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Super Bowl LI: What to watch for

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The game’s top offense will face the NFL’s top scoring defense.

New England Patriots Practice
Last time they came out on top, can they do it again?
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Super Bowl LI (fifty-one for you novices out there) will be played Sunday, February 5, 6:30 PM EST on FOX at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.

Everybody loves the Super Bowl for a different reason: the commercials, the hype, the fact that you (or maybe your significant other) can get your Sundays back, the halftime show, the prop bets, or perhaps just the game itself. The Super Bowl is unlike any other major professional sport in the United States because it is just one game. Come up with a good game plan and execute and you will go down in history as a “champion”, and no one can ever take it away. Something great players such as those from the list covered by Rutgers own Shaun O’Hara on NFL network never got.

Most football fans (and statistics would tell you people in general) will watch the game regardless of who is playing, but this one has a little more juice than usual for a number of reasons.

  1. There is no overwhelming favorite. Pats are favored by just three points but for example when I drove into work today 74% of people listening to my local sports radio were picking New England!
  2. The expected point total expected by Las Vegas (58.5) is the highest ever for a Super Bowl.
  3. The Patriots have become the team everyone loves to hate, participating in six straight AFC title games and winning 14 of the last 15 AFC East titles (Bills, Jets, and Dolphins fans sorry). No organization has been this hated since the 1990s Cowboys or early 2000s Atlanta Braves if you want to cross sporting lines. No team is viewed as “cheaters” like the Patriots since probably the Raiders were notorious for using stick ‘em to catch the ball in the 70s.
  4. Both teams feature some recognizable names, but when was the last time both offenses had so many contributors on a regular basis? Without crunching the stats, it has to be the 1984 Super Bowl featuring the Washington Redskins and then Los Angeles Raiders.
  5. My favorite: the league’s best offense (Atlanta) facing it’s best scoring defense (New England). What this usually means is that the defense will likely try to take the offense’s best weapon away which means Bill Belichick will have a game plan to stop Julio Jones and make the other players beat them.

Now this is where any Rutgers or New Jersey fan gets excited because if you are going to have someone cheat toward Jones or funnel him toward a sepcific help defender, wouldn’t it be your All-Pro safety Devin McCourty (below)?

... And who is the Falcons other starting receiver? It’s Mohamed Sanu, pictured above!

... And if the Falcons try to involve a slot receiver, who is the Patriots slot corner? It’s Logan Ryan (below). And if the Falcons go heavy with extra tight ends or running backs, who do they use as their safety in the Big Nickel? Duron Harmon (below).

So pretty much on one side of the ball we will see some former Scarlet Knight in the middle of the action virtually at all times the ball is in the air.

And of course if the other guys have the ball that might not be the time to hit the restroom or grab some more chips and salsa. It will only be arguably the greatest quarterback of all-time from hated Michigan at the controls: Tom Brady. New England boasts a balanced passing and running attack with an incredible ability to convert on third down. The only way to slow their offense is to have a flexible game plan that can adjust to whatever the Patriots decide to do, make every tackle, and get pressure on Brady to disrupt his timing (see both Super Bowls against the Giants, 2011 playoff versus Jets, and last year’s AFC title game as examples). Without one primary target, their best is Gronk who is out, other guys like Jersey native Chris Hogan could be a star that day. Or any of three different running backs (Blount, Lewis, or White) or maybe a tight end, etc. The Pats keep you guessing by always changing up their game plan rather than just going with what worked last game.

The Falcons offense took the principles proven by the Patriots over the last decade plus and have successful incorporated them with possibly even better individual offensive talent. Matt Ryan has thrown touchdowns to 11 different receivers which is impressive, but even more impressive is I think 8 guys have 3 touchdowns each! And when former Knight nemesis Tevin Coleman is your backup running back, it sounds like an explosive offense.

So buckle your seat belt, we should have a good one.

And in all seriousness, please remember this is one day, even if it’s second to national signing day on your yearly sports calendar. I am often told that more domestic violence happens on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day of the year. There’s no place for that because of football or any other reason, so take accountability for yourself and everyone else you know. Perhaps the NFL will push that message, but they might take the million dollar plus instead for the sponsorship opportunities that could occupy the same space, time, and effort.

My prediction: If the Falcons play well, they win. If they play average or poorly, they will surely lose. The Patriots are a machine and you have to play to beat them, not just hang around. I feel confident in that statement but of course people want an actual prediction, so I’ll go with Atlanta 31-27 because the Pats can’t be as lucky as they were 2 years ago, can they?

Super Bowl XLIX - New England Patriots v Seattle Seahawks
McCourty and the Pats kept Seattle literally just short of back to back Super Bowl titles.
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images