Jesse Pantuosco (@JessePantuosco): It’s been a while since we’ve done one of these, but with Super Bowl LI only a few days away, I thought now would be a good time to bring back the Roundtable. There’s been plenty of buildup to this game, so let’s keep it short and sweet. We know the Falcons and Patriots can put up a ton of points, which might explain why the over/under for this game is the highest in Super Bowl history. But who do we see winning this bad boy?
I’ll lead us off. I’m going New England. I know that’s not very original, but how do you bet against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick? They’ve been at it for almost two decades and seem to get better every year. The Patriots have always played close Super Bowls and I expect that trend to continue on Sunday. Atlanta’s offense has looked downright unstoppable in the postseason, but they haven’t faced a defense quite like New England’s. It’s true that the Patriots have played a relatively light schedule, but their defense is absolutely for real. They’ve shut down almost every elite receiver they’ve faced including Antonio Brown two weeks ago in the AFC title game. Plus, they haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher since Week 12 of 2015.
We keep hearing that Atlanta’s defense is fast, but they also start three rookies and only have one legit pass rusher (Vic Beasley). I’m not sure that’s going to be enough against arguably the greatest quarterback of all-time. Atlanta’s secondary is vulnerable without Desmond Trufant and Julian Edelman has averaged over 100 yards per game since Week 10. Not to mention that lacrosse star Chris Hogan is coming off a 180-yard game against Pittsburgh in the Conference Championship.
Julio Jones will get his and I think Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman could spell trouble for New England in the pass game. But in the end, I see New England winning a nail-biter, 31-28.
Raymond Summerlin (@RMSummerlin): I think this game will come down to when the Patriots have the ball. While New England’s defense is both good against the run and excellent at limiting big plays, which gives them a shot, the Falcons’ attack is too varied and strong for any defense to really hold down. Even in Denver and Seattle early in the season, Atlanta managed to score 23 and 24 points against defenses that were more talented than the Patriots. The only time they were really shut down was in Philadelphia, and that had much more to do with the opposing offense than defense, although the Eagles did play well on the defensive side that day.
What Philly did better than any other team was use their running game to keep Atlanta’s offense off the field. The Falcons ran just 48 plays total in that game, easily their lowest of the season, while the Eagles ran the ball 38 times for 208 yards. The Patriots are built to execute that game plan with LeGarrette Blount and a power running game that can overmatch the Falcons’ bottom-tier run defense. That tactic has the added benefit of keeping Vic Beasley either off the field or out of his element.
If the Falcons decide to sit back and play Cover 3, Tom Brady should also have no trouble shredding them like he did the Steelers in the AFC Championship game, especially if the running game is working. With that said, riding the running game requires patience and that could be difficult if Atlanta jumps out to a quick lead. The Falcons have also been much more successful pressuring the quarterback this postseason, in part because of an increased reliance on the blitz. Bringing pressure, especially up the middle, is the tried-and-true method of slowing down Brady and the passing attack. With two weeks to prepare, I think the Falcons will be able to recreate some of the things the Texans did to New England’s offense in the Divisional Round, giving them the win in a game with fewer points than expected. I will take the Falcons and the under.
Rich Hribar (@LordReebs): I wrote a Super Bowl post earlier this week (read it here), but mark me down for the Patriots. No disrespect to Atlanta because I believe this is one of the most evenly matched Super Bowls in recent memory, but if you're telling me one team is going to get 3-4 stops and the other is going to get 2-3, I'll side with the Patriots getting the one extra stop.
I also believe Atlanta will have a hard time combatting New England’s intermediate passing game. A lot of people have highlighted that Philadelphia game as the blueprint to edging Atlanta, but I honestly believe emphasizing the run would play right into the Falcons’ hands. Trying to best the Falcons with LeGarrette Blount, who is a complete tell to the defense, actually helps Atlanta. If the Patriots don’t devise a game plan centered around Julian Edelman, Martellus Bennett, Dion Lewis and James White, they’ll be doing the Falcons a big favor. New England should play to their strengths instead of trying to keep Atlanta off the field. Blount can still get his, but he’s best suited for goal-line work and milking clock in the second half.
With two great offenses on display, I believe this game will come down to who gets the most stops. In that event, I side with New England getting one more than Atlanta.
Patrick Daugherty (@RotoPat): I’m picking the Falcons. My reasoning is pretty straightforward. If you were to rank the league’s offenses and defenses 1-64—so a ranking of the best units in the NFL—I would have the Falcons’ offense far and away No. 1. Granted, the Pats have the No. 1 scoring defense, but I believe it was largely a product of playing in a soft division and a soft opposing quarterback slate. Not that it’s a weak unit, but I think New England’s defense rather soundly loses the battle against Atlanta’s offense.
Aside from maybe slowing down the running game, I don’t see a “killer app” that’s going to change the game for Matt Patricia. Of course, Tom Brady’s machine is well-oiled as well. I just think Atlanta’s offense is too good for the Falcons to lose. Famous last words, right? Like every Pats Super Bowl before, I’m expecting an extremely close game, one where the Falcons narrowly come out on top.
Nick Mensio (@NickMensio): I'm really struggling with this one. Do I go with the team that’s been there before in New England? Or do I side with the team that is firing on all cylinders right now—not that the Patriots aren't also—and roll with the scorching-hot Falcons?
I just don't know if this Atlanta offense can be contained. There are so many weapons, and I'm not sure the Patriots have the bodies to stop all of them. They'll most likely bracket Julio Jones, but Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman and Taylor Gabriel are all electric, and even Mohamed Sanu and Austin Hooper are playmakers to certain degrees. On the defensive side for Atlanta, the loss of star CB Desmond Trufant hasn't seemed to hurt them as the young trio of Jalen Collins, Brian Poole and Robert Alford has played well while edge rusher Vic Beasley has played out of his mind all year. If the Patriots had Rob Gronkowski healthy, I'd lean toward them. But without him, I'm going with Atlanta. Final score: Falcons 38, Patriots 34.