Head coach Dan Quinn has helped the Atlanta defense improve quite a bit, but if the Falcons are going to get the best of the New England Patriots, it will almost certainly result from a spectacular and consistent showing from their offense.
The Patriots had the No. 1 scoring defense in the NFL this season, so dominating them will not be easy. However, a look at New England's schedule reveals that the Patriots have not faced many elite quarterbacks this season.
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They faced Trevor Siemian, Bryce Petty, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matt Moore in the last three games of the regular season and Brock Osweiler in their divisional playoff game.
It was a different story in the AFC Championship Game against Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the Pittsburgh offense was not operating at its highest level. After Le'Veon Bell was forced out of the game with a groin injury, the Pittsburgh offense lost its versatility. At that point, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia could concentrate nearly all of his team's efforts on slowing down ace receiver Antonio Brown.
The Falcons also have star power on their offense, and they could cause more problems for the Patriots than the Steelers did. Instead of one big-play running back, the Falcons have two in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Both are explosive runners who can catch the ball well and then have big plays after making the first tackler miss.
|Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium in Houston|
|Matchup||Date||Time (ET)||TV||Point Spread; Over/Under||Prediction|
|New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons||Feb. 5||6:30 p.m.||Fox||New England (-3); 58.5||New England; Over|
|OddsShark; Silverman selections|
Jones will provide a big test for the New England secondary. While they did an excellent job of preventing Brown from making big plays, Jones is a different kind of receiver. He is a big and powerful man who can win the battle for the jump ball. He also has game-breaking speed and excellent receiving skills.
In addition to Jones, Mohamed Sanu has proved to be a fine complementary receiver. He can make the tough catch on the sidelines and the Patriots are not going to give him double coverage. If he can get open, he could be an impact player in this game.
The Patriots don't have a receiving weapon on par with Jones, but they have a number of consistent and hard-nosed receivers who are going to make the tough catch in traffic. Starting with Julian Edelman, who has the quickness and athleticism to make cuts at full speed and then catch the ball when Tom Brady hits him the instant he gets open.
Chris Hogan was the star of the AFC title win over the Steelers with two TD receptions, but the Patriots excel at spreading the wealth around. Hogan knows how to get open and can make the big play downfield, but Brady could decide to throw the ball to Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola or tight end Martellus Bennett.
The other factor is power running back LeGarrette Blount, who had 18 rushing touchdowns during the regular season. Blount has just 78 rushing yards during the postseason, but he could play a huge role here.
The Falcons used to have problems in the trenches against stronger teams, and while they have been better in that area this season, look for the Patriots to test them. It seems unlikely that they have improved that much that they will be able to slow down Blount when he is trying to convert key third downs in the second half of the game.
Prediction: The Falcons are a good team on the rise, and they have proved they deserve to be in the Super Bowl because they have hammered the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers in the postseason. Quarterback Matt Ryan has answered every question to this point.
But how will the underdog Falcons handle the experienced Patriots? While OddsShark has the point spread at three points and the total at 58.5 points, it's hard to see Atlanta hanging in this game in the second half.
After a high-scoring first half, look for the Patriots to dominate in the final 30 minutes. New England wins this game by a 34-27 margin, as Bill Belichick's team covers the spread and the over comes through.
As the Super Bowl gets closer, the subject of prop bets will almost certainly grow more prevalent.
Hardcore fans can bet on events like the first touchdown, first score and likely MVP, while casual fans can wager on events surrounding the coin toss, Luke Bryan's national anthem rendition and Lady Gaga's halftime performance.
Nearly all the props are available on OddsShark. One of the props that we have an opinion on is the first touchdown. Jones is listed at odds of plus-750 (bet $100 to win $750), followed by Freeman, Edelman and Blount at plus-800.
Further down the line is Bennett at plus-1,200. Bennett was the Patriots' second-leading receiver during the regular season, and he had a team-leading seven receiving touchdowns. Look for Brady to go back to him in the biggest game of the year to score the opening touchdown.
Bettors can also try to project the margin of victory for each team. For example, we have predicted a seven-point New England victory. A wager on the Patriots winning by seven to 12 points would provide a return of $550 for a bettor who was willing to risk $100 on that outcome.