(Tom Brady has more Super Bowl experience than the Falcons’ entire active roster. Photo by Andrew Campbell/Wikimedia Commons)
By MIKE HERNDON
Let me start off by saying that I hope I am wrong. I hope the long-suffering Falcons hang half-a-hundred on the Patriots on Sunday and carry their first Lombardi Trophy back to the new place with the funky roof. In this bizarro-world year in which our new billionaire-run anti-government is trying to eat itself (heads up: we’re next), the last thing we need is another victory for the 1 percent. Even Flying Elvis looks smug.
With all that said, I’m taking the Patriots to win Super Bowl LI. Here are five reasons why:
- Tom Brady is having one of the best seasons of his career. His completion percentage (67.4) and his QB rating (112.2) are the second-best of his career — trailing only his numbers from a 2007 season in which the Patriots won 16 straight games before being upset by the Giants. His touchdown-to-interception ratio (28-2) is the best of his career. Tom Brady at his best is not a Tom Brady that is often beaten, the end of the 2007 season notwithstanding.
- The Dion Lewis factor and LeGarrette Blount’s rebirth. Stop me if you’ve heard this already, but New England is 16-0 in games in which Lewis has played. That isn’t a coincidence. His game fits the Patriots’ offense perfectly, giving Tom Brady the weapon out of the backfield that the Patriots’ best teams have always had. But the biggest key to the Patriots’ offense this year may have been the career year turned in by Blount, who has shown himself capable of carrying it by himself if need be.
- Bill Belichick’s defensive Jedi tricks. It is conventional wisdom that Belichick is good at finding a way to take away an opposing offense’s top weapon, and after Julio Jones, the Falcons’ next options at receiver are Taylor Gabriel (admittedly a revelation this season), Mohamed Sanu and Justin Hardy. Their tight ends are some guys named Austin Hooper and Levine Toilolo. But the more important stat to consider with this Patriots’ D may be that it has not allowed a 100-yard rusher all season, which makes it difficult for opponents to play the possession game. Look for the Falcons to try to counter all this with their use of running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in the passing game.
- The Patriots’ offensive line got its groove back. Want a stat that explains the Patriots’ dominance over Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game? Well, yes, 1 Le’Veon Bell injury played a role, but consider this: Led by James Harrison and Bud Dupree, the Steelers averaged four sacks a game in their previous seven games before facing a Patriots offensive line that had given up frequent pressure to the Texans the week before. Pittsburgh sacked Brady twice, but he enjoyed a clean pocket for most of the day and picked the Steelers apart to the tune of 384 yards and three scores. This was partly due to the Steelers’ questionable game plan of frequently dropping Harrison and Dupree into coverage and playing zone much of the day, but New England largely won the line of scrimmage.
- The “E” word — Experience. As noted on ProFootballTalk.com this week, Brady himself has more Super Bowl experience than the entire Falcons active roster.While that doesn’t, in and of itself, determine performance, it does play into how a team — and particularly, its leaders — handle adversity. Will Matt Ryan thrive if the Falcons are down 7 in the final minute? Maybe, but it will be the first time he’s been in such a situation on a stage this large. Will Brady? You can pretty much count on it.
The pick: Patriots (-3) 38, Falcons 31. The only saving grace for the world outside Massachusetts: That Roger Goodell will have to hand Brady the trophy.