By every statistical quantifier known to man or beast, less one, the upstart Atlanta Falcons don't have much of a chance against the New England Patriots in Sunday's 51st issue of the NFL's Super Bowl or "LI" to those who still count like Romans. The lone exception is Atlanta's offense, which finished atop the league for points scored in the 16 game regular season.
The grim statistical conclusion reached by ESPN's Stats and Info is that New England is 1.8 points better than Atlanta and has a 55.6 per cent probability of winning the Big One.
So why am I predicting a Falcon victory and an upset for the ages by a team that has been there only once but never won it?
Because it took 32 teams 266 games, 34,008 offensive snaps and 1,361 touchdowns to get down to two teams and none of those numbers mean a thing when the ball is kicked off in the Super Bowl. I'm trusting my eyes instead.
On their way to Area 51, the Falcons played two very good teams – the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers – and made them look like scrubs. It's always been said that defense wins Super Bowls, and #1 rated defensive teams are 7-2 in previous matchups. However, that might not be the case this year after what happened to the Seahawks and Packers: both teams had highly regarded defenses which got mauled by Matt Ryan and the Falcons' offense.
That old saying might have to be amended to read: "Defenses win Super Bowls… unless they're playing against the #1 rated offense."
The last time the top offensive team played the top defensive team was 2015 when the Patriots defeated the Seahawks whose head coach, Pete Carroll, made the worst tactical decision since Pearl Harbor. Carroll called a pass play with 40 seconds remaining on second down from the one yard line with a healthy fullback in the game nicknamed "Beastmode," who was guaranteed to gain four yards every carry. New England didn't win that one with their top-rated offense.
It was a gift from the gods and will likely endure as the worst call in NFL history.
This time, the Falcons will do it the old fashioned way, by wearing down the Patriots with long, time-consuming drives that tire a defense – like they did against the Packers.
While all the stat boys and girls are saying Brady, Belichick and New England's defense are unbeatable, there is yet another way to get Brady's goat like the Texans did in their playoff game. They had Brady sweating with an effective pass rush, which hurries his throws and messes up the timing of his Dink ‘n’ Dunk passing game to his smurf receivers like Edelman and Amendola.
The scenario is this: Atlanta scores first on a long drive to put New England behind, then Brady starts pressing to catch up. Atlanta does it again then starts power rushing and blitzing to hurry Brady and pretty soon New England is in a deep first half hole. The key is a cool, calm ball control offense by Ryan and the Falcons. Tom Brady can't beat you when he's on the sideline waiting for a long Ryan drive to conclude. Offenses are proactive. Defenses are reactive and have little control over the pace of play and time of possession – which is why a powerful and efficient offense can negate a great defense.
Of course, this is football and turnovers (interceptions, fumbles, dropped passes, etc.) can make everything else an academic exercise in frustration. It takes good luck to win Super Bowls, too.
Personally, as an objective observer, I don't have a horse in this race. I don't particularly care for either team, but have always been a big fan of watching sports history being made – like the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series in November. Going into the game, Brady is tied with Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana as the only QB's with four Super Bowls, so he can become the first with five if he wins. And here are the teams that have won the most Super Bowls:
6: Pittsburgh Steelers
5: Dallas Cowboys
5: San Francisco 49ers
4: New England Patriots
4: Green Bay Packers
4: New York Giants
Nobody knows how much extra pressure all this history will put on Brady, his coach and his team. He's 39 now and this may be his last shot but people have been saying that for a while now and he just seems to get better with age.
On the other side of the field, Ryan's nickname is "Matty Ice" because of his ability to handle pressure, but it's his first Super Bowl in his ninth season and anything can happen.
Although I gave myself a good headache reading all of ESPN's statistics, this call is based solely on watching the last two games each team played.
New England looked sloppy and slow against the Texans and methodical against the Steelers who were weakened by injuries. The Falcons looked like a powerful juggernaut as they pushed around two very good teams and made it look easy. Other than a couple dropped passes, they played flawless football for coach Dan Quinn. From what I saw, the Falcons are the better team at the moment and my gut feeling is New England can't beat them… but I'm not betting on it.
Falcons 31, Patriots 24
Matchup: New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons
Date: Feb. 5
Time (PT): 3:30 p.m.
Point Spread: New England (-3)