The dust has started to settle after the two conference championship games, and Super Bowl LI is coming into focus, with the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons preparing to play for the Vince Lombardi Trophy at NRG Stadium in Houston on Feb. 5.
The Patriots earned their record ninth AFC championship when they defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, and they go into the Super Bowl with the goal of winning their fifth NFL championship in franchise history. The duo of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady worked together to win all the team's previous Super Bowls.
This team exudes an air of confidence that is a result of its talent, schematic excellence and brilliant history. The Patriots are three-point favorites over the NFC champions, and the game has a total of 58.5 points, according to OddsShark.
|Super Bowl LI at a glance|
|Matchup||Date||Time (ET)||TV||Point Spread; Over-Under|
|New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons||Feb. 5||6:30 p.m.||Fox||New England (-3); 58.5|
Both games represented significant progress for the Falcons, and much of the credit has to go to second-year head coach Dan Quinn. Atlanta hired him after his successful run as the defensive coordinator of the Seahawks, and he has helped the Falcons defense toughen up and play much better football down the stretch.
In the past, the Falcons were known for their quick starts and even quicker fades before Quinn established himself. This season, they avoided a poor finish and have looked like a powerful team for a full 60 minutes in all of their recent games.
The Falcons are a dynamic offensive team and have the league's best one-two punch at running back, with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. In addition to their explosiveness and speed, both backs are also outstanding pass-catchers.
Julio Jones may be the league's premier wideout. He has game-changing skill and combines his talent with size, strength, speed and leaping ability. The Patriots are coming off a sensational effort against Pittsburgh wideout Antonio Brown, so they won't lack confidence in trying to slow down Jones.
New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia may be the most important coach not named Belichick in this game. The Patriots had the top scoring defense in the league this season, but finding a way to slow down the Falcons will be Patricia's biggest test of the year.
Since the Patriots don't have a true superstar on defense, it is up to Patricia's schematic brilliance to put his players in a position to succeed.
Cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan should be well prepared, and they will get plenty of help from safety Patrick Chung.
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The front seven has to put pressure on Matt Ryan and can't let him sit in the pocket with complete freedom.
On the other side, the Atlanta defense is going to have to rise up to a new level to contain the Patriots. Brady goes through his reads as well as any quarterback who has ever played the game, and he has capable receivers in Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and tight end Martellus Bennett.
However, power running back LeGarrette Blount could be a huge X-factor in this game. While Blount has just 78 rushing yards in two postseason games, he had 18 rushing touchdowns in the regular season and is capable of dominating.
In prior years, the Falcons regularly got pushed around on defense as opposing blockers outweighed them. While they have made up some of the difference this year and have a game-changing pass-rusher in Vic Beasley, they will have to show they can control the line of scrimmage for 60 minutes in order to have a chance of winning their first Lombardi Trophy.
The Super Bowl offers a slew of betting opportunities outside of point-spread and money-line betting, and some of these propositions give hardcore and casual fans a chance to show off their expertise and intelligence.
MyTopSportsbooks.com displays some of the top prop bets on tap to this point.
One of those props is whether there will be a defensive touchdown. Those who believe that either defense will return a fumble or an interception for a touchdown can get a return of 4-1 for their wager. Gamblers who believe that a special teams touchdown will occur on a kick or punt return can get a 13-1 return for their initial bet.
Interested parties can also wager on which player will score the most touchdowns in the game. Jones is listed at 4-1, and Freeman is the second choice at 6-1. Blount and Hogan are next at 7-1, while Edelman and Coleman are both at 9-1.
The highest-scoring Super Bowl was the matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX. The Niners won the game 49-26, and bettors can wager that Super Bowl LI will be the highest-scoring title game in history. That bet is offered at 8-3 odds.
Prop opportunities will continue to be added as the game approaches, and not all are serious, game-related bets.
Football fans can bet on the color of the hooded sweat shirt that Belichick will wear. A blue hoodie bet is offered at odds of 3-4, and a gray hoodie is at 5-4. The rare red hoodie pays off at 9-1. Should Belichick defy expectations and eschew his familiar garb, a bettor who selects that option will clean up at 9-1.