Super Bowl 51 between Georgia’s own Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots presents fans with the opportunity to watch the League’s best scoring offense in Atlanta square off against the League’s best scoring defense in New England.
The Atlanta Falcons’ historically great offense, led by MVP frontrunner Matt Ryan, averaged a League best 33.8 points per game during the 2016 regular season campaign. Postseason play has only increased this number to 40 points per game.
As impressive as the Falcons offense was throughout the season, however, its defense could use some work. Atlanta gave up an average of 25.4 points per game during the regular season, placing them sixth worst in the NFL. Furthermore, Atlanta’s opponents averaged 371.2 yards a game, making them eighth worst in that category.
However, in postseason play, especially in the Championship round against Green Bay where Atlanta held the Packers scoreless in the first half, the Falcons defense started coming along well. Overall, Atlanta has decreased its opponents points per game in postseason play from 25.4 to 20.5.
Meanwhile, New England’s defense held opponents to a paltry 15.6 points per game. While New England’s defense allowed slightly more points thus far in postseason play, its 16.5 allowed points per game would still have been the NFL’s best mark.
The Patriots’ defensive success has gone largely unnoticed this season, mainly due to trading defensive end Chandler Jones to Arizona (for guard Jonathan Cooper and a second-round draft pick) and linebacker Jamie Collins to Cleveland for a third-round pick. Jones and Collins were arguably New England’s best defensive lineman and linebacker last season.
While New England’s defensive is stealing the Super Bowl headlines for the Patriots, the Falcons would be unwise to overlook New England’s offense.
Despite losing all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski to a back injury, New England’s offense, manned by two-time MVP and future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, ranked fourth in passing offense and eighth in rushing offense.
As for the game itself, expect Atlanta to attack New England’s linebackers by targeting rookie tight end Austin Hooper, tailbacks Devonta Freeman (third on the team in receptions with 54) and Tevin Coleman.
Although the Falcons’ receiving core is stacked, Atlanta would be better off not challenging New England’s secondary unless Ryan has early success finding Hooper, Freeman and Coleman thus allowing more space for Julio Jones, Mohammed Sanu and others receivers to operate.
For New England, protecting Tom Brady against Atlanta’s edge rusher Vic Beasley will be key. If New England’s offensive line can keep Brady upright, he will have little problem picking Atlanta’s secondary apart, with underneath routes to Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman.
Expect a fairly high scoring, tight game (the Las Vegas spread gives New England a three-point edge.)
Super Bowl 51 will test whether the Falcons can disprove the old football aphorism of “offense wins games, but defense wins championships.” If Atlanta is able to establish its passing game early, they stand a good chance.