Chips, Dip… Super Bowl LI Preview

The Highland Cavalier sports staff makes their calls.

The stage is set: it will be the New England Patriots taking on the Atlanta Falcons in the 51st Super Bowl. The game, which will be played at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas on February 5, will feature two high-flying offenses led by New England’s Tom Brady and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan.

The Patriots will be playing in their ninth Super Bowl (the most in NFL history) and Brady will be looking for his fifth Super Bowl title, which would break a tie with Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw for the most Super Bowl wins ever by a quarterback.

Meanwhile, the Falcons will be looking for their first Super Bowl win in only their second Super Bowl ever, with the first being in 1999. Matt Ryan will be looking to cap off his MVP-caliber season by earning the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy.

Both teams had similar roads to Houston. Following a first-round bye, head coach Bill Belichick’s Patriots rolled the Houston Texans in the Divisional Round 34-16, and then they defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 36-17 to win the AFC Championship. After a first-round bye, head coach Dan Quinn’s Falcons defeated the Seattle Seahawks 36-20 in the Divisional Round, and then they blew out the red-hot Green Bay Packers 44-21 for the franchise’s second NFC Championship.

Offense could be the story of the game as both teams finished in the top 4 in the NFL in total offense and both have continued to put up a lot of points in their postseason contests. However, both defenses have played extremely well throughout the postseason, so Super Bowl LI has all the makings of a classic.

Here’s a preview of what to watch for when you settle in to watch the Big Game, complete with picks from the Highland Cavalier sports staff:

New England

It’s the same story, just a different year with the Patriots, who are back in the Super Bowl for the fourth time in the last ten seasons. The Patriots are again led by QB Tom Brady, who finished the regular season with 28 touchdown passes and only 2 interceptions after missing the first four games of the season while serving his “DeflateGate” suspension. RB LeGarrette Blount had a solid season, finishing with over 1,000 rushing yards. Brady’s fantastic season is even more impressive considering he has been missing star TE Rob Gronkowski for the majority of the season due to a back injury. WR Julian Edelman (98 catches, 1106 yards in the regular season) and TE Martellus Bennett (701 yards, 7 TDs in the regular season) have been two of Brady’s favorite targets, and that should continue in Houston. The Patriots have found a star in the rough this postseason in WR Chris Hogan, a former lacrosse player at Penn State, who torched the Pittsburgh secondary for 9 catches, 180 yards (a Patriots postseason record), and 2 TDs in the Patriots’ AFC Championship win. The Patriots have another defense that ranked inside the top 10 in the NFL this season. Led by DB Logan Ryan and former Super Bowl hero DB Malcolm Butler, the Patriots secondary allowed only 238 passing yards a game, and they will have to play well against a high-octane Atlanta offense.

Atlanta

While the majority of the Falcons lack Super Bowl experience, they are a young, talented team who have one of the NFL’s most prolific offenses and a young, athletic defense. The Falcons enter the Super Bowl riding a six-game winning streak due in large part to the fantastic play of QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones. Ryan had the best year of his career this season, as he completed 70 percent of his passes and threw 38 touchdowns during the regular season, which is why he is expected by many to take home the NFL MVP award. Jones, who has been one of the most feared receivers in the league for several seasons now, had a campaign up to his usual standards. Following a regular season in which Jones had 83 catches for 1409 yards (second-most in the NFL), he has continued to shine with 3 more TDs in the Falcons two postseason games, proving why many think he is now the league’s best receiver. RB Devonta Freeman (1079 rushing yards, 11 rushing TDs in the regular season) is an emerging young star, and WR Mohammed Sanu has had a career-best year (653 yards, 4 TDs in the regular season) after being signed as a free agent from Cincinnati. The Falcons defense has shined throughout the playoffs, allowing only an average of 20.5 points per game this postseason. The Atlanta defense is led by the young OLB Vic Beasley, who emerged into a star this season with 15.5 sacks during the regular season. The Falcons secondary, led by DB Jalen Collins and SS Keanu Neal, is very athletic, and that will be key as they try to limit New England’s passing attack.

Highland Cavalier Picks

Dylan (Sports Editor): “I seem to generally like the underdog in the Super Bowl and this year is no different. I think the combination of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones will be lethal for the Patriots defense. I’ll take the Falcons, 28-24.”

Jalen (Sports Writer): “If there’s one thing I know, it’s that it is never a good idea to pick against Tom Brady in the playoffs. Brady has been on this stage before, and he has shined time and time again. With that being said, I’ve just got a feeling about this Falcons team. I’ll take the Falcons, 34-28, and this 49ers fan will still get to call Joe Montana the G.O.A.T. for at least one more year.”

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