Preview: New England at Atlanta

When: 6:30 PM ET, Sunday, February 5, 2017
Where: NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas

The storyline for Super Bowl LI between the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots could not be more simple or intriguing - the NFL's No. 1 offense squaring off against the league's stingiest defense. Yet when quarterback Matt Ryan and Atlanta's high-voltage offense take the field on Sunday night at Houston's NRG Stadium, solving New England's defense hardly is their only challenge. There also is a wall of history on the opposing sideline in the persons of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, widely considered among the best quarterbacks and coaches of all-time.

Ryan is expected to be named the NFL's Most Valuable Player following a brilliant season in which the Falcons averaged 33.8 points, but the Patriots are making a record ninth appearance in the Super Bowl - including seven since 2001 behind the Belichick-Brady tandem. "I don't think there's much Bill and his staff hasn't seen before," Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, poised to become the next coach of the San Francisco 49ers, told reporters. "They've seen a lot of football and they do it as good as anyone." Brady is making his seventh appearance on the league's grandest stage, earning three Super Bowl MVP awards and leading New England to four championships along the way. The Patriots yielded a league-low 15.6 points per game, setting up the sixth matchup since the NFL merger in which the top-scoring offense opposes the team that permitted the fewest points (the defense has prevailed in four of the first five meetings).

TV: 6:30 p.m. ET, FOX. LINE: Patriots -3. O/U: 58.5

ABOUT THE PATRIOTS (16-2): Despite its status as the toughest defense against which to score, New England is not viewed in the same light as the dominant unit that carried Denver to last year's Super Bowl win despite limiting eight of its last nine opponents to 17 points or fewer. The Patriots rank in the middle of the pack in sacks (34) and interceptions (13), but they are No. 3 against the run, allowing 83.9 yards per contest, and eighth overall with 308.9 yards per game surrendered. While New England scored six fewer points per game than Atlanta for the season, it averaged 30 since the return of Brady, who threw 28 touchdown passes and two interceptions in 12 games and carved up Pittsburgh for 384 yards and three TDs in the AFC title game. Chris Hogan had a breakout game with nine catches for 180 yards and two scores versus the Steelers, while Julian Edelman recorded a team-high 98 receptions and LeGarrette Blount registered an NFL-leading 18 rushing touchdowns during the regular season.

ABOUT THE FALCONS (13-5): Ryan rebounded from a pedestrian 2015 campaign with a spectacular season, setting career highs in passer rating (117.1), yards (4,944), completion percentage (69.9) and touchdowns (38) while tossing only seven interceptions. Ryan was superb in playoff routs of Seattle and Green Bay (730 yards, seven TDs, zero INTs) and has a near-unstoppable weapon in wideout Julio Jones, who despite battling injuries still wracked up 1,409 yards in receiving and riddled the Packers by making nine catches for 180 yards and two scores in the NFC Championship Game. The Falcons also feature a strong 1-2 punch in the backfield, with the tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combining for 19 rushing touchdowns while adding 85 catches and five scores through the air. Linebacker Vic Beasley registered 15.5 sacks to lead an improved defense that allowed 25.4 points per game for the season, although it held six of its last eight opponents to 21 or fewer.


1. New England and Atlanta each committed 11 turnovers this season, tying for the fewest in the league. 

2. Falcons coach Dan Quinn was defensive coordinator for Seattle in 2013-14, winning one Super Bowl versus Denver and losing another to the Patriots.

3. Brady, bidding to become the first QB to win five Super Bowls, already holds Super Bowl records for yards (1,605), TDs (13), pass attempts (247) and completions (164).

4. Ryan has thrown 18 TD passes and zero picks during a six-game winning streak for Atlanta, which has scored 234 points during that span.

5. Belichick is tied with Chuck Noll (four) for the most Super Bowl victories and will pull even with Tom Landry (36) for the most postseason games.

PREDICTION: Patriots 30, Falcons 28

Stats and Records

Team Comparison

  W/L Strk PF PA Home Away Grass Turf OT Div Conf
New England 16-2 W9 28.4 15.7 8-2 8-0 6-0 10-2 0-0 5-1 13-1
Atlanta 13-5 W6 34.4 24.8 7-3 6-2 5-1 8-4 0-1 5-1 11-3

Last Meeting

New England Atlanta
Date Away Home Tot Rus Pas Tot Rus Pas
9/29/13 NE 30 ATL 23 448 132 316 457 58 399

Player Stats

Previous Matchup
Passing Player COMP% YDS TD INT
NE T. Brady 64.5 316 2 0
ATL M. Ryan 63.0 421 2 1
Rushing Player CAR YDS AVG TD
NE L. Blount 9 64 7.1 1
ATL J. Rodgers 7 32 4.6 0
Receiving Player REC YDS AVG TD
NE K. Thompkins 6 127 21.2 1
ATL T. Gonzalez 12 149 12.4 2
TDs Player TD
NE L. Blount 1
ATL T. Gonzalez 2
Season (Regular Season and Playoffs)
Passing Player COMP% YDS TD INT
NE T. Brady 66.6 4225 33 4
ATL M. Ryan 70.0 5674 45 7
Rushing Player CAR YDS AVG TD
NE L. Blount 323 1239 3.8 19
ATL D. Freeman 255 1166 4.6 12
Receiving Player REC YDS AVG TD
NE J. Edelman 114 1361 11.9 4
ATL J. Jones 98 1656 16.9 9
TDs Player TD
NE L. Blount 19
ATL D. Freeman 15

Quickchart Matchup

New England Off vs  Atlanta Def
388.2 yards
367.5 yards
3.8 yards/rush
4.6 yards/rush
7.9 yards/attempt
6.5 yards/attempt
Atlanta Off vs  New England Def
420.4 yards
327.4 yards
4.4 yards/rush
3.8 yards/rush
8.9 yards/attempt
6.3 yards/attempt

Matchup Stats - Full Matchup

New England Overall Atlanta
16-2 W/L 13-5
15-3-0 ATS 12-6-0
8-10-0 O/U 15-2-1
28.4 Pts For 34.4
15.7 Pts Against 24.8
New England A/H Atlanta
8-0 W/L 7-3
7-1-0 ATS 5-5-0
2-6-0 O/U 10-0-0
28.4 Pts For 36.0
15.8 Pts Against 26.3