The Super Bowl line opened with the Patiots as 3 point favorites and the line hasn’t moved even a half-tick, despite 64% of the bets going on the Patriots. Will be interesting to see who the sharps are betting. If the line has any movement at all, it probably will only be a 1/2 point either way.
Here are the staff predictions and what the experts are saying. The majority of the predictions that I’ve seen among the usual suspects have the Patriots winning
It’d be easy to pick the Patriots in this one, you can never go wrong with betting on Brady and Belichick. The Falcons, though, have something special about them and it’s more than just Julio Jones and Matt Ryan. The entire team has really hit its stride in the last quarter of the regular season and in their two playoff games.
So yes, I’m picking Atlanta and I’ll give you two reasons and neither are Julio Jones or Matt Ryan.
1. The Falcons running backs. The combination of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman has given the Falcons dual weapons in both the run and pass game. They combined for 1599 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns during the regular season, plus 85 catches for 883 yards and 5 more touchdowns. That’s a ridiculous 2482 in rushing and receiving yards and 24 touchdowns. If the Patriots want to key on Julio Jones, the Falcons can run the ball or use either back in the passing game.
2. The Falcons defense. If you look at the pure stats, you wouldn’t be that impressed, but as the season progressed, head coach Dan Quinn saw growth from his young players who were just getting comfortable. One thing I noticed against the Packers was the speed on defense. They fly all over the field. Their 2015 1st round pick Vic Beasley led the NFL in sacks with 15.5 in just his 2nd season. The goal is to pressure Tom Brady without blitzing.
Too much Falcons offense and their defense will make enough plays and stops to get a win. Falcons 31 Patriots 26
It feels strange to pick against Brady and Belichick today, especially considering their experience – which matters. But Atlanta is tough and competitive, and I guarantee you they’re sick and tired of hearing how amazing the Patriots are. The Falcons have been an after thought the last two weeks, but that ends today. Atlanta’s historically great offense will show everyone just how good they actually are, and their young aggressive defense will make just enough plays for the Falcons to pull it out. I’ve been riding this Atlanta bandwagon for a while now – I’m not getting off now. Falcons 31 Patriots 25
MVP: Matt Ryan
Favorite Prop Bet: Mohammad Sanu Over 4 Catches
My head is saying take the Pats, but the line is telling me take the Falcons. If this line had been 4.5, I would have been all over the Pats but it’s not and I think public money will be all over the Pats. The Pats margin of victory in their Super Bowl victories is exactly 3. Vegas has gotten killed this postseason… I don’t expect it to continue tonight. Patriots 27 Falcons 26
I can’t believe this is my 35th Super Bowl, but I think we’re in for one of the better ones I’ve covered. The headlining offense in this one is Atlanta, which scored 540 points (eighth-most in NFL history) this season — and 80 more in two playoff games. Matt Ryan has been playing like an MVP, and I expect him to have a good game. The moment won’t be too big for him. I know Bill Belichick likes to take away the opposing team’s best offensive weapon, but I’m not sure the Patriots will be able to stop Julio Jones. He’s a beast and can beat press coverage or even multiple defenders. New England’s defense makes you earn first downs and is strong in the red zone. If the Falcons can make Mohamed Sanu and their running backs legitimate playmakers alongside Jones, they have a shot.
If Atlanta’s offense is like a set of steak knives, New England’s is like a Swiss army knife. It was Dion Lewisin the divisional round and then Chris Hogan for 180 yards and two TDs against Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game. I wouldn’t be surprised if neither figured into this game. The only thing you can count on is Tom Brady finding New England’s all-time postseason leader, Julian Edelman, out of the slot. I think the Patriots run early and often, testing that Atlanta front seven to see how stout it is. A strong running game will control the clock and keep Ryan and that high-powered offense on the sideline. It’ll be interesting to see this Atlanta D early because, as Brady noted, it has played with a large lead most of the postseason.
New England hasn’t trailed since late November (against the Jets), and in the past five Super Bowls pitting the highest-scoring offense against the No. 1 scoring defense, the defense has won four times. This Atlanta D is talented, fast and on the rise — but it’s also young. I think New England wins one more for Brady and Belichick, and it’s a little lower-scoring than you might think. New England 27, Atlanta 21
I wonder what Matt Ryan and the other deserving Super Bowl rookies will be feeling in the tunnel in the moments before kickoff. Troy Aikman, the picture of cool, told me he was hyperventilating waiting to go out for his first Super Bowl appearance. No idea how Ryan will feel, but I do know it’s fruitless to ask him now. He and his Super Bowl rookie teammates won’t know till 6:32 p.m. ET at NRG Stadium. As for the game: Bill Belichick’s going to do something—early—to confound a team that doesn’t see the New England defense often. I have no idea what it’ll be. But the Falcons have scored on eight straight first possessions, and my bet is that streak ends in Super Bowl 51. As for the other side of the ball, Belichick has done a good job conserving Dion Lewis all season for just a moment like this. My hunch is Lewis is a big factor in this game. Atlanta could win and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit. But I’m betting on experience and a 39-year-old quarterback with a 33-to-4 touchdown-to-interception differential.
Patriots 27, Falcons 23
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has a history of concocting a defensive game plan that takes away what the opposing offense does best. It’s widely believed that, as it relates to the Falcons, Belichick will try to eliminate receiver Julio Jones.
Beyond Super Bowl XXXVI, where Belichick dared the Rams to run the ball and coach Mike Martz stubbornly didn’t, the template for this one possibly comes from Super Bowl XXV, when Belichick convinced the Giants defensive players that the way to outscore the Bills would be to let them run the ball.
“You guys have to believe me,” Belichick told his players, via David Halberstam’s The Education of a Coach. “If [Thurman] Thomas runs for a hundred yards, we win this game.”
It was hard sell, given that the team’s defense had been premised on shutting down the run. But Belichick got his players to embrace the strategy, and the Giants won the game by a single point.
While Belichick may not have spent the last two weeks lobbying the Patriots to let Devonta Freeman and/or Tevin Coleman to rush for more than 100 yards, Belichick is likely to ensure that the Atlanta passing game and running game won’t generate yardage in big chunks, forcing the Falcons to patiently work their way down the field and sustain drives and set up showdowns in the red zone, where New England’s defense has improved dramatically throughout the course of the season.
So it’s about more than taking away Jones. It’s about taking away quick-strike touchdown drives and shortening the game.
That’s why the New England offensive game plan will be critical, too. Running plays and short passes that simulate runs should be the preference, with Tom Brady showing the kind of patience that Belichick will try to force the Falcons to display. By keeping Matt Ryan and company on the sidelines for as long as possible, they’ll have fewer chances to wreak havoc or to get in the kind of a rhythm that has seen them rack up big leads in both playoff wins.
Ultimately, the goal will be to keep the game close and trust Brady and/or the defense to deliver with the championship on the line. That’s how the six prior Brady-and-Belichick Super Bowls have gone, with four of them going the way of the Patriots and the other two resulting in defeat only when Eli Manning managed two of the most impressive clutch throws the NFL has ever seen. Patriots 27, Falcons 24.
Bill Belichick is considered one of the great defensive minds of all time, and giving him two weeks to prepare for an offense is downright scary. They say Belichick’s greatest strength is taking away one major part of your offense. That would likely mean Falcons receiver Julio Jones in this game. That would normally slow an offense, but not this Falcons offense, which is why I think they win this game. They averaged more than 40 points in two games without Jones this year. Matt Ryan also threw touchdown passes to 13 different players, a league record. In a battle of the top-ranked scoring offense and the top-ranked scoring defense, I think the offense will get the best of it here. Ryan has too many weapons. The Patriots aren’t great at rushing the passer either, ranking 18th in sacks per pass play, which will be a problem. If they blitz and single up in the secondary, this is an offense that can take advantage of that. On the other side, Tom Brady will get his points as well. The Falcons are a young, small, fast defense, but they can make some youthful mistakes. Against Brady, that can be six in a hurry. So I look for both teams to score a lot of points. The quarterbacks are simply too good to be stopped. In the end, the Patriots will have the ball down 35-31 with a chance to go win it. This time, it won’t be a Brady late drive to a title. Instead it will be a sack by Vic Beasley late to end the drive and give the Atlanta Falcons their first Super Bowl victory and give Ryan validation by some as a top quarterback. Falcons 35 Patriots 31
We’ve seen this before — hot offense against a superb defense. No reason to think that Bill Belichick and Co. won’t discover the keys to thawing Matty Ice. And with Tom Brady fueled by Deflategate (whether he admits it or not), he will get the best of a young Falcons D. It feels like the Patriots will emerge again in another tight Super matchup. Patriots 38 Falcons 34
Patriots coach Bill Belichick will find ways to pick apart Atlanta’s young defense. Just a hunch, Patriots will attack first with the running game, likely LeGarrette Blount, and then spread the field and hope Tom Brady can pick apart the Falcons D. Atlanta will move the ball, but the Patriots’ red-zone defense will do just enough for the close win. Patriots 31 Falcons 26
New England had the No. 1 scoring defense in the regular season and held the Texans and Steelers to under 20 points the last two games. I think the Patriots will hold the Falcons far below their average. Patriots 43 Falcons 21
Two weeks to prepare. I keep coming back to that every time I want to lean toward picking the Falcons. Atlanta is more than game here. With a MVP-caliber quarterback, the best wide receiver in the sport, an array of secondary weapons and an opportunistic defense, the Falcons can play with the Patriots. But two weeks is enough time for Bill Belichick to create a plan to slow down Atlanta’s attack–just like he used to do to Peyton Manning’s Colts and the Greatest Show on Turf Rams. Patriots 34 Falcons 31