Super Bowl Week got off to a rousing start on Monday with plenty of sound bites available from both the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots. However, Super Bowl LI won't be played until Sunday, so all the chatter will mean little come game time.
This is a game that features a pair of top-tier quarterbacks, a historically good offense and the league's best scoring defense. These factors are going to matter much more than any words said on Monday.
Today, we're going to examine the game itself, along with the latest odds—courtesy of OddsShark.com. We'll also provide our prediction for the outcome and review some of the latest storylines of Super Bowl Week.
Super Bowl LI
What: New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons
Where: NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
When: Sunday, February 5
Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
National TV: Fox
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Line: NE -3
Prediction: New England, 28-24
Patriots Have Been Here, Done That
If there's any group that best understands that championships are won on the playing field, it's this Patriots team. This is the seventh Super Bowl for quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick. A total of 22 Patriots players have Super Bowl experience, including eight starters from the Super Bowl XLIX squad.
As Brady pointed out on Monday, New England knows that Super Bowl Week and the Super Bowl are not the same.
"Trying to ignore all this—this isn’t what the Super Bowl is," Brady said, per Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk. "There’s a lot of great things we’ve accomplished to this point, but there’s still one more to go."
Brady and his teammates know just how important focus and preparation are going to be over this next week. Yet, they also understand that playoff experience only goes so far against a quality team like Atlanta.
"Experience isn't going to help you win it," Patriots wideout Danny Amendola explained, per Tim Britton of the Providence Journal. "You've got to play a really good, new football team—a well-coached football team. We've got to play well. It's the only thing we're really focused on."
The Patriots cannot just expect to beat a Falcons team that scored an NFL-best 33.8 points per game in the regular season. They're going to have to lean on their defense—which is rated first overall by Pro Football Focus—and execute on the field.
The benefit to having done much of this before is that the Patriots are wise enough to recognize the challenge that lies ahead.
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Don't expect Atlanta to be intimidated in the least by New England's wealth of championship experience. The Falcons also realize that playing the game itself is what matters.
As Falcons center Alex Mack—who never saw a playoff game until this year—recently pointed out, execution is going to be the key. Mack, per Paul Schwartz of the New York Post:
I think the key there is to treat it like it’s still going to be a game. It’s gonna be a lot of excitement. It’s gonna be a longer halftime. When it comes down to it, it’s still going to be a game. It’s still just football. Still going to have to block somebody. That’s what the focus was for the playoff games, and it worked pretty well.
The Falcons have good reason not to be intimidated in this game. Recent history suggests that experience has little to do with the eventual outcome of Super Bowls.
According to NFL research, the team with the lower amount of Super Bowl experience has actually won seven out of the last 10 NFL titles:
As long as the Falcons aren't overwhelmed by the massive spotlight that is the biggest game in sports, they should play as competitively as they would on any other Sunday.
Freeman Focusing on Contract?
One thing players on both teams will likely point out is that distractions are best avoided during Super Bowl Week. This makes it seem a bit odd that Falcons running back Devonta Freeman—or more specifically, his agent—would choose now to bring up contract negotiations.
"It's time for the Falcons to pay him like the elite back he is," Freeman's agent, Kristin Campbell, recently said, per NFL Media's Michael Silver. "I expect them to make him a priority this offseason, as he's been an integral part of the dynamic offense that has gotten them to the Super Bowl."
We wouldn't at all be surprised if Freeman has thought about the upcoming offseason and the possibility of a big payday—players cannot renegotiate contracts until after their third season. However, this isn't the time for contract talks to become a distraction.
Of course, on Monday, Freeman insisted that it wasn't a distraction.
"I haven’t even been thinking about it," Freeman said, per D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I love this game. I need to maximize this opportunity and what is in front of me. I’m at the Super Bowl. I’m here to only talk football and have fun. How can we get this win? How can I become a national Super Bowl winner?"
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn also insisted that Freeman's contract talk isn't a distraction.
"That’s a great topic for a week from today," Quinn said, also per Ledbetter. "Honestly, the team is so focused on this game, this matchup that it’s not a distraction."
The reality, though, is that when players and coaches are repeatedly asked about an off-field situation, there is a distraction. While we don't buy into the fact that this contract situation will cause Freeman to play poorly on Sunday, we expect plenty of folks to question it if he does.