The single biggest game of the 2016 NFL season is merely days away. It's taken 17 weeks of regular-season action and three rounds of playoff football to get to this point. On Sunday, though, the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots will clash for the biggest prize in pro football: the Lombardi Trophy.
Super Bowl LI is setting up to be a wonderful matchup between the league's top offense and its best defense. The Patriots allowed an NFL-low 15.6 points per game in the regular season, while the Falcons scored an NFL-best 33.8 points per contest.
Neither of these teams is one-dimensional, however. The Patriots have their own potent offense, led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady. The Falcons have an aggressive and opportunistic defense, highlighted by NFL sack leader Vic Beasley.
It's going to take more than one layer or unit to decide this contest.
We're here to take an in-depth look at Super Bowl LI, along with the latest odds—courtesy of OddsShark. We'll examine the schedule for the big game and some of the latest information you need to know to make the most of your Super Bowl Sunday.
Super Bowl LI
What: New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons
Where: NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
When: Sunday, Feb. 5
Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Line: New England (-3)
Patriots Not Worried About Deflategate
We know the Patriots are still unhappy about the sanctions NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell imposed on the franchise for its part in the deflated-football scandal. Fines were levied against the franchise, the team lost draft picks and its star quarterback was suspended for the first month of the 2016 season.
This is why—despite the fact plenty of football fans don't like the Patriots—Brady and his team might have a few supporters outside New England for Super Bowl LI.
The fact Goodell would have to personally hand the Patriots the Lombardi Trophy if they win would make for an awkward and potentially entertaining moment.
So far, the Patriots have sidestepped questions about such an event and any possible motivation the team might draw from the ordeal.
"It takes a lot of work to get to this point, and nothing that's happened in the past is going to help us win this game," Brady said, per Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal. "What's going to help us win this game is going through that process that we talked about and being ready to go. That's enough motivation for me."
Regardless of how New England feels—publicly or privately—this will remain a big story all week.
Given the two-year saga that has followed the Patriots, much of the spotlight is going to remain on Deflategate.
Goodell Ready to Move Past Deflategate
Plenty of folks believe the commissioner went overboard when going after the Patriots to set an example for the rest of the league.
Goodell hasn't done much over the past couple of years to quiet the notion that he has a personal vendetta against New England, either. He has stayed far away from the Patriots franchise, choosing not to set foot in Gillette Stadium since the ordeal began.
Unsurprisingly, Goodell chose the game between the Falcons and Green Bay Packers as the one to attend during Championship Weekend.
Goodell, though, has insisted there will be no awkward moments during the Super Bowl regardless of the outcome.
He told NFL.com:
I would tell you that it's not awkward at all for me. We have a job to do. We do our job. As I said, there was a violation. We applied a process, a discipline, and we came to a conclusion that was supported by the facts and by the courts. So, from our standpoint, we understand what fans, who are loyal and passionate for a team, object and don't like the outcome. I totally understand that. That's not an issue for me.
If I'm invited back to Foxborough, I'll come.
It seems that Goodell is anxious to diffuse any hostility between himself and the Patriots organization. However, plenty of people are hoping to see the Patriots get a little payback in the form of a certain postgame moment Sunday.
Mack Back at Practice
Turning toward game-relevant storylines, it's worth noting Falcons center Alex Mack was back at practice early this week. The Pro Bowl center injured his ankle during the NFC title game and was sidelined last week.
Not having Mack in Sunday's game would be a huge blow for the Falcons. Pro Football Focus rated him second among all centers for the 2016 season.
Mack is optimistic that he will be available for the Super Bowl.
"I'm feeling good," he said, per Alper. "I try not to talk too much about injuries right now. I think we're going to be smart, and I think that we'll be ready for game day."
While the Falcons have been overlooked in favor of juicier Patriots-related stories, Atlanta has the talent to win Sunday's game. Having players like Mack and Jones on the field will be important, though, if the Falcons are going to pull off the upset.