Pats will reign supreme in Super Bowl LI |

Pats will reign supreme in Super Bowl LI

It seems like at least 99 percent of America is pulling for one specific team in today’s Super Bowl matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots, and I can tell you this: it isn’t the team in red, white and blue.

For the last 17 years Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have been the nut that the National Football League hasn’t been able to crack on a consistent basis as the duo will appear in its seventh Super Bowl while looking for its fifth win together.

Most of the country will be rooting against the Patriots for multiple cheating allegations highlighted by Deflategate that saw Brady serve a four-game suspension this season (how stupid), but this sports editor refuses to hate greatness. In fact, I’m pulling for the Patriots this evening because I want to see Brady stick it to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell one more time. Plus, I don’t think most fans realize how special it is what the Patriots have done in the Super Bowl era. Just one play from their 2001 Super Bowl win over the St. Louis Rams remains on the team: Brady.

The Patriots have been able to sustain this run of dominance despite drafting late in each round over the last 17 years, losing guys in free agency because they don’t want to overpay them while also being able to find great players on scrap heaps that other teams don’t want (hello there, Malcolm Butler, Chris Hogan and Dion Lewis).

The way New England plays football is a thing of beauty, and it’s something I’ll remember watching later on in life and feel lucky to have witnessed, even if they were a thorn in the side of my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers for all these years.

When it comes to the game itself, I just have a very hard time betting against Brady and Belichick, especially when the Falcons don’t have a defense that overly scares anyone despite how well they’re playing at this point in the season.

For all the publicity the Falcons offense got this season with Matt Ryan having and MVP season and guys like Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman and Mohammed Sanu blowing up, not enough has been said about the great New England defense.

Guys like Malcolm Brown, Trey Flowers, Dont’a Hightower and Logan Ryan are the unsung heroes of this Patriots defense, but the key to it all is safety Jason McCourty.

Going up against the best receiver in football in Jones, McCourty has campaigned to move down to cornerback for this game to match up with Jones one-on-one. The Pats won’t be able to take away Jones completely, but if McCourty can slow him down in man coverage, that could be a major boost to the Patriots defense to focus on the other Atlanta weapons.

What the Patriots will try to do is take away one of the Falcons’ top weapons, so I expect them to focus on stopping Freeman and Coleman, forcing the Falcons to be one dimensional while allowing the Patriots’ pass rusher to pin their ears back and get after Ryan in the pocket.

Offensively, New England will do what it always does: control the football through a strong running game with LeGarrette Blount, Lewis and James White while also emphasizing the passing game on short-to-intermediate routes to Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, Martellus Bennett and Hogan, hoping that those guys can make the young Falcons defense miss tackles in the open field, leading to big gains, much like what happened in the AFC Championship Game against the Steelers in Foxborough.

Although there doesn’t seem to be much juice surrounding this Super Bowl heading into tonight for casual fans, there’s plenty to watch for on both sides of the ball:

-Will the Patriots turn to Blount early and often to take advantage of a soft front seven of Atlanta?

-How will Atlanta center Alex Mack’s leg injury affect his play against standout two-gapper defensive tackles in Alan Branch and Brown?

-Who emerges for the Falcons’ offense out wide if the Patriots are able to slow down Julio Jones? My money is on Aldrick Robinson as the No. 4 option.

-What effect — if any — will McCourty’s potential move to corner tonight have on the New England defense without their star holding down centerfield?

-Is this the game Matt Ryan finally solidifies his place among the great QB’s in today’s game, or is this the final coronation of Brady as the Greatest of All Time?

You don’t have to be a diehard fan of either team in this game to get excited before kickoff. I think Super Bowl LI has the chance to be one of the best Super Bowl’s we’ve seen in the last 15 years of so just because of the talent available on both sides of the ball in this game, as well as what’s at stake for Brady’s legacy: win and he becomes the first QB to ever win five Super Bowls; lose and it’s his third loss in the title game in seven tries.

For what it’s worth, I think the Patriots get out to an early lead because of the experience they have in the big game while the Falcons come up shaky. From there the Patriots will be able to control the clock to squeeze out a 27-23 win with Lewis earning MVP honors by finding the end zone twice.

So grab some popcorn and your preferred choice of beverage for the big game and enjoy!

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