Super Bowl experience should inspire Patriots to victory
February 04, 2017 7:01 AM
by Bob Christ
For the fourth time in 51 Super Bowls, a coach and quarterback owning Super Bowl rings (a record-tying four apiece in this case for Patriots coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady) will take on a foe whose coach (Dan Quinn) is making his first big game trip as the head man and whose QB (Matt Ryan) has never played in an NFL championship game.
That will be the scenario next Sunday when the New England Patriots, 16-2 including this postseason, meet the upstart Atlanta Falcons (13-5), who were 100-1 Super Bowl shots on the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook board after losing at home in Week 1 to Tampa Bay.
In those previous three championship outings pitting a Super coach/QB vs. newbies, experience prevailed each time, including New England’s 32-29 triumph over John Fox’s Carolina Panthers in the 2003 postseason.
But experience went only 1-2 against the line in each instance with the spread at least 7 points.
This time, the gap is only 3 points for the Patriots, who have won four titles since Brady took over as Belichick’s QB during the 2001 season.
That first Patriots title team pulled the second biggest upset in SB history when defeating St. Louis 20-17 as a 14-point dog. New England was outgained by an average of 29.4 yards a game that regular season, the worst differential for any team that even reached a championship game in NFL history.
By contrast, the Rams’ were at plus 138.7. That gap of 168.3 yards between the teams is the greatest since World War II. That’s Exhibit A in showing anything can happen in this time of year.
Anyway, now for a closer look at Super Bowl LI. The odds are provided by the Westgate SuperBook.
Super Bowl 51, Houston
Atlanta (13-5) vs. New England (16-2)
Time: 3:30 p.m.
Line: Patriots by 3 (59)
Facts: This marks the highest OVER/UNDER in SB history. In nine previous games that the number was 50 or higher, the UNDER was 6-2-1... On that subject, Atlanta is at a league-best 15-3 on OVERS this year, including 11-0 in domes. Last year, though, the Falcons had a league-worst 2-13-1 OVER mark. NE is 10-7 in OVERS and hasn’t played in a dome since Week 1 (Arizona).
The last four Super teams to be favored by 3-plus points have lost, including Carolina as a 5.5-point choice last season in a 24-10 loss to Denver.
Atlanta has made one other Super appearance, 18 years ago, losing to the Broncos 34-19.
En route, Atlanta trampled Pete Carroll’s playoff-bound Patriots 41-10 as a 4.5-point dog. NE hasn’t had a worse defeat since.
New England, which allowed the fewest points in the league (15.8), will face the league’s highest-scoring unit (33.8) and top-rated passer in Ryan, who had an NFL-high four games averaging better than 10 yards a drop-back. No passer against NE, however, ever had a rate better than 8.6. Atlanta has played five games against top-10-rated QBs and yielded 15 scoring passes and three INTs. Brady is ranked No. 2. On the other hand, this will be New England's first game against a top-10 passer.
The Falcons exceeded their preseason win expectations (according to the SuperBook) by four games, matching Dallas and Oakland for the league best.
Both teams benefited from field possession edges this season, with Atlanta having an advantage jn 14 of 18 games and New England in 11 of 16, with two games even.
The past six times a Super matchup featured one team (NE) with three or more regular-season wins than its foe, the team with the lesser record has gone 6-0 ATS/4-2 SU.
Analysis: Atlanta’s Quinn isn’t exactly new to Super Bowls, having guided Seattle’s Legion of Boom to the title three seasons ago as defensive coordinator and then a close-call loss to the Patriots a year later. But it’s a different animal having everything on your shoulders.
Belichick, meanwhile will be making his record seventh Super trip as a head man and will tie Don Shula and Tom Landry for most playoff games (36) as head coach in NFL history. His 25 postseason victories already are the most in history.
One key for the Patriots would be to shut down Atlanta on its first drive, for the Falcons have scored TDs on their initial possession an NFL-record eight consecutive games.
And it would seem the Patriots can handle that assignment, for they’ve given up only two first-quarter TDs all season, and over their last 13 games just five field goals.
Then there’s the matter of slowing Falcons WR Julio Jones, who had 180 receiving yards last week vs. Green Bay, his second-best yardage game this season. And the shaky status of Atlanta's standout center, Alex Mack (fibula), has to make the Falcons a bit queasy.
Again, NE has a history of containing wideouts, allowing only two 100-yard individual games since Week 2, with no one reaching 110. In summary, the bulldozing running of Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount and quick-release throws and veteran savvy of Brady should help the Patriots win their fifth crown.
Forecast: Patriots 31, Falcons 21
Last week: 0-2 ATS; 0-2 SU
Season total: 124-129-7 (.490) ATS; 148-112-2 (.569) SU
Note: The Patriots have never lost a game (16-0) when running back Dion Lewis has been in the lineup. Lewis is healthy again and expected to start.