Here’s what we know about the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots heading into Super Bowl LI: They’ve won 15 straight games combined, they’ve been unchallenged in the postseason, and they have the top two quarterbacks in the game right now.
The crazy part? The Falcons, with Matt Ryan, may have the offensive edge over Tom Brady and New England. In fact, it might not even be close.
“We know they’re the better offense, and right now, you could say they got the better quarterback because they have the MVP of the league,” Bart Scott said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “Now that’s a debate, but Matt Ryan has earned the right for his name to be put up there with the upper-echelon quarterbacks. He’s always been elite in the regular season, but now he’s taken this show into the postseason and he’s won the hard battles against the elite quarterbacks and now you have to give him his due.”
Ryan has thrown 45 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions in 18 games this season. With Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, among others, Ryan has perhaps the greatest skill-position arsenal in football.
This will be the most dynamic offense that Bill Belichick has ever faced in a Super Bowl – aside from, perhaps, the Greatest Show on Turf in February 2002. Belichick guided the Patriots to a 20-17 win over the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, but there’s a key difference between that New England squad and this one.
“(Belichick) had much better defensive personnel (back then),” Scott said. “It was a defensive team then. Even when they lost to the Giants, the Giants wasn’t a great juggernaut offensively. So let’s go back to the wins that they have.”
New England’s most recent Super Bowl win came in February 2015 against Seattle. The Patriots won, 28-24.
“I don’t think Russell Wilson and his cast of receivers can match up with that of Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu and Gabriel and those two running backs coming out of the backfield,” Scott said. “Marshawn Lynch, excellent. Absolutely. So that’s a wash with Freeman, but you add Coleman in there. They have two Marshawn Lynchs.”
The Patriots opened as three-point favorites against Atlanta, but Scott believes New England’s defense will have a hard time containing Atlanta’s offense. After all, the Falcons led the NFL in scoring this year and have averaged 39 points over their last six games – all wins.
“I can’t see the Patriots stopping this offense,” Scott said. “So that means that these receivers are going to have to (keep) pace. It’s all going to come down to what it always comes down to. It’s going to come down to who makes the turnovers, who gets up early and puts the pressure on the other team. Matt Ryan and that offense showed me a lot when they went behind (in the divisional round). Seattle came and busted them in the face, and (Atlanta) went right back down and answered immediately. Matt Ryan dropped back 38 times and didn’t get sacked once – and they have Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews, and you think about inside – what is his name? Nick Perry and Mike Neal? I don’t think the Patriots have a pass-rusher like that on their team, and I think this is when the lack of pass rush comes back. The Patriots always find a way, but I think it makes it more close of a game than what people think.”
Matt Ryan isn’t Ryan Fitzpatrick, either. Or Brock Osweiler.
“I don’t think Matt Ryan is going to panic,” Scott said. “You saw Ben yesterday. He didn’t panic, either. They just missed some opportunities. He moved the ball down the field (and took all the stuff underneath). That’s what I said he was going to have to do because that’s (how) the Patriots (play). They do that and every once in a while they’ll mix in a (Dont’a) Hightower A-gap blitz and they got something up their sleeve. But they don’t have natural pass-rushers. Rob Ninkovich, you could say four years ago, but he’s not even close to that player anymore . . . and you can still take shots at explosive plays. Once they double Julio with (Devin) McCourty and Malcolm Butler, you can still throw it up. But even when you do that, now you’re putting 25 (Eric Rowe) against Mohamed Sanu. I still like that matchup for (Atlanta).”