The Huddle: Super Bowl Edition, or Houston, We Have a Preview

Will it be the Falcons or the Patriots hoisting the Lombardi trophy Sunday night?

Welcome to the Big Game!

This week our panel of NFL experts bring you a rundown of Super Bowl LI, live this Sunday at 6:30 p.m. on FOX, between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons. Without further adieu, let’s get right into it!

Kickoff Questions:

1. Which team is your favorite to win?

2. Predict a score.

3. There’s a lot of circumstance and luck involved, but who’s your Super Bowl MVP?

4. If the Patriots do not win, is their season a failure?

5. Is the Falcons’ season already a success?

6. Does a win elevate Matt Ryan to elite status?

7. Which team has the edge in: Offense, defense, coaching, intangibles?

J Arsenio D’Amato:

Atlanta 34-30, with Matty Ice taking MVP.

The Pats have built themselves up as one of the greatest teams of all time, so anything less than a Super Bowl victory will be considered a failure, although every other team in the NFL is envious of their continued excellence.

The “Hatriots” will come out in full force and celebrate their fifth Super Bowl loss, which will tie them with Denver for most SB losses, if they do indeed come up short. The Falcons are only in their second SB in history, so their season will be considered a success even if they go down to defeat.

Matt Ryan has done everything elite but win a Super Bowl. It will be interesting to see if he can deal with adversity if Atlanta falls behind, as he has had it easy playing from ahead with little pressure all year. In past years, Matty Ice has melted in tight playoff games.

Atlanta has a slight edge on offense because of the Coleman/Freeman dynamic duo, but New England has a definite edge in defense, coaching and intangibles.

Matt Ryan looks to lead the NFC Champ Falcons to their first NFL championship.

JT Rozzero:

Atlanta is red-hot and has so many weapons, but I have a hard time going against Belichick and Brady in this spot. I’m not a huge believer of “They are really motivated and REALLY WANT TO WIN THIS TIME,” but … if there ever was a situation where that could be true, this is it.

The Pats’ skill players don’t match up to those of the Falcons, but their coaching and scheming is often the difference.

Also early word is that the Pats are putting Rowe on Julio Jones, which seems like a mistake, but we will see how they handle it when the whistle blows.

The Falcons have to find a balance between playing their game but also not being stubborn like the Steelers were. They have to rush Brady and get as much pressure as possible on him to really have a shot here. And Matt Ryan has to play flawlessly.

I’ll be rooting for the Dirty Birds but my brain says … Patriots 35, Falcons 24.

All that said, a win by Ryan here puts him on track for the Hall of Fame in my opinion. It’s a big game for his legacy.

Roger Morrissette:

The closer the game gets, the more I like the Pats. Historically, the Pats have handled teams exactly like the Falcons–high flying offense, small defense–with a similar formula: Allow short passes and beat up the receivers, bend but don’t break, and run the ball down their throats to keep that high-flying offense off the field. I think you will see a similar game plan here and I’m not sure the Falcons can overcome it.  

For Atlanta to win, Ryan will have to be near perfect and they will need to figure out a way to stop the run. I think they also need to play from ahead because of all the intangible stuff (that I also don’t generally put a lot of credence in).

JT Rozzero:

The one other positive for Atlanta is they have a smart coaching staff. They seem to be good at scheming and adjustments. [Dan] Quinn has Super Bowl experience and [Kyle] Shanahan isn’t asleep at the wheel. That is big in games like this as, while they aren’t up to Belichick’s level, I don’t think they are so far off that it’s a huge mismatch.

Pats’ coach Bill Belichick is well-prepared for Sunday, which marks his seventh Super Bowl as a head coach.

Roger Morrissette:

I think there is a great chance you see something similar to a lot of the Brady/Manning Colts games. While the Pats’ D isn’t quite as good as those units were, schematically, I think they can execute that game plan.  Atlanta is a very good team, but I just see a lot more paths to victory for the Pats. I’m going to say, 27-20 Pats in a game they control wire to wire.

I’m sure Quinn would love to get his revenge after blowing a 10-point, fourth quarter lead with a historically good defense the last time he (as defensive coordinator for Seattle) faced the Pats in the Super Bowl (XLIX, or 49, in Arizona).  I agree that he is a good coach and I absolutely think Atlanta will move the ball. I don’t trust Ryan not to make the one or two mistakes that will cost them the game.

JT Rozzero:

He wouldn’t have to avenge anything if [Seattle’s] OC doesn’t make the dumbest play call in history.

Malcolm Butler (21) picks off a pass from Seattle QB Russell Wilson to seal NE’s Super Bowl 49 win. Never forget.

Roger Morrissette:

His defense blew a double-digit lead with two long [scoring] drives in the fourth quarter. Brady was great, but if you are truly on that Bears/Ravens/Bucs Super Bowl level, like everyone thought, that should never happen.

JT Rozzero:

Those [defenses] never faced the Greatest QB of his Era; [it’s] hard to compare.

Roger Morrissette:

The Bears beat Montana in the playoffs right?

JT Rozzero:

Yeah, I will give you them. I don’t think that was ever a legit comparison anyway.

Ravens and Bucs played legit all-time-worst QBs.

In the Super Bowl.

Gannon was fine, but middle of the road overall at best. Kerry Collins …

Roger Morrissette:

Wasn’t Gannon the MVP that year?

JT Rozzero:

Come on.

This is really going to be the comparison? Rich Gannon vs. Tom Brady?

Give me 2014 Brady vs. that Bucs’ D in the Super Bowl, and they don’t get waxed.

Roger Morrissette:

I’m not sure what we are arguing about. I bet if you asked Dan Quinn, he would pin the loss on his defense. Blowing that lead is a disaster for any D, never mind a great one.

JT Rozzero:

My point is that you compared the Seattle D to the Bucs, Ravens, and Bears, and said if they were really great, they don’t give up those drives. I said it is an off-comparison because the Ravens and Bucs never faced peak Brady in the biggest game of the year with a title on the line.

Gronk played in that game too, right?

Roger Morrissette:

I think Brady is the G.O.A.T., but he has been stymied by other defenses in the playoffs before … Ravens, Giants, Broncos. My point is that Dan Quinn’s D couldn’t do what those defenses did.

Brian Bayless:

1. I’ll give the Patriots a slight edge but this game is almost too close to call.

2. My score is 35-31, New England. 

3. For MVP, I’ll go with Julian Edelman. I don’t think Atlanta has the personnel to prevent him from having a big game.

4. No, the Pats really benefited from a weak schedule and traded away two defensive playmakers, along with Gronk ending up on IR. Making it here and losing is not a failure.

5. The Falcons had a complete turnaround from last year and giving Matt Ryan more targets has done wonders for him. The future is bright in Atlanta and Quinn seems like a solid coach too.

6. It gets Ryan in that conversation, but he’s been a bust in the playoffs until now. He needs another good year with a deep playoff run to be considered among the elite.

7. Pats have the edge in everything but offense.

Roger Morrissette:

I think you are nuts if you think that Seattle D was on the level of those historically good defenses. I don’t think they were as good as last year’s Broncos. Kind of a strange argument because I feel you are giving Brady all the credit and Quinn none of the blame.

The fact that the Pats shredded that D with better personnel bodes well for their chances against the Falcons iteration on Sunday.

Chad Campbell:

My thoughts:

Ladies and gentlemen, our own Chad Campbell and his unbiased, totally impartial hot take on Super Bowl LI.

Roger Morrissette:

Good luck, Chad. I like the Falcons. I own a Julio Jones jersey (but won’t be wearing it Sunday)!

Brian Bayless:

Jones is a beast and I worry about Logan Ryan and friggin’ Eric Rowe covering the other Falcons receivers.

Chad Campbell:

The key to the game hinges on if the Falcons’ defense can get pressure on Brady and if the secondary, minus Troufant, can spread out enough to cover the varied Pats’ attack. That is a tall ask of mostly young players.

JT Rozzero:

That Seahawks team was 20th in sacks on the season which is why they weren’t the best matchup against Brady in that spot.

Falcons are 15th this year. So not far off.

Going to have to turn it and manufacture that pressure. They witnessed two weeks ago what happens when a team sits in zone.

Brian Bayless:

The Falcons need an interior pass rush.

Roger Morrissette:

The problem is you can’t blitz Brady a lot either … that’s even more suicidal than the zone. They are going to need Beasley and the front four to generate the rush. They also need to stop Blount from running all over them [which] is a tall order. The Falcons need to win a shootout. They are definitely capable. I very much think they can’t fall behind to have a chance. 10-0 will feel like 30-0.

If the Pats can’t stymie the Falcons offense, which is certainly in play, this will be a historically great game in my opinion. Something similar to Cowboys/Packers (where the last team that has the ball wins).

Freeman and Coleman catching the ball out of the backfield is what I think the Pats will have the most trouble with. Assuming they sell out to not let Julio beat them by himself, those guys will be one-on-one with linebackers who can’t keep up with them. I think they are two of the best ten running backs in the NFL.

Brian Bayless:

Interior pass rush is what rattles Brady. Always has, and the one time the Steelers tried that in the AFC Championship game, it resulted in a sack. The Pats’ guard play is usually terrible.

JT Rozzero:

Do you think the rumors of Rowe on Julio are accurate? Seems like a bad idea unless they are going to bracket him. Would that put Butler on Sanu?

Brian Bayless:

I doubt it, unless the plan is to bracket him with McCourty all game long.

Roger Morrissette:

I think its a smoke screen. The other rumor I saw was that McCourty would play Julio 1:1 a lot. I actually like that a little more than Rowe, but I think that’s a smoke screen too. I think Butler follows him around for the most part and gets safety help over the top.

I think they will give Julio the short stuff and beat him up.  He’s not exactly known for his durability.

Stopping Julio Jones is an unenviable, but necessary, task for the Pats.

J Arsenio D’Amato:

The Falcons’ D was the biggest surprise in the rout over Green Bay. They put constant pressure on Aaron Rodgers, but New England is a different beast. Teams with past success against New England in the postseason were able to get pressure on Brady straight up with their front four DEs. LB Vic Beasley is their leading pass rusher. New England totally shut down Antonio Brown, so they will use a similar scheme on Julio, and it will be up to the Falcon’s secondary receivers to step up. Ryan will throw to whoever is open.

Brian Bayless:

Ryan in the slot against Gabriel makes sense, but Rowe scares me in general.

J Arsenio D’Amato:

It will be more about Matt Patricia’s schemes than individual matchups.

Roger Morrissette:

I could definitely see Gabriel shaking loose for a big play or two. [The Falcons] have a lot of weapons and the Pats are going to have to pick their poison.

Agreed, JAD.

Brian Bayless:

The Harmon/Chung combo is brutal in coverage. Atlanta should exploit that at all costs.

Roger Morrissette:

I have trouble getting past how much the Pats have owned teams built exactly like this over the years. Everyone, including me, thought Pittsburgh’s offense would be a problem, and it was the same old story.

Brian Bayless:

Pittsburgh’s game plan was horrendous and they did lose Bell, who appeared hurt the entire time.

J Arsenio D’Amato:

Big step up from Pittsburgh, which beat Miami, which was just happy to be there, and Andy Reid’s Chiefs, with only field goals. Atlanta has destroyed Seattle and Green Bay with a dominant, well-rounded offense.

Roger Morrissette:

A little bit of Monday morning [quarterbacking], no? You guys didn’t think Pittsburgh could score on the Pats?

I agree Atlanta is playing better. At Kansas City– in shitty conditions– is a bit different than either of Atlanta’s games.

J Arsenio D’Amato:

Hate patting myself on the back, but go back and see the prediction of NE winning easy over Pitt.

JT Rozzero:

Pittsburgh has a history of pissing [down] their leg in Foxboro, as you called out in the past.
It was an abysmal game plan on both sides of the ball. The Steelers’ WRs had huge drops too.

Roger Morrissette:

My point is the Pats’ D played quite a bit better than anyone expected (except JAD). Can we agree on that?

I’m saying on paper the Falcons look unstoppable, similar to the Manning-era Colts, but historically the Pats have played teams built like this very well.

J Arsenio D’Amato:

Matt Patricia will be the hot candidate for [head coach] openings in 2018.

Roger Morrissette:

Atlanta is a wild card. Their D played well against Green Bay but that was essentially a one-man team because of all the injuries and the Packers’ D [was] putrid.

They’ve consistently gotten torched by the good offenses they played, so to expect them to slow down the Pats is tough for me. I think it comes down to them stopping the run and making the Pats one dimensional. If they can do that, it’s Brady versus Ryan and Ryan is playing at a very high level right now.

It could come down to Tom Brady vs. Matt Ryan in a gunslinger showdown in Texas.

J Arsenio D’Amato:

Atlanta’s inexperience and Matt Ryan in pressure situations are scary. But the way they stepped up and shut down Rodgers gives hope that they can stop Brady a couple of times and pull out a shootout victory with their diversified offense.

Roger Morrissette:

That is the dream scenario as an objective observer. It is rare that we get a Super Bowl with two high octane offenses going up and down the field. Could be really fun to watch.

 

Author: Joel Barnhart

A big-time baseball nerd, Joel is currently teaching English as a Second Language in San Antonio, Texas. In addition to his MLB passion, he enjoys good whiskey, good music, good movies, and good friends. He is currently engaged in an ongoing 12-year online debate over the merits of bubble wrap.