By Will Brown
The NFL’s biggest game of the year has finally arrived. On Sunday February 5th, the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons will face off to determine the winner of the NFL’s ultimate prize—the Lombardi Trophy. Since these two teams are in different conferences, they do not play each other often and have not met since September 2013. These two teams faced different roads to the Super Bowl, but the stakes are equally as high.
The Patriots had the best record in the league this year at 14-2, despite missing star Quarter Back Tom Brady for the first four games of the season due to a controversial suspension by the league for deflating footballs past the legal limit during the 2015 AFC Championship game. The Patriots had minimal trouble reaching the Super Bowl, blowing out the Texans 34-16 in the Divisional Round and then beating the Steelers 36-17 in the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots are making their 9th appearance in the Super Bowl, which is the most in NFL history. A victory would give the Patriots their fifth Super Bowl win and second in the last three years, cementing Tom Brady’s legacy as the greatest QB in NFL History and Head Coach Bill Belichick’s legacy as the greatest coach in NFL History.
The Falcons enter the big game in a much different situation. Unlike the Patriots, the Falcons have never won the Super Bowl, losing their only other appearance in the big game back in 1999. The Falcons were not expected to be a contender this year after finishing just 8-8 a year ago, but they surprised everyone by going 11-5 and finishing with the second best record in the NFC. In order to reach the Super Bowl, the Falcons knocked off the Seahawks 36-20 in the divisional round and then blew out the Packers 44-21 in the NFC Championship game. QB Matt
Ryan and the Falcons will try to finish off their unexpected run by bringing the organization their first ever Super Bowl win.
The case for the Patriots to win is their experience. Quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick are playing in their seventh Super Bowl, which is the most appearances by any player/coach duo in NFL history. It is safe to assume that they will be able to handle the pressure of playing in the big game. The same cannot be said for the Falcons, who have several players with no Super Bowl experience on their roster. In previous years teams with limited Super Bowl experience have struggled under the bright lights of the Super Bowl, including last year’s NFC Champion; the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers went 15-1 during the regular season and won their first two playoff games by large margins, making them the favorite in the Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos. However, the Panthers didn’t look the same under pressure and lost 24-10. Another factor that favors the Patriots in the Super Bowl is the fact that they had the best scoring defense in the NFL this season. They will need every stop they can get against the Falcons, who led the league in scoring. This is not the first time that the best offensive team and the best defensive team have faced off in the Super Bowl, and history suggests that better defensive team usually wins. The last time the highest scoring team faced the best defensive team in the Super Bowl was in 2014 when the Denver Broncos and their record setting offense faced off against the Seattle Seahawks, whose “Legion of Boom” defense was the best in the league. It was expected to be a close game, but the Seahawks flattened the Broncos 43-8. The Falcons have one of the best receivers in the NFL in Julio Jones, but no team is better than the Patriots in taking away their opponents best offensive weapon and forcing someone else to beat them.
The case for the Falcons to win is their offense. They led the league in scoring, and had one of the best offensive seasons in NFL History. The Patriots have not faced an offense this year that is nearly as explosive and high scoring. Although high powered offensive teams have not fared well in previous Super Bowls, the fact that this game is being played in an indoor stadium rather than in cold weather bodes well for the Falcons. Although the Patriots will look to shut down star receiver Julio Jones, the Falcons offense is far from a one man show. Quarterback Matt Ryan had a career best year and will likely be awarded NFL MVP, and runningbacks Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are two of the best young players in the league. Ryan excels at getting a lot of different players involved and the Falcons have several other high quality receivers including Mohammad Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, and Justin Hardy. If the Falcons make this a high scoring game, the Patriots might not be able to keep up. On the other side of the ball, the Falcons defense is young, but has improved throughout the season and has several players that can pressure Tom Brady. Head Coach Dan Quinn also has Super Bowl experience, as he was the defensive coordinator for the 2014 Seahawks when they won the Super Bowl.
Who will win the big game? I asked some Millsaps students to give me their prediction.
Sophomore Noah Crosley thinks the Patriots will win.
“Brady’s too good. I think the entire team is built for moments like this. It’s about the experienced veterans,” Crosley said. He predicts the final score will be 31-24.
Junior Tyler Hargrave thinks the Falcons will win because the NFC is better than the AFC. He predicts the final score to be 31-28.
Finally, here is my prediction. I think this will be a close, back and forth game but the Patriots execution, coaching, and big game experience will be the difference. Tom Brady will make plays against a young, inexperienced Falcons defense and the Patriots will be able to slow Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense down just enough to win their fifth Super Bowl. Patriots 34-27