Well, it was nice to wake up the morning after winning the AFC Championship without the entire NFL world standing outside our window with pitchforks. Yes, it’s still sinking in that the Patriots are going back to the Super Bowl for the second time in three years. Despite the Patriots being the best team in AFC by a considerable margin, you never take these things for granted and I’m going to savor every moment of the next two weeks.
Here’s some things to share and some commentary as the Patriots-Falcons hype has already begun…
1. We’re at that point now where it seems like every time the Patriots win a game, especially a playoff game, a bunch of records fall. Here’s a full list from Patriots.com of all the records that were broken or will be broken in the Super Bowl. My favorites:
- Tom Brady can tie Charles Haley as the only two players with five Super Bowl rings. Brady will also set the record for most Super Bowls played.
- Bill Belichick would surpass Chuck Noll with five Super Bowl championships. He will already set the record for most appearances by a coach (10).
2. Predictably everyone thinks SB51 will be a shootout, but the Patriots defense is so sound I think they’ll force Atlanta to work harder for yards than they’ve had to. This chart from PFF sums it up.
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 23, 2017
3. I always enjoy Andy Benoit’s strategy pieces and he immediately dropped this one on Monday laying out the potential matchups. Here was his general feeling about how the Pats’ defense should approach the Falcons offense.
[W]e see a defense that mostly sticks to straight man or zone, rarely employing hybrid coverages. A defense that, like any, occasionally blitzes a fifth rusher, but far more often is content to rush the usual four. A defense that changes its fronts frequently, particularly against the run, but doesn’t go too far out of its way to disguise them. In simplest terms, the Patriots just line up and play. They rely on sound, fundamental execution. This is how they must approach the Falcons, and it must be done very physically. Line up in straight man-to-man and hit your individual opponent in the mouth. If the Patriots aren’t flagged four or five times for various illegal uses of hands—be it holding, illegal contact, hands to the face, maybe even pass interference—they’re playing too soft.
4. Greg A. Bedard weighed in with his early thoughts on the matchup as well, matching a general sentiment that both teams should move the ball, but it looks like the Pats defense might have a small edge over the Falcons’.
To beat Brady, you have to disguise and change up both the pressure and coverage looks on just about every snap. The Falcons, to this point, have not shown the ability to do that. That will be an important factor in the game. Ryan has trouble with tight, disciplined coverage. With Malcolm Butler locking up either Julio Jones or Mohamed Sanu, and Logan Ryan on the other with safety help, Ryan may have to make a living throwing to the running backs and TEs Levine Toilolo and Austin Hooper. The Patriots have had more issues with supporting actors than those in starring roles. The Falcons have the ability to exploit that.
5. PFF has 10 Stats to Know about Super Bowl 51 and this one is the scariest:
Including the playoffs, Matt Ryan’s passer rating when kept clean is 131.1, the best mark in the NFL by over 10 points.
Any QB can play well when he’s not under pressure, right? While that may be true, the level Matt Ryan is playing at right now when he is kept clean is a level above anyone else in the league. He has been virtually unstoppable this season when he hasn’t been pressured, and if the Patriots can’t apply some heat in the Super Bowl, it’s going to be a long day for their secondary, given the efficiency with which Ryan has been carving up the rest of the league from clean pockets.