By Jacob Hevenor ‘17
I was going to write this edition’s column on the unprecedented parity that has rapidly emerged in professional men’s tennis, but I figured I should cater to the audience and talk about the Super Bowl (but if you want to hear that scorching hot take, feel free to email me). Therefore, a breakdown of the Super Bowl LI matchup is in order:
With a ‘bend but don’t break’ approach, New England has quietly put together the league’s best defense in terms of points allowed (15.6pts/game). While their yardage totals are far from elite, the intangible ability to buckle down in the red zone and keep points off the board will be crucial to stopping Atlanta’s high-powered aerial attack.
On the flip side, Atlanta has possibly the worst defense of a Super Bowl competitor in recent memory. With seven first/second year players starting on defense, inexperience will be an issue. They are a hard-hitting bunch, however, and were able to keep Aaron Rodgers contained in the NFC Championship game. If they can force turnovers, they can give their team a chance.
Edge: New England
Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is the assumed MVP, and deservedly so. The ninth-year pro has suddenly emerged as an elite passer, with a 7-0 TD-INT ratio in the postseason, good enough for a mind-boggling 132.6 rating. Unfortunately for him, he is going up against the (inarguably) greatest QB of all time, Tom Brady. Love him or hate him, he has put together one of the best seasons of his career at the age of 39. Couple that with his track record of playing his best in the biggest moments, and it is hard to bet against Brady, especially when he can exploit such an inexperienced defense.
Edge: New England
Atlanta has Julio Jones, the game’s best receiver. Enough said. Then again, New England shut down Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown last week, playing man defense with safety help. That might not be enough against Atlanta, however, since the Falcons have a much deeper offensive corps than Pittsburgh. Mohamed Sanu is a legitimate second receiver and Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman make up one of the best backfield tandems in the league. New England’s offense is one of the deepest Tom Brady has ever had, but not the most talented. Bruising back LeGarrette Blount should have success against a young group of linebackers, but don’t expect Chris Hogan to be as open as he was last week. Martellus Bennett is banged up to the point of ineffectiveness and Julian Edelman will be blanketed. Gronkowski will be missed.
Dion Lewis has finally solved some of the Patriots’ returning issues, but ball security remains a weakness on special teams. Nate Ebner is likely out with a concussion. Stephen Gostkowski missed another extra point against Pittsburgh, showing that he hasn’t fully recovered from his slump. For Atlanta, Matt Bryant is a capable kicker with an extremely powerful leg and Eric Weems is a solid returner. Bryant has made kicks of over 60 yards and has a career 86% success rate.
A no-brainer and the key aspect to distinguish the two teams. Atlanta’s Dan Quinn has done an admirable job taking this team to the Super Bowl, and they should be competitive for years to come. But Bill Belichick’s ability to present an entirely different scheme on nearly every play has kept his opponents guessing for years. Belichick’s calm demeanor and experience in big games makes him a living legend on the sidelines. Quinn may call a great game, but Belichick will find some way to outfox him.
Edge: New England
Atlanta has not appeared in a Super Bowl since the 1998-1999 season, their only such appearance. The franchise has no titles. New England, appearing in its record ninth Super Bowl and seventh in the last fifteen years, has won four. My (as unbiased as possible) prediction: New England 35, Atlanta 26