By Danny Cox
Super Bowl LI is just a few days away, and there is no doubt that this may be one of the hardest games to predict in a very long time. The New England Patriots have plowed through this season in dominating fashion—with a couple of small bumps along the way—but there is a big obstacle in their path to a championship.
Atlanta Falcons Season Record: 11-5 regular season; 2-0 postseason
Atlanta had a great season with a few losses that were nothing to be ashamed of. They were consistently strong and won the NFC South title en route to a first-round bye in the playoffs. There, they demolished the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers to secure their spot in Super Bowl LI.
Falcons On Offense
The NFC South is built on explosive play-making ability, and the Atlanta Falcons had the No. 2 offense in the NFL during the regular season. Matt Ryan leads an offense that has a great number of targets for him to find in the passing game, including Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel.
When he isn’t finding one of those players, he’s looking toward running back Devonta Freeman, who finished the regular season with 462 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns. While Freeman wasn’t catching the ball, he was running it into the end zone; he had 1,079 yards on the ground to go along with 11 more touchdowns. This offense is absolutely loaded with playmakers, and it will not be easy for the Patriots to defend them all.
Falcons On Defense
On the flip side of the ball, the Falcons are not nearly as strong on defense as they are on offense, and that may be where the Patriots can take advantage. Guys like Tyson Jackson, Vic Beasley and Jonathan Babineaux must all be contended with in the front seven, but the secondary allowed opponents to average more than 266 passing yards per game.
Yes, they have been able to shut down strong offenses such as the Packers, but there are plenty of holes there. New England will have the opportunities to run some formations and plays that are not normally seen by this Falcons team, and it could cause some problems for Atlanta.
Falcons Players To Watch: WR Julio Jones and LB Vic Beasley Jr.
Julio Jones is not only the best receiver on the Atlanta Falcons’ roster, but he’s also one of the very best in the entire NFL. He is fast and can make receptions that seem virtually impossible or out of his reach. Jones is one of those players who will force an opposing defense to put more than one guy on him, and that will leave someone else open on offense. He had 700 more receiving yards than the second closest player on the team (Mohamed Sanu with 653 yards).
Looking at his numbers, it is hard to deny the sheer talent and skill that linebacker Vic Beasley possesses. His 15.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery came in just his second season in the league. Beasley is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL even though people came down hard on him for a lackluster rookie season. Tom Brady will need his offensive line and running backs to know where he is at all times.
The New England Patriots had a bit of rust on them in their first playoff game after a first-round bye. They were able to easily shake it off and handle the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game. Now, they’ve had another break and will have to step onto the field against one of the best put-together Atlanta Falcon teams that NFL fans have seen in a long time. A victory and championship is not out of the question, but this will not be a blowout, and it will not be one-sided. It will most certainly not be easy.