Super Bowl 51 Preview: Patriots vs. Falcons Odds and Prediction

by Kevin Roberts
on January 26, 2017

If there was a tagline to Super Bowl LI, it’d be that history is bound to be made. One way or another, NFL fans are going to witness a historic Super Bowl and that could be a layered reality.

On one hand, we get the Atlanta Falcons, who produced the #1 scoring offense in the league during the 2016 regular season and will play in just their second Super Bowl in franchise history. If they win, they would bring home their first Lombardi Trophy, while also arguably becoming the most explosive offense in league history to win a title.

On top of that, veteran pass rusher Dwight Freeney would likely cap a remarkable career with a ring, head coach Dan Quinn would win a Super Bowl after appearing in his third in the last four years (two with Seattle) and Matt Ryan would officially punch his ticket to the elite class of quarterbacks in the NFL.

History is being made in Super Bowl LI no matter what happens, of course, as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady pair together to enter their seventh Super Bowl. Brady and Belichick were previously tied at six with Mike Lodish and Don Shula, respectively, but once they hit the field on Super Bowl Sunday, they officially are at the top of that list.

From there, Brady and Belichick can make even more history, as both could net their fifth Lombardi Trophy with a win. The five rings would be the most ever by a head coach or quarterback and could easily end up placing both as the greatest head coach and quarterback in NFL annals.

The game itself is historic, if only because it’s rare. The Patriots (#1 in defensive scoring) match Atlanta’s elite offense (tops in offensive scoring) and give fans just the seventh Super Bowl matchup between the .

That’s where things get interesting and we need to consider more than what’s come before us, as the top-ranked defense has prevailed in five of the last six such meetings. Will that be the case again in Super Bowl 51? We dive into the matchup from both sides to find out:

Super Bowl 51 Odds

Before we can take a look at each side and come away with a winner, we might want to factor in how Vegas is looking at Super Bowl LI. New England has been the top favorite to win it all for the majority of the season, so it should shock no one that they’re the early favorite.

Spread

  • Patriots -3
  • Falcons +3

It’s the league’s top defense versus the league’s top offense, so it isn’t shocking that top Super Bowl betting sites like Bovada are keeping things tight. New England has sported the better Super Bowl 51 odds all year long and they’re more experienced, so it’s tough to deny their advantage here.

Of course, beyond the actual matchup, you always want to look back at history and any helpful data to give you a nudge. One way to do that is to refer to the first 50 Super Bowls, as well as any useful against the spread data. Here’s some quick-hitting notes from the first 50 Super Bowls:

  • NFC is 26-24 in the Super Bowl
  • AFC is 12-8 over last 20 games
  • Underdog is 21-26 (3 games pushed or pick’em)
  • Underdog is 7-2 in last 10 Super Bowls (1 pick’em)
  • Patriots are 0-2 as Favorites in Super Bowl

When working with this Super Bowl spread, be sure to lean on any you can find. Here’s some interesting against the spread info to consider:

  • Patriots were 13-3 ATS overall this year
  • Patriots were 11-3 ATS as the favorite
  • Patriots are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 playoff games
  • Patriots are 4-0 ATS in last 4 games vs Falcons
  • Falcons were 12-6 ATS overall this year
  • Falcons were 5-0 ATS as underdogs this year
  • Falcons are 2-6 ATS in their last 8 playoff games
  • Underdog is 4-1 ATS in last 4 meetings

A lot of this ATS data can arguably be thrown out the window, as the Falcons clearly are a different team than they’ve been in the playoffs in the past and this is also the first meeting between these two sides in a playoff game. Atlanta’s success as underdogs is certainly worth noting, but we can’t quickly dismiss New England’s elite 14-2 record and strong ATS numbers across the board.

MoneyLine

  • Patriots -160
  • Falcons +140

There isn’t much wiggle room with the MoneyLine, as the payout upside is lacking no matter which way you bet. The Patriots are favored to win and it will take a massive bet to really get anything back. For example, a $1,000 bet only gets you $625 back at Bovada. The bigger the bet, the better the payout, but you’re going all in to get anything huge back.

Atlanta offers more upside, but the same bet still returns just $1,400 at Bovada. The bet is similar at most of the best Super Bowl betting sites and if we’re making a straight up bet, the Falcons feel like the better route. That’s in terms of pure payout upside, of course.

Total: 59.5

You know we’re in for a good game when you get the highest Total in Super Bowl history. Apparently Vegas thinks that highly of the Falcons, as well as this matchup. It’s not a crazy Total to chase, either, considering the Falcons and Patriots were both top-three offenses on the year. In fact, if you adjust that to only games Tom Brady took part in (he missed the first four due to suspension) and New England actually had the league’s #2 offense.

Needless to say, these teams can pile on the points and in a game against each other with a title on the line, logic suggests we may have to prepare for a back and forth nail-biter. Perhaps New England’s top-ranked scoring defense has something to say about that, but it’s fair to wonder if they’re really good enough to completely shut down an offense as good as Atlanta’s.

Regardless, consider some data on the Total:

  • Patriots hit the Over 9 times in 2016
  • Falcons hit the Over 15 times in 2016
  • Patriots Super Bowl Over is 4-4 in history
  • Falcons Super Bowl Over is 1-0 in history
  • Over has hit 24 times in Super Bowl history
  • Overs of 50+ are 3-6 in Super Bowl history

This doesn’t tell us anything that is jaw-dropping, except that these teams can score a lot of points. Together, they hit the Over in over half of their games this year and the Over has hit almost 50% in Super Bowl history. The problem to keep in mind, of course, is New England’s defense (they had 9 games hit the Under) and the fact that Super Bowl Totals over 50+ have not fared well for the Over.

Matchup History

There is always more data to be had, and one other thing we can often lean on is how any two teams have fared against each other. Unfortunately there is not a lengthy history between these two teams, as the Falcons and Patriots have faced off just 13 times.

The good news is nobody has dominated the series, as the Pats have a narrow 7-6 advantage to this point. There isn’t anything worth using recently, of course, as AFC and NFC teams face each other every four years and we haven’t seen a Matt Ryan vs. Tom Brady battle since 2013.

It’s been all roses for the Patriots in the recent games, as the Pats have ripped off four straight wins in the series. Their last showdown with the Falcons in 2013 was a nice shootout, but they held on to win, 30-23.

Matt Ryan has specifically faced the Pats twice and is 0-2 against Bill Belichick’s defenses in his career.

New England Patriots Breakdown

Both of these teams have impressive stories and it’s hard to deny New England’s. The Patriots overcame a ton of adversity from the very beginning this year, as the team went 3-1 during Tom Brady’s four-game suspension and stayed hot the rest of the way (11-1 with Brady back) to nab the league’s best record at 14-2.

The Patriots did all of this even with a pesky Miami Dolphins team behind them in the AFC and a few challenges along the way on their schedule. In addition, they lost superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski mid-way through the regular season, yet found a way to maintain a balanced and effective offense throughout the process.

New England’s lone loss under Brady this year was against a solid Seattle Seahawks team that still looked good defensively at the time. Beyond that, Brady has looked sharp and focused while leading the Pats on the hottest run in the league – 9 straight wins entering Super Bowl 51.

The beauty of the Patriots has been balance, as their defense bends but rarely breaks, forcing offenses to execute perfectly to get within striking distance of scores. It’s been the best defense in the league in terms of points allowed, however, ranked 5th against the run and routinely limited offenses from springing big plays.

Offensively, Tom Brady was sharp as ever, as he put up 28 touchdowns to just two interceptions in just 12 games. Brady’s performance was of the MVP variety, as he’s used the likes of Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Martellus Bennett to confuse defenses all year. The Patriots don’t live and die with just Brady, either, as LeGarrette Blount heads a hard-nosed and effective ground game that is also backed by versatile pass-catchers, Dion Lewis and James White.

Simply put, the Pats are built to withstand any opponent and enforce their will in games. With a Hall of Fame and Super Bowl-winning quarterback leading the way, they make perfect sense as the Super Bowl LI favorites and have for pretty much the entire season.

New England’s 3 Keys to Victory

  • Get LeGarrette Going
  • Pressure Ryan
  • Let Brady Do His Thing

This game is probably going to be about ball control for the Patriots. Their defense isn’t elite, but it’s very strong and was enhanced by a very efficient and balanced offense. To make sure it doesn’t fall on its face against a potent Falcons offense, the offense needs to first play its part by establishing the run.

The Falcons weren’t at all tested on the ground during the playoffs, but they were not an elite run defense during the regular season and that’s an area the Pats can win. Blount is a tough, hard-nosed runner and he can get chunk yardage and dominate a game. He doesn’t need to dominate this game for New England to win, but he does have to be effective. If he can get going early, the Pats can soak up clock and keep their defense fresh. It will also keep their offense unpredictable, which can’t hurt against an improving (and aggressive) Atlanta defense.

On the other side, if their fresh defense wants to stay that way, they need to do what most teams found impossible: pressure and maybe even rattle Matt Ryan. Ryan has been borderline unflappable this year, but elite offenses can struggle on the big stage and he’s no stranger to floundering in the playoffs. New England was just 16th in the league in sacks (same as Atlanta) but still gets to the quarterback enough to impact games. They’ll need to do that again in the biggest game of the year.

Getting to Ryan might not happen, so the last key for the Pats is for Tom Brady to be Tom Brady. He’s torn up much more impressive defenses in the Super Bowl in the past and he’s looked great for most of the year. He has to be playing with a chip on his shoulder after getting handed that Deflategate suspension and lighting up a Falcons defense that ranked 28th against the pass during the regular season doesn’t feel like a reach.

Overall, the Pats want to control the pace of this game if they can and remain unpredictable. They can win a shootout, but ideally they dictate this game and force the more inexperienced team into some huge mistakes.

Atlanta Falcons Breakdown

The Falcons are admittedly inexperienced, but they have history in their sights after a pretty special run through the 2016 regular season. Atlanta could have easily had a more appealing record (still finished 11-5 and won the NFC South), but they lost four of their five games by a score or less. A few were even really tight, controversial or even simply bad luck.

They could have very easily been 13-3 or better and arguably are a more dominant team than their 11-5 record might suggest. They certainly left that impression during the playoffs, when they stomped over the Seahawks and Packers, winning both games by at least 16 points.

Atlanta’s heart and soul is Matt Ryan and this offense, as offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has created a career year for the Falcons’ franchise passer. This is the #1 scoring offense in the league and they aren’t a one-trick pony. Ryan doesn’t simply feed Julio Jones all day, but he does have arguably the most dangerous wide receiver in the game, plus a litany of lethal weapons operating alongside him.

The Falcons would love to slice and dice their way to a title, but they can win in a number of ways. They finished 3rd in passing and 5th in running, so they’ve proven all year they can gash you on the ground or score over the top. Each of their weapons are unique and dangerous in their own right. If you take away one, the Falcons just go to the next and the next – and so on – until they discover which matchup you flat out can’t handle anymore.

The Falcons do have a challenge on their hands here, as they lack true playoff experience and it’s fair to wonder if the stage is too big for several of their players. That being said, head coach Dan Quinn won a Super Bowl (and went to two) with the Seahawks. He did lose his second one against the Patriots, but he knows how to win the big game and with his defense playing their best ball right now, he may have the perfect recipe to get his first title as a head coach.

Atlanta’s 3 Keys to Victory

  • Strike Early
  • Pressure Brady
  • Stay Unpredictable

Atlanta can win even if they have to play from behind, but with their offense, the way to really get New England pressing is to score early and never look back. The Falcons have done just that in eight straight games and it’s likely they’ll do it again on Super Bowl Sunday.

Scoring early doesn’t guarantee anything for the Falcons, but it could put pressure on the Pats. If New England is suddenly playing from behind and playing catch up, the Falcons have them right where they want them.

Just like the Patriots will aim to do against Matt Ryan, the Falcons need to get pressure on Tom Brady. Brady tends to see “ghosts” if pressure comes early, so making sure he’s not comfortable early on will be very key. Atlanta arguably lucked out in their NFC title game win, as the Packers actually were carving them up through the air, but left 10 points off the scoreboard due to a missed field goal and lost fumble.

Atlanta was always going to win that game with how their offense was playing, but it showed that their defense is good – but not elite. It isn’t a unit that can just sit back and defend Tom Brady. They need to get after him and have a huge hand in this game.

Across the board, possibly the biggest thing for the Falcons is to never get predictable. Bill Belichick is a genius when it comes to gauging matchups, limiting big plays and taking away his opponent’s top weapon. Luckily Atlanta has a ton of effective weapons on offense and doesn’t have to go any one way to move the ball and score in this game. At least, if they realize that and decide to be as unpredictable as possible.

There could be a fine line between switching things up and going away from what has worked all season, but if the Falcons don’t keep New England guessing, it could become problematic.

Patriots vs. Falcons Super Bowl 51 Prediction

This is a tough game to call, as the Patriots are the favorites and hold the edge in a lot of ways. Their offense is plenty capable of keeping up with the Falcons, while they also are more experienced and have the superior defense by the numbers.

Matt Ryan and the Falcons have one of the best offenses a Super Bowl game has ever seen, but one thing certainly working against them is history. Elite offenses tend to sputter a bit in the big game – especially when facing a quality defense. Atlanta shredding a regressing Seattle defense or demolishing a bad Packers defense didn’t prove anything. They should have done that.

New England, on the other hand, dropped 34 points on a very strong Texans defense and then dismantled a solid Steelers defense. Their path to this point was arguably a little more difficult, while they had the best record all year and also boasted the top Super Bowl odds.

Before the season even started, we liked New England in the Super Bowl against the Cardinals. Arizona isn’t here, but with the Pats rising up, it feels odd to suddenly bet against them. They’re the hotter team, they’re the more balanced team and they’ve been here before. On top of it all, Tom Brady is on a mission to get past his Deflategate scandal and get his fifth Lombardi Trophy. It could end up being an instant classic, but one way or another, we think the Patriots are the ones ultimately making history in Super Bowl 51.

Pick

Patriots
34
Falcons
27
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