A close spread and a high point total don't guarantee a back-and-forth shootout, however.
While we aren't in possession of a future sports almanac like Marty McFly, here's an effort to predict the box score and stats for both teams before providing reasoning behind the picks.
Super Bowl LI Box Score Prediction
|Team||First Quarter||Second Quarter||Third Quarter||Fourth Quarter||Final Score|
|New England Patriots||7||7||7||10||31|
New England Patriots Stats (Most Notable Offensive Players Plus One Defensive Star)
|QB Tom Brady||25-of-35, 270 yards, 2 touchdowns|
|RB LeGarrette Blount||22 carries, 120 yards, 2 touchdowns|
|RB Dion Lewis||12 carries, 45 yards; 3 catches, 25 yards|
|WR Julian Edelman||9 catches, 100 yards|
|WR Chris Hogan||5 catches, 75 yards, 1 touchdown|
|TE Martellus Bennett||3 catches, 35 yards, 1 touchdown|
|CB Malcolm Butler||6 tackles, 1 interception|
Atlanta Falcons Stats (Most Notable Offensive Players Plus One Defensive Star)
|QB Matt Ryan||32-of-50, 350 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception|
|RB Devonta Freeman||15 carries, 58 yards, 1 TD; 4 catches, 45 yards|
|RB Tevin Coleman||10 carries, 35 yards; 4 catches, 35 yards, 1 touchdown|
|WR Julio Jones||8 catches, 120 yards, 1 touchdown|
|WR Mohamed Sanu||5 catches, 45 yards|
|WR Taylor Gabriel||5 catches, 55 yards|
|LB Vic Beasley||4 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble|
The co-owner of that plan? Then-Giants defensive coordinator Bill Belichick.
The Giants were facing the Buffalo Bills, owners of the high-powered, no-huddle K-Gun offense. The idea to stop them was twofold: (a) run the ball and control the clock on offense and (b) keep everything in front of them on defense. In other words, Giants defenders were instructed to prevent the big play but give up small passes and runs. And then, the Giants were instructed to hit ball carriers as hard as possible.
The plan worked (the Giants maintained possession for 40-plus minutes), and the Bills didn't adjust, leading to a 20-19 New York win.
The guess here is that we might see something similar Sunday, with the Patriots (a) running the ball early and often and (b) letting Atlanta achieve short gains while preventing the big plays.
That would be wise, as Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is the best in the business this season on deep balls. Check out this stat from Pro Football Focus:
Former Cleveland Browns general manager (and director of pro player personnel under then-Browns head coach Bill Belichick in the early-to-mid 1990s) Michael Lombardi wrote an article for The Ringer about his former boss this week, and he mentioned the importance of stopping the big play.
Here are some of his thoughts on what Belichick's game plan might be Sunday, specifically in regard to big-play threat Julio Jones:
As for Atlanta’s most dangerous player, Belichick knows that Jones’s number of total catches pales in significance to his number of big plays (anything over 20 yards). When Atlanta lost to Philadelphia in November, Jones finished with 10 catches (his second-highest total all season), 16 targets, and 13.5 yards per catch. Big numbers, right? The Falcons scored a season-low 15 points. You don’t mind 10 for 135; you mind seven for 165. And it’s not just Jones. The Falcons lead the NFL in big plays with 84 (15 runs, 69 passes). If they keep getting them against New England, there will be no fifth ring for Belichick. He knows it.
All things considered, the hero for the Patriots this week might not be quarterback Tom Brady but running back LeGarrette Blount, who rushed for 1,161 yards and 18 touchdowns in the regular season.
Fans last saw him do this to more than half the Pittsburgh Steelers defense during the AFC Championship Game, seen here in dramatic slow motion from NFL Films:
Blount has 20-plus carries in six games this season, but most interestingly, he has touched the ball only 25 times in live game action in the past four calendar weeks (including just eight touches against the Houston Texans in the AFC Divisional Round). In other words, he might be fairly well-rested for this time of year. It's almost like Belichick game-planned for the Super Bowl ahead of time by keeping Blount relatively fresh.
That extra rest should help Blount pound the ball up the middle against a Falcons run defense that gave up 4.5 yards per carry in the regular season, one of the worst marks in the NFL.
Expect Blount to lead the way with 100-plus yards and a touchdown or two for the Pats. His running should also help open things up for Brady to have an efficient day at the office, hitting wide receiver Julian Edelman for short gains and wideout Chris Hogan for a couple of longer passes.
If the Patriots are able to control the clock and score via the run, then the Falcons might be in catch-up mode all game, forcing them to abandon the run more often and go to the air. Provided the Pats take away the deep pass, however, then Ryan is going to have to check down to running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman and find his top wideout trio on short pass patterns as opposed to deep balls downfield.
That should lead to a busy day for Ryan, who could throw the ball 50-plus times.
The Falcons are too skilled to put up a dud on football's biggest stage, but the guess here is that they don't have enough to hang with the Pats on this day.
New England wins a close one 31-24.