I think it’s safe to say both the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons have underperformed so far this season. Heading into their Sunday night super bowl rematch, both teams have a 2 in the loss column, where they quite possibly should have zero. So what does this mean for tonight, the most anticipated game of the year? We all know the story of the epic comeback, the fifth super bowl championship, but that doesn’t matter now. It’s a new season with two new teams.
I was terrified of the Falcons coming into the season, I’ll be completely honest. While I hoped for a super bowl hangover, I didn’t expect one because of how powerful this team is in all aspects. With that being said, though, they’ve looked pretty average. Currently sitting in third place in the NFC South with a 3-2 record, the last few weeks for Atlanta have been less than ideal. The week 4 loss against Buffalo was the start of all the questioning regarding this team, and then last week’s disaster against Miami added to it. Incase you missed it, the Falcons were up 17-0 at halftime, and then blew the lead completely, losing 20-17. Hmm… Sounds familiar… Anyway.
One of the biggest red flags is the fact that Julio Jones, who is arguably one of if not the best receivers in all of football, doesn’t have a single touchdown this season. Zero. None. It could be that the offense and new coordinator Steve Sarkisian aren’t on the same page, but that seems like something that would be fixed by this point in the season. Tonight should be a bounce back for Matt Ryan and company against a pretty depleted New England defense. They’ve got one of the best running back tandems in the league, a pretty strong offensive line, and a string of receivers that didn’t make life easy for the Pats back in February. All things should come up Atlanta… However, I just don’t know if the home field advantage for the Patriots will be something the Falcons can handle. I was disappointed in the atmosphere at Gillette Stadium opening night against the Chiefs, but when the team you just beat in the super bowl comes to town, all bets are off.
New England Patriots:
This has been quite the messy season for the Patriots despite the 4-2 record. The injuries have definitely taken a toll, losing Julian Edelman in the preseason, having to place Malcolm Mitchell on IR and now not being sure if he’ll be good to go come week 8… The four wins on the season have been too close for comfort and the play from both the offense and the defense has been uncharacteristic. Each of the 6 quarterbacks the Patriots have faced this season have thrown over 300 yards, which is something you’d expect from the Jets. The defense might have their hands full tonight, especially with Eric Rowe and Stephon Gilmore, who’s out for the second straight week with a concussion, but that’s not without saying there’s something playing to their advantage. Matt Ryan and his receivers can’t seem to get on the same page, and that’s something I noticed last week against Miami. With 6 interceptions on the season, most coming from tipped balls, the Patriots secondary is down but not out.
Offensively, I think New England has the edge. Although being without Julian Edelman is incredibly noticeable, it’s next man up per usual. Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, and Brandin Cooks have been picking up the slack, especially on third down situations. That’s where we see the majority of targets to Edelman due to his speed and versatility, and the mental connection between him and Tom Brady. And then there’s Rob Gronkowski, who seems to be back to his old ways. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching him completely manhandle defenses, dragging three or four guys down with him for some yards after the catch. As long as the offensive line stays tight and protects Brady, who has already been sacked more this season than all of last year, I think they can come away with the win.
This is going to be a high scoring game, there’s no doubt about it. Both offenses are high powered and ready to go, while both defenses have been struggling and giving up tons of points to opponents they shouldn’t. Had this game been in Atlanta, I would struggle to say the Patriots would take the win, but being at Gillette has a big impact. The cold weather and sheer loudness will rattle the Falcons. Teams who play inside don’t historically play well outside, especially in colder climates. So… I’ve got the Patriots beating the Falcons 42-31, with a possible record breaking total passing yards from these two elite quarterbacks. This should be fun.
Side note: Although I said the result of Super Bowl LI shouldn’t matter anymore, who am I kidding? Any chance I get to say the Patriots are five time champions after coming back from a 28-3 deficit, you bet I’m taking it. That was just me trying to be somewhat professional and impartial. But you guys know me too well for that.