It's the new kids on the block against the grumpy old senior citizens in Super Bowl LI.

No team in sports has had more success since the turn of the century than the New England Patriots. The duo of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick has put the New England Patriots on the pinnacle of success, as the two prepare for their seventh Super Bowl together.

On the other hand, this is only the second time the Atlanta Falcons have reached the championship game in the franchise's 51-year history.

Led by the league's highest scoring offensive attack, the Dirty Birds are looking to fly into Reliant NRG Stadium on Sunday and derive New England of a fifth Lombardi Trophy, just a like a similar bird of prey deprived rapper Big Boi of his dog.

It's the No. 1 offense in the league versus the No. 1 defense. It's the top two MVP candidates going head-to-head. It's the up-and-coming team versus the team that's been there too many times to count. It's reconciliation of one franchise versus the revenge of another.

So which team will prevail on Sunday? Let's find out.

Here's the reality of football: both teams need to do the same things to win on Sunday. And surprise surprise, these are the same things every team needs to do on a weekly basis to win football games.

1. Pressure the Quarterback 

Both Matt Ryan and Tom Brady are excellent. If they have time to sit in the pocket and survey the field, they'll pick apart a defense with the precision of a neurosurgeon (both quarterbacks finished in the top 5 of the league in completion percentage).

Getting pressure with four down lineman is the best way to counter an elite quarterback, but it's much easier said than done.

Brady was sacked just 15 times in 12 regular season games this year, and although Ryan was taken down 37 times in 16 games, a lot of that had to do with the amount of deep shots the Falcons took throughout the season which forced Ryan to hold on to the ball longer.

Neither team has what you would describe as a "great" offensive line, but both are serviceable and have done an admirable job holding up in protection when needed the most.

On the defensive side of the ball, both teams finished with 34 team sacks this season, exactly the league average. Atlanta's Vic Beasley did lead the league in sacks however, with 15.5, but no other player on the team had more than five.

You can almost guarantee Belichick and Brady will slide the protection over his way on just about every snap. For the Patriots, no player had more than sever sacks but 14 different players recorded more than one.

On paper at least, the Falcons should have the advantage rushing just four down lineman but overall, the Patriots do a better job generating pressure from hidden packages.

2. Run the Football

Both teams are pass-first offenses, but that doesn't mean either team is one-dimensional. New England attempted 482 rushing plays this year compared to 550 passing plays. Atlanta attempted 421 rushing plays compared to 537 passing.

For the Patriots, LeGarrette Blount is their bruiser. On first and second down and in short-yardage situations, Belichick usually calls his number. Nobody rushed for more touchdowns than Blount either.

Dion Lewis returned from a torn ACL in Week 10 and has seen his workload steadily increase over the last few weeks. He's the perfect change of pace compliment to Blount, and his ability to change direction on a dime makes him a dangerous weapon in the open field.

James White is the team's receiving back, and only two RBs in the league caught more passes than him this year. You won't have much luck finding a three-back system that compliments each other better than this trio does.

The Falcons don't boost a three-headed rushing attack, but their two backfield dogs don't need anymore help.

Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman can do it all from picking up huge chunks of yardage on the ground to turning a two-yard swing pass into a momentum changing 65-yard touchdown.

Both averaged about 4.5 yards per carry this season on more than 100 carries and both caught at least 30 passes.

The Falcons may not have that big, power back like New England has in Blount, but they make up for it with elite quickness and shiftiness to make defenders miss at the line of scrimmage and still pick up first downs in crucial situations.

Take your pick of which backfield you prefer, it's virtually a wash.

3. Can Your Top Corner Nullify Their Top Receiver?

If you're going to focus in on one individual matchup on Sunday, keep your eyes on Julio Jones and Malcolm Butler. Jones is arguably the best receiver in all of football and Butler, the hero of Super Bowl XLIX, has turned into one of the premiere defensive backs in the league. 

Jones has a significant size advantage over Butler (6-foot-4 vs. 5-foot-11), but there aren't many DBs in the league who play as physical at the line of scrimmage than No. 21. Butler has become a star for New England, making his mark by manhandling receivers at the break. 

Against Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game, Butler limited Antonio Brown to seven catches for 77 yards, well below his season averages. Brown isn't the physical monster Jones is, but very few corners in the league have had that kind of success against Brown in the past few seasons. 

Jones is big and physical too, and can certainly hold his own at the line of scrimmage if Butler lines up in press coverage. This play in the NFC Championship Game shows his physicality in different levels of the field. 

He torches Packers DB off the line to the point Gunter has to grab onto his jersey for dear life. Jones catches the ball about 12 yards past the line of scrimmage and then turns on the afterburners, breaking two tackles en route to a 73-yard touchdown. 

In today's league, the rules favor the offense so the Falcons get a slight edge in this individual matchup, but don't sleep on Butler.

On the other side of the ball, the Falcons are going to have to deal with Julian Edelman. Atlanta can't matchup with him using a single player because New England moves him all over the field, but whoever is covering him is going to have to limit his YAC yardage, or yards after catch.

Edelman is the energizer bunny for the Pats; when he's going, the whole team goes. Very few players turn a short slant route into a 15-yard first down as easily, and as consistently as Edelman does.

He's going to get his five-to-nine catches on Sunday, but keeping at seven catches for 42 yards instead of seven catches for 86 yards and a score could be the difference in which teams wins and which team loses this game.

4. Coaching

The final and arguably most important facet of football is the man calling the shots from the sidelines. And this is the most lopsided individual matchup in this game.

Bill Belichick may be the greatest coach of all time and he's definitely one of the best defensive minds to ever man a NFL sideline. Dan Quinn is still an up-and-coming commodity in football, and while the future is bright for him, he's no Bill.


When the league's top offense squares off with the league's top defense in the Super Bowl, defense usually wins. But unlike some of the other great defenses we've seen in the NFL, the Patriots' No. 1-ranked defense isn't as dominant as some of the ones we've seen.

With that being said, if anyone can figure out a way to slow down the Falcons high-powered offense, it's Bill Belichick.

For that reason and for the fact I think Brady's revenge tour can't end with any other result than hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, I think the Pats pull this out with another final minute drive. I'm rooting for the Falcons, but give me TB12 and Bill to come out on top.

Patriots 29

Falcons 28

-- Mike Lucas


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