Super Bowl LI preview

Sports Mole teams up with Redzone Sports to look at where Super Bowl LI between the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots could be won or lost.

It is that time of year again when the world's focus turns to American football for the biggest event in the NFL calendar - the Super Bowl.

Sunday will see the 51st edition of the extravaganza, and it promises to be one of the most intriguing yet as the Atlanta Falcons (13-5) take on the New England Patriots (16-2) at the NRG Stadium in Houston.

The contrasts between the two franchises - both this year and throughout their existence - provide a wealth of fascinating sub-plots that has made this year's event one of the most eagerly anticipated in recent memory.

Here, Sports Mole has teamed up with Redzone Sports - the UK's first American sports bookmaker - to take a look at where Super Bowl LI could be won or lost.



Defence vs. Offense

Quarterback Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons calls a play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during a game at the Georgia Dome on September 18, 2014© Getty Images

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this year's Super Bowl is waiting to see which comes out on top - Atlanta's offense or New England's defence. For only the sixth time in the Super Bowl era, the league's top-ranked offense will come up against the number one defence, and many neutrals will be pulling for the Falcons to continue their free-scoring ways to ensure an entertaining match.

However, there is a saying that offense wins games, while defence wins championships, and history has taught us that that is the case more often than not in the NFL. Of the previous five occasions on which the best attack has come up against the best defence, four of them have ended in the defensive masters lifting the Vince Lombardi trophy - most recently when the Seattle Seahawks dismantled Peyton Manning's record-breaking Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 48. The Falcons are looking to become just the second top-scoring side - after the 1989 San Francisco 49ers - to beat the league's best defence in the Super Bowl.

Can they do it? Well, the crucial thing about Atlanta's offense is the variety of their attack. Julio Jones is the star man and, with 1,409 yards and six touchdowns in 14 regular season games - not to mention 180 yards and two touchdowns in the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers - he could well prove to be the difference-maker in Houston on Sunday. However, should Jones not be on his game then there is no shortage of other options for quarterback Matt Ryan, who has picked out an NFL record 13 different receivers in the endzone this season.

The Falcons have averaged 33.8 points per game this season, but the Patriots have conceded just 15.6 per match and are experts at preventing teams from making it all the way into the endzone. More often than not, an attacking team is forced to settle for a field goal from a trip to the New England red zone, which is a major reason behind their continued success. New England's secondary have also only allowed four players to post 100-yard performances or better all season, while they are led by Malcolm Butler, who shot to fame with his Super Bowl-winning interception two years ago.

Tom Brady in action for New England Patriots on February 1, 2015© Getty Images

In the reverse battle, the Falcons' defence improved towards the latter stages of the season, conceding an average of 18.8 points per game in their final six outings compared to their season average of 25. Linebacker Vic Beasley also boasts a league-high 15.5 sacks for the season so, if anyone will unsettle the imperious Tom Brady, it could be the Falcons.

However, this is still Brady and the Patriots, and even without tight end Rob Gronkowski they have a plethora of attacking options available to them. Brady threw for 384 yards and three touchdowns as the Pats stormed past the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game, while Chris Hogan racked up impressive stats of 180 yards and two touchdowns. Martellus Bennett, Julian Edelman and Dion Lewis provide further threat for Brady, so the Falcons defence will need to be on top of their game.

Verdict: New England Patriots



Experience vs. inexperience

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick on the sidelines during the game against Tampa Bay Buccaneers on August 16, 2013© Getty Images

When it comes to Super Bowl pedigree and experience on the biggest stage, there is no comparison between these two sides. The Patriots are looking to become just the fourth franchise to pick up five championship rings, after the Steelers, Dallas Cowboys and 49ers. The Falcons, on the other hand, have never got their hands on the biggest prize in their 51-year history - the longest wait of any team in the Super Bowl era.

Indeed, Atlanta have only graced the Super Bowl on one previous occasion, and that came 18 years ago when they were beaten 34-19 by the Broncos. Since then, the Pats have won all four of their championships, and on Sunday will be looking for their second in the space of three years - the type of consistency which hasn't been seen since they themselves won three in the space of four years at the start of the century.

The history of a franchise may not play a huge part on the day itself, but the experience of those on and off the field could well make a difference, and there is no surprise that New England dominate in that regard. Quarterback Brady has more Super Bowl experience than the entire Falcons roster combined, with the 39-year-old set to appear in his seventh edition of the showpiece. Leaving the game on a high like his great rival Peyton Manning did last year is not yet on the radar of Brady, but he will further cement his place in the pantheon of greats if he leads the franchise to a fifth ring.

In contrast, Matt Ryan is appearing in his first ever Super Bowl, and he wouldn't be the first to find himself outshone by the master. Many will argue that once the first whistle blows, it is a game like any other, but the hype surrounding the event and the extra glare of the world's gaze cranks up the pressure, and it can only be an advantage to have the Patriots' experience of that.

Of course, Brady's success has all come in a long-running partnership with Bill Belichick, and the gulf in experience at this level is ever greater on the sidelines. Belichick has won 25 career playoff matches as a head coach, while Falcons boss Dan Quinn has only 21 overall wins in his fledgling career. Indeed, Belichick has taken charge of more post-season matches (35) than Quinn has overseen regular and post-season matches combined (34). Quinn does boast Super Bowl experience from his time as defensive coordinator of the Seahawks, but he won't have fond memories of the Patriots having lost the Super Bowl to them two years ago.

Verdict: New England Patriots


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We say: Patriots to win by seven

The Falcons have been mightily impressive this season and are certainly capable of going all the way and finally ending their 51-year wait for the Super Bowl, but the Patriots have been there and done it all before on numerous occasions. It is hard to back against them on such occasions as they so rarely slip up when it matters most.

Who will win Super Bowl LI?

Atlanta Falcons
New England Patriots
Atlanta Falcons
38.1%
New England Patriots
61.9%
Malcolm Butler #21 of the New England Patriots intercepts a pass by Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks intended for Ricardo Lockette #83 late in the fourth quarter during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015
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