By Shawn Sailer
Super Bowl LI (51) will feature the New England Patriots representing the American Football Conference (AFC) and the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football Conference (NFC). The game will be played on Feb. 5 at 6:30 p.m. at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.
The Patriots finished the regular season with a 14-2 record and won the AFC East Division. They also clinched a first-round playoff bye. In the AFC divisional round on Jan. 14, New England defeated the number four seeded Houston Texans 34-16.
The following week in the AFC Championship, the Patriots defeated the third seed, the Pittsburgh Steelers, by a 36-17 score to advance to the Super Bowl.
The Atlanta Falcons finished with an 11-5 regular season record, including winning their last five contests. They won the NFC South Division and, as with the Patriots, had a bye in the wild card round. On Jan. 14 in the NFC divisional round, the Falcons defeated the Seattle Seahawks 36-20. In the NFC Championship on Jan. 22, the Falcons got out to a 31-0 lead on the Green Bay Packers before defeating the Packers 44-21 to clinch a Super Bowl Berth.
The Patriots opened up as three point favorites, in large part due to the difference in experience, despite the Falcons high-powered offense.
“I think that it is always hard to bet against the Patriots, but I believe that the Falcons pose the biggest offensive threat they have seen all season because of the amount of weapons the Falcons have at their disposal,” said senior, Geno Gonnello. “I think that alone will prove to be difficult for a Patriots’ defense that hasn’t seen this type of offensive powerhouse all season.”
The Falcons had the best offense in the NFL, in terms of points scored during the regular season. Atlanta averaged 34.44 points per game. The Patriots came in third in points scored per game, with 28.39.
“Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense do not commit many turnovers. Atlanta won’t make it easy for a team (Patriots) that is no stranger to the Super Bowl,” said senior Kyle Unger.
The Patriots also had the top defense in terms of points allowed, as opponents only scored an average of 15.72 points per game.
The Patriots have been to eight prior Super Bowls in their history, winning four of them. During the Tom Brady era, they are 4-2 in the Super Bowl. Their last appearance came in 2015, when they defeated the Seattle Seahawks 28-24.
This will only be the second Super Bowl appearance for the Falcons. In 1999, they lost to future Hall of Famer John Elway and the Denver Broncos, 34-19.
Experience doesn’t always prevail, but it is definitely a factor in the time leading up to the game and the game itself. The preparation for the two weeks after the championship games is where experience is needed more than the game, in large part.
“In some cases, it (preparation) might seem like a two-week break might be a problem for a team who has been on a roll like these two teams have been, but I think both of these teams showed that they could handle the break when they came out firing on all cylinders after their bye week in the first round of the playoffs,” said Gonnello. “I think it actually helps the Patriots because they will have an extra week to prepare for a potent Falcons offense.”
The difference in preparation for the Super Bowl versus a regular season game is due to the two weeks off, versus the normal one, and all of the media obligations that have to be done. Once the game kicks off, it is just a regular football game.
If the Falcons are going to win this game, it is going to have to be high-scoring. It could come down to who has the football last.
My prediction: Patriots 38 Falcons 34.