New England Patriots (16-2 SU, 15-3 ATS) vs. Atlanta Falcons (13-5 SU, 12-6 ATS)
Super Bowl LI
Date/Time: Sunday, February 5, 2017 at 6:30PM EST
Where: NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
By Loot, NFL Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
Point Spread: NE -3/ATL +3
Over/Under Total: 58.5
The New England Patriots take on the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI in Houston, Texas on February 5. Each team was dominant in their respective conference title games to get to this spot. New England dominated the Steelers, 36-17, and has cruised into the Big Game after two dominant playoff wins. Atlanta has followed suit, first dominating Seattle, before crushing the Packers, 44-21, to get to this spot. This looks like a Super Bowl that will be competitive and exciting. Let's see if we can come up with the right pick to end the NFL football season with a good Super Bowl 51 bet.
These teams are entirely deserving after two conference championship games that weren't the least bit competitive. They are similar in some ways. One of the ways that stands out the most is the depth and variety of their offenses. For New England, we've seen any number of different players step into the star-role on a week-to-week basis. In the AFC title win over Pittsburgh, it was receiver Chris Hogan, who had 180 yards receiving and two touchdowns. For Atlanta, it was Julio Jones, who also had 180 yards receiving. And in the conference title games, the respective quarterbacks were at their best. Matt Ryan was 27-for-38 with 392 yards and 4 touchdowns. Tom Brady wasn't far off Ryan's form, going 32-for-42 for 384 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Atlanta played well on both sides of the ball on Sunday to beat the Packers in the NFC title game. The league's highest-scoring offense has seen it work at the highest levels, with a combined 80 points in two playoff games this season. And the defense has only given up points this playoff season after the game is decided for the most part. For them to keep Green Bay scoreless in the first half was amazing, especially considering how well Green Bay's offense had looked in racking up a big winning streak. The defense was all over the Packers and whenever Rodgers completed a pass, there were several swarming defenders. A lot of people have slept on the Atlanta defense this postseason, but they are a peaking unit that is playing well and giving the offense more than enough room with which to work.
New England really made Pittsburgh look one-dimensional on Sunday in their big conference title win. They're a team without any glaring weaknesses. In fact, they don't have a lot of weaknesses—period. Brady and Belichick are back in familiar territory, looking for yet another Super Bowl Championship. Pittsburgh soon found themselves drowning in the excellence of the Patriots. Offensively, they are so well thought-out, with such a veritable cast of players that can do damage. On Sunday, Hogan and Brady were huge, as Julian Edelman was also over 100 yards, while LeGarrette Blount made a series of passionate runs that served to underline the Patriots' supremacy. And the defense is also peaking, holding the Steelers to 54 yards rushing on 20 attempts, while playing well at all levels to dominate the game.
With New England, we may be dealing with a transcendent team. Some of the earmarks are definitely present, including a 16-2 record, including their two playoff wins, with only one loss coming in the 14 games Tom Brady has started this season, including the playoffs. Despite the Patriots never seeming to get great betting value, they are a remarkable 15-3 against-the-spread this season. There's a definite team vibe to this group, with it being almost like a successful TV show where all the roles are spelled out clearly. In different weeks, different players will shine, but everyone knows their job. They do it without a ton of star-power, other than Tom Brady. But that's not a bad thing, as their strength comes from a collective angle. It's about the system, with the Patriots being a factory of NFL football success. Especially without Rob Gronkowski, they don't have any players that you'd think are game-changers, but so far this postseason, the unlikely duo of Dion Lewis and Chris Hogan have stepped up with game-changing performances. It might be someone different in this game.
Brady looks to become the first quarterback to win five Super Bowl championships. He's still at the top of his game and after an uneven showing against Houston, he showed his still-fearsome form against the Steelers. The pass-attack works at a near surgical-level. And with LeGarrette Blount running hungry and Dion Lewis having already made an impact in the playoffs, perhaps the Patriots' can unleash their running game against a Falcons defense that hasn't always thrived in that area. While the Atlanta defense has continued looking good late in the season and into the playoffs, they aren't that great at getting after the passer. And this is where New England's offensive line will need to keep Brady free of the Falcons pass rush. While the Atlanta high-powered offense will get most of the attention and is in fine form, New England was the third-highest scoring offense in the league this season.
New England pits its defense against one of the better offenses we've seen in the last few seasons. The Patriots allowed fewer points than any other team in the league this season. And they have looked good in the postseason, allowing a combined 33 points. Against Pittsburgh, they were excellent. They took the Steelers' stars out of the game and Pittsburgh was only able to create offensive continuity when the game was already out of hand.
With Alan Branch, Trey Flowers, Vincent Valentine, ands Malcom Brown, the Patriots' front is adept at stopping the run. Dont'a Hightower and Rob Ninkovich are difference-makers in the middle. The New England secondary has peaked, with CB Logan Ryan becoming one of the best in the league at that position, with Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, and Devin McCourty. And with New England, guys are always rotated in, with any number of players able to step up and make an impact. The question is if New England can duplicate that defensive success against the toughest offense in the league, an Atlanta offense that offers a tremendous amount of depth and variety.
Atlanta's calling-card is their offense and they look to really stretch the New England "D" to all corners of the field in this game. Ryan had 69 passing plays of at least 20 yards this season and looks to impose their big-play ability in the big game. Ryan hasn't thrown a pick since week 13 and is looking as good as he ever has. He has balance on this offense, with a good run game led by Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Ryan gets the ball into both of those player's hands, whether it be on the ground or through the air. Julio Jones has reminded some why a lot of people consider him the best receiver in football. But when Jones didn't have a good game this season, it didn't ground this offense, as they were able to cultivate real weapons out of Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, and a robust cast of different role guys who have all made an impact. And this is group that can really start fast. They have scored opening drive touchdowns in eight straight games! In 6 games in a row, they have scored at least 30 points. There is room for a lot of different guys to thrive in this offense, with their paths to success being numerous.
Heading into the postseason, the questions were about the Atlanta defense, as they weren't always a good group in 2016-17. As of late, they've been able to parlay an attacking and playmaking defense into a solid unit. With a defense ranked 28th against the pass, some forecasted that would be the Achilles heel in keeping Atlanta from becoming champions this season and it still might be. Honestly, the idea of a precise Brady picking apart a secondary like this is appetizing, but they certainly held up well against a version of Aaron Rodgers that has been ultra-sharp lately. They're a defense that has a lot of speed, especially in the middle, where linebackers and safeties at the line of scrimmage get after people in a hurry. Whenever Rodgers got the ball in someone's hands, several if not more Falcons descended on the scene immediately. But beating Green Bay in the Georgia Dome and beating New England in the Super Bowl at a neutral site are two vastly different things. How well this group holds up is going to play a big role in whether or not the Falcons can notch their first-ever Super Bowl win.
Just as Atlanta faced a legendary veteran quarterback nearly 20 years ago in their only other Super Bowl appearance in John Elway, they face the best in the business this time around too. Brady is getting up there and can't rely on getting back to this spot many more times. A little extra urgency sets in when you can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And after all the drama in the preseason, along with Brady's 4-game suspension, they have a redemptive angle to their efforts this season—an extra chip on their shoulder, if you will.
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I'm not sure that trumps the motivation of a team looking for its first taste of NFL glory, as Atlanta looks to upgrade the franchise with a Super Bowl win. And this is also a chance for everyone on the team to raise their profile. Matt Ryan would be squarely among the elite quarterbacks in the league with a win and coach Dan Quinn would join the upper pantheon of NFL head coaches. Atlanta worked hard to get here and one shouldn't expect them to be blinded by the bright lights on the big stage.
Holding out in acknowledging Atlanta as a true contender has been costly for non-believers this season. And we don't want to disbelieve all the way to losing a Super Bowl bet. But a lot of teams like Atlanta hit a wall in the Super Bowl when facing a team that has the overall completeness of a squad like New England. Sometimes, that high-flying M.O. doesn't translate at this level. And when a team like that struggles, they often don't have a Plan B. While Atlanta has balance and depth and is a lot more than simply a high-flying offense, New England probably has more routes to victory, as they are more of a shapeless form that can customize their approach from week to week.
Atlanta reminds me of a fighter who has a great offense and is just mowing down people. The offense is really the key thing, with the defense playing better as a result of being off the field a lot and being given a lot of room with which to work. But in any sport, great offense's biggest enemy is the kind of overall solidness that New England brings to the table. Atlanta is certainly a major threat and one couldn't register much surprise if they were to beat New England, perhaps even somewhat convincingly. But there's something about New England that suggests clear-cut greatness and I'm going with that read. They just don't undermine themselves in any way and I see more paths to victory for the Pats, not that it will be easy. I'm taking the New England Patriots to win the 51st Super Bowl.
Loot's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the New England Patriots minus 3 points. Tired of your credit card not working for sportsbook deposit? End that problem today and bet on Super Bowl LI between the Patriots and Falcons from your own home by signing up at Bovada Sportsbook where your credit card WILL work and where you'll receive a generous 100% sign-up bonus!