Death, taxes, Patriots’ Super Bowl appearances.
These seem to be life’s only guarantees and today becomes the seventh time we’ll have to (or get to, depending upon your allegiances) suffer through (or enjoy) seeing Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the rest of the New England contingent run through that novelty tunnel onto football’s grandest stage.
I have to admit, I was a little surprised to see the Pats open as just a 3-point favorite over the Falcons and that line hasn’t moved in the two weeks since. I wouldn’t say New England is considerably better than Atlanta, but I would have expected the action to be a little heavier on the Pats’ side. If anything, it seems that hasn’t been the case as the juice has steepened slightly for anyone jumping on the Falcons.
It may just be wishful thinking on the public’s part. While Atlanta might actually be the better team on paper, I don’t think I’m betting against Brady unless he’s taking on the Giants.
Everyone remembers those two times the Giants beat the Pats in the Super Bowl, right? Yeah, that was pretty great.
So the issue becomes “Can the New England defense stop the Atlanta offense?”
I can’t say for certain, but what I do know is that a dominant defense just about always trumps a dominant offense. We’ve seen it occur very clearly twice in the last three years. In 2014, the Seahawks obliterated Peyton Manning’s Broncos, 43-8. Last year, the Broncos were the ones with the league’s best defense and completely stifled Cam Newton and the Panthers, 24-10.
Now we need to determine whether or not New England’s defense is on that level. Just from the eye test, I’d say no. But the Patriots were the league’s top defensive unit, surrendering just 15.6 points per game. They are terrific against the run, specifically, having allowed 1,417 rush yards all season.
The Pats are also not some clock-killing offense that limits possessions to keep point totals low. Opposing offenses scored on just 26.8 percent of all possessions, best in the NFL.
The question is whether all that translates into stopping the Falcons’ multi-dimensional and prolific offense. Atlanta does not employ a straight-ahead running game. It uses both Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman out of the backfield, who combined for 1,600 yards rushing and 85 receptions. Their ability to get to the edge could nullify some of New England’s strength up the middle.
Then, of course, there’s Julio Jones on the outside. Jones may very well be the league’s best receiver and possibly its best offensive player, period. He’s so good in the air, so fast, so elusive. I don’t know any weakness to his game, but we’ll see if he’s able to outduel Malcolm Butler and what is sure to be a lot of bracketing from the New England secondary.
It should be a really entertaining game. No outcome would be much of a shocker, other than perhaps Matt Ryan smiling on the sideline with a 44-10 lead in the fourth quarter. A close Pats win, a close Falcons win or a comfortable Pats win all seem to be in play.
Despite my personal beliefs that lead me to find the New England Patriots simply disagreeable, I can’t help but give them the edge. Give Belichick two weeks to prepare the league’s best defense along with Brady slinging passes on the other side and there’s really nobody that I’d take over them — Giants, notwithstanding.
The Pick: Patriots 27, Falcons 23
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.