Much is expected of the New England Patriots, as they have the experience factor working in their favor. They are in familiar territory and their last Super Bowl appearance two years ago against the Seattle Seahawks resulted in one of the most dramatic games in the history of the championship event.
The Patriots came out victorious when rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler intercepted Russell Wilson's short pass on the goal line in the final seconds, allowing the Patriots to clinch the victory.
Prior to that dramatic victory, the Pats had lost two Super Bowl appearances to the New York Giants following the 2007 and 2011 seasons. In both cases, the Patriots had the experience edge over New York, but they had their hearts broken twice.
Experience is certainly a positive factor for the Patriots as they prepare for Super Bowl LI against the Atlanta Falcons, but it offers no guarantees to Bill Belichick's team. It all comes down to execution, and that's the message that Belichick and Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn are giving to their players.
In addition to being the more experienced team, the Patriots remain the betting favorites in this game. They stand as three-point favorites, and the total in the game has been a steady 58.5, according to OddsShark.
The game at Houston's NRG Stadium kicks off Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET.
The Falcons are loaded with offensive weapons, and they have been the highest scoring team in the league this season. In the divisional playoffs, they overpowered the Seattle Seahawks, one of the strongest defensive teams in the league.
The Falcons are a confident bunch to begin with, and succeeding against a defense that has arguably been the strongest in the league over the last four seasons has to give offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan an even stronger belief that his team can get the job done against the New England defense.
The Patriots had the top scoring defense in the league this season, but they can be attacked. New England ranked eighth in yards allowed and 12th against the pass.
Julio Jones is clearly the most dangerous receiver in this game. Jones is coming off a 180-yard receiving game against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC title game, and he caught 83 passes for 1,409 yards and six touchdowns during the regular season.
Jones appeared to be in top form against the Packers, but he has been bothered by a toe problem throughout the second half of the season. While there is no doubt he will play, the question is whether he will be at the top of his game for 60 minutes.
Even if he is, the best thing that defensive coordinator Matt Patricia does is take away a team's most dangerous weapon. Patricia learned his craft from Belichick, and even if the two can't stop Jones completely, they should be able to slow him down to a degree.
The Falcons can respond much better than most opponents in that situation. Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel are both capable of making big plays in key situations, while tight ends Austin Hooper and Levine Toilolo combined for five regular-season touchdowns.
The Falcons can also counter with a devastating attack from running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Both are explosive runners who can also make big plays in the passing game.
As a result of the number of Atlanta weapons, this game will clearly be a schematic challenge for the Patriots. Additionally, they will need big plays from Butler, cornerback Logan Ryan and safety Patrick Chung.
They will also need Alan Branch and Trey Flowers to put consistent pressure on Ryan. Additionally, middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower will need to be at his best as he tries to decipher Ryan's play calls.
There is little doubt that the Patriots have a strong defense, and the unit is coming off a strong performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC title game. However, the Falcons have more weapons than the Steelers and will cause the Patriots to play their best game if they are going to get the best of the high-scoring Falcons.