It’s no secret that I am a New England Patriots fan. It might as well say “the lanky kid in the Patriots hat” in the masthead of this paper. With that being said, here are some things to watch for in the Super Bowl LI matchup between the Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons. -Max Molski
When the Patriots have the ball:
Tom Brady. You’ve heard of him, right? Even those who only watch the Super Bowl have seen him play six times. Many will suggest that Brady is playing with a chip on his shoulder to get back at the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell for the draining, two-year “Deflategate” scandal. Regardless, Brady is coming off a game where he torched the Pittsburgh Steelers for 384 passing yards and three passing touchdowns in the AFC Championship Game.
Brady isn’t a one-man show, though. Running back LeGarrette Blount led the NFL in rushing touchdowns (18) during the regular season. Fellow running back Dion Lewis scored three touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving and one kick return) in the Patriots’ win over the Texans in the Divisional Round. Last week, wide receiver Chris Hogan elevated New England’s offense with two touchdowns and 180 receiving yards. Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels have plenty to work with heading into Houston.
The Falcons’ defense, on the other hand, has its questions marks. Outside rusher Vic Beasley led the NFL in sacks (15.5) this season and the team held Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers offense to just 21 points in the NFC Championship Game. With that said, Atlanta ranked in the bottom five in passing yards allowed throughout the regular season and was in the middle of the pack for rushing defense, sacks and interceptions.
When the Falcons have the ball:
Part of the reason the Falcons have surrendered so many passing yards is that their offense is historically good at putting points on the boards themselves, so teams have to play from behind against them. The team scored 33.8 points per game during the regular season (tied for seventh-highest since 1990) and has averaged 40 points in its two playoff games.
Quarterback Matt Ryan has put up MVP numbers this season, throwing for 38 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions. His quarterback rating (117.1) is the fifth-best in the league, and he has improved on those numbers through two playoff games. Receiver Julio Jones is as menacing a pass catcher in the NFL as showcased last week when he put up identical numbers to Hogan. The Falcons’ backfield also features a two-headed monster of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, who have combined for four playoff touchdowns.
Atlanta comes in to face the top scoring defense in football. New England gave up just 15.6 points per game in the regular season, but played a group of quarterbacks that would have struggled to make Quinnipiac’s football team. Last week the defense thwarted Pittsburgh’s explosive offense, holding it to 17 points. New England head coach Bill Belichick has proven time and again that he will take away an opponent’s best offensive weapon and force them to score in other ways. Cornerback Malcolm Butler kept Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown in relative check in the AFC Championship Game and will need to play just as well to contain Julio Jones with help from a safety over the top. Yet, none of that will matter if the Patriots cannot surmount pressure against Ryan. The Patriots did not sack Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger a single time in their last game. Pass rushers Chris Long and Rob Ninkovich were held up as if every Steelers’ offensive lineman was The Mountain from “Game of Thrones.” If Matt Ryan has all day to throw, he could light New England up like the Fourth of July.
One last interesting note comes in the jerseys. With this year being one where the NFC representative got to select the jerseys it would wear, the Falcons had the choice and selected to wear their home reds, leaving New England with away whites. In the last 12 Super Bowls, 11 winners have worn white while only one (2011 Green Bay Packers) wore their colored jerseys.
While there are plenty of aspects within the game that people can bet on, there are other elements in the Super Bowl that people can wager. Here are some of the available prop bets and odds for Sunday’s games (prop bets courtesy of Bovada.com):
How long will it take for Luke Bryan to sing the National Anthem?
Over 2 minutes 9 second: -120 Under 2 minutes 9 seconds: -120
Will Luke Bryan forget or omit a word from the National Anthem?
Yes: +400 No: -700
What color will the liquid be that is poured on the head of the winning coach?
Clear/water: +300 Lime/green: +300 Yellow: +300
Orange: +300 Red: +600 Blue: +750 Purple: +1200
How many times will “deflate” or “deflategate” be said on TV during live broadcast?
Over 1.5: Even Under 1.5: -140
Which song will Lady Gaga sing first during the halftime show?
Edge of Glory: +200 Bad Romance: +250 Born This Way: +500 Poker Face: +1000 Just Dance: +1000 Any other song: +130
Will “Houston, we have a problem” be said on TV during live broadcast?
Yes: +250 No: -400
Best and worst moments off the field:
Once you’re ready to watch the big game, it’s time to prepare for the real action: the commercials and halftime show. Here are the Chronicle editors’ all time favorite and least favorite Super Bowl moments. -Madison Fraitag and Samantha Bashaw
Budweiser “Lost Dog” 2015
Doritos “Ultrasound” 2016
Snickers “The Brady Bunch” 2015
Avocados from Mexico “First Draft Ever” 2015
Mountain Dew Kickstart “Puppy Monkey Baby” 2016
Skittles “The Portrait” 2016
GoDaddy “Perfect Match” 2013
Oikos “The Spill” 2015
Best Halftime Performances:
Left Shark 2015
Michael Jackson 1993
Bruno Mars 2014
Worst Halftime Performances:
Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake 2004
Black Eyed Peas 2011
Elvis Presto 1989