talented. The Patriots may have Brady at quarterback, and he is a great player but not the greatest player. But to beat the Patriots you have to beat Belichick and he is a better coach than your teams’ coach.

The way to beat such a good coach is for the players to win their individual matchups. The Seahawks are 2-1 against the Patriots in their three most recent meetings. And yes, they should have been 3-0 if Seattle would have only given the ball to Marshawn Lynch. Why is this? Because the Seahawks’ individual talent matches up well with New England’s and no coach can fix that. Seattle secondary, in particular, is big and physical and talented, and uses press coverage to disrupt the other teams’ receivers. Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas are better than any individual Patriots receiver. Seattle wins their individual matchups. Atlanta, a team built to resemble Seattle defensively, will need to do the same. Or they will lose.

Or Atlanta could trade for Eli Manning, the obvious kryptonite to Belichick’s Superman. (Brady does not beat Eli in Super Bowls.)

Prediction

The Patriots can lose this game. Atlanta can win this game. The Falcons, though, will need to play at a high level offensively as the Patriots are also good on offense. The better team normally wins the Super Bowl. New England is a better “team” than the Falcons are. Atlanta is not as good as New England is defensively and two defensive stops might be enough to win the game. Here is thinking that New England gets one more than Atlanta.

Or Julio Jones just goes off and Atlanta wins 40-20.

Do not bet on this but…

Patriots 34 Falcons 24

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