Predictions for Super Bowl LI

Brendan Winters

Bark’s Super Bowl Predictions

Belichich and Brady have been here many times before


Super Bowl LI will consist of Tom Brady, arguably the greatest quarterback in the history of professional football, and mastermind coach Bill Belichick facing off against a team with almost no Super Bowl experience, a mediocre defensive secondary and little other than a potent offense to bring to the table.

In 2001, the Patriots battled the St. Louis Rams in their first Super Bowl appearance in the Brady-Belichick era. That year, the Rams led the entire league in passing yards, total yards and scoring in the regular season, and were the dominating offensive force in the league that season. The Rams had an MVP-winning quarterback in Kurt Warner and the offensive player of the year in running back Marshall Faulk. The Patriots beat the Rams 20-17.

In 2004, the Patriots faced gunslinger Jake Delhomme, star wideout Steve Smith and a dominant backfield from the Carolina Panthers. The Patriots outdueled that sharp Panther offense, winning 32-29.

In 2005, New England combated the resurging Philadelphia Eagles, another team whose success could largely be attributed the strength of the offense. The Eagles had all-time great receiver Terrell Owens and quarterback Donovan McNabb, who had almost 4,000 passing yards in the regular season. But the Patriots, once again, won the Super Bowl.

With their latest AFC championship, the Patriots have entered unprecedented territory. They now have six AFC Championships, 11 division championships and four Super Bowls under Brady and Belichick. Like a fine wine, they seem to get better with age.  

The Patriots are historically dominant, and that prowess seems to only grow as the team plays on a higher stage against top-tier offenses. That’s the opportunity New England will have this Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, a team with an explosive offense, not unlike the 2001 Rams or the 2005 Eagles, but little defensively to combat Brady and the Patriots.


Two-headed rushing attack balances potent offence

As the Super Bowl fast approaches, it is no surprise that the Patriots are one of the two remaining teams. The Patriots will go into Sunday’s Super Bowl as the deserving favorites, continuing an era of unprecedented  success with quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick. The Patriots have appeared in six Super Bowls since 2000 and have won four of them.

But if there was a year in sports to bet against history, this would be the year. The Cleveland Cavaliers won their first NBA finals in franchise history, ending a 52-year championship drought for the city of Cleveland. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series, ending a 108-year drought. Clemson beat Alabama in the College Football Playoff Championship, picking up their first national championship since 1981.

The Atlanta Falcons have never won a Super Bowl and the city has not seen a championship team since the Braves won the World Series in 1995. Between the Falcons (NFL), Hawks (NBA), Braves (MLB) and the NHL teams that have come and gone, the city of Atlanta averages 162 seasons per title, the worst out of all American cities that have a professional sports team.

That history will be on the minds of Falcons players on Sunday when they go against New England’s top-ranked scoring defense, which has allowed just under 16 points per game, and Brady, who has the best quarterback rating of his career this season.

However, the Falcons are no second fiddle. Quarterback Matt Ryan has put up an MVP-caliber season leading the league’s highest-scoring offense (33.8 points per game). Julio Jones is coming off a two-touchdown, 180-yard performance in the NFC championship game, and leads a potent receiving core. The league’s most productive running back duo, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, can not only pick up big chunks on the ground, but through the air as well. This balanced offensive attack, which averaged a league-high 6.7 yards per play, keeps opposing defenses on their heels.

The Falcons’ defense hasn’t always been up to par this season, but it is definitely a much improved group. This unit makes their money off of takeaways, with a plus 11 turnover margin.  This Falcons managed to shut out Aaron Rodgers in the first half of the NFC Championship, something that few teams were able to do this season. If they can shut down a quarterback like Rodgers, they may have a shot to do the same against Brady, too.

The experts have the over/under for the game at 58 points, the highest ever for a Super Bowl. The Falcons are 6-1 when playing in games with 58 points or more, while the Patriots have only played in one game with over 58 points, so if this game turns into a shootout, Atlanta surely has the advantage.

Experience in big games is often talked about as a pivotal factor. Although the Patriots undoubtedly have the Super Bowl experience on their side, don’t underestimate Matty Ice and the Falcons because they might surprise you on Sunday.