5 bold Super Bowl LI predictions
The legendary Tom Brady will lead the New England Patriots into Houston looking to secure their fifth Lombardi Trophy since 2001, but they’ll be met by the high-powered Atlanta Falcons and likely league MVP, Matt Ryan.
Early predictions have this game as a high-scoring, potential blowout sort of affair. Brady, as usual, is expected to go in like a surgeon and carve up Atlanta’s defense, while questions linger about Ryan’s ability to match the savvy veteran.
But in a winner-take-all game, the usual expectations can be thrown out the window. So with that in mind, here are five bold predictions ahead of Super Bowl LI.
5. Matt Ryan matches Tom Brady
Tom Brady will be making his seventh Super Bowl appearances, and Matt Ryan is the likely league MVP trying to win his first ring. In terms of quarterbacks, it doesn’t get much better.
Given Brady’s overwhelming experience, the easy prediction would be him putting up big numbers as Ryan struggles with the pressure. But given what Ryan has put on tape this season, coupled with the talent he has around him, it’s much more realistic to expect more of the same. And with Ryan, we’re talking about spectacular numbers.
The ninth-year QB has thrown seven touchdowns and no interceptions during the postseason, continuing a string of brilliant games to finish the regular season. In fact, during Atlanta’s current six-game winning streak, Ryan has thrown for 18 touchdowns without an interception. His lowest passer rating during that span is 121.8.
Brady is coming off a great game against Pittsburgh that included 384 yards and three touchdowns, but he was picked off twice against the Texans and showed some signs of shakiness when pressured in that game.
When all is said and done, Ryan and Brady will have similar statistical lines.
4. Super Bowl LI will be one of the best in recent years
Two of the last three Super Bowls were neither entertaining nor competitive. The Seattle Seahawks dominated the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII; the Broncos dominated the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50; and those games sandwiched a thrilling last-second battle between the Patriots and Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX.
Super Bowl LI has the potential to be much more like XLIX and XLVIII than 50.
It features two great quarterbacks, great running backs, great receivers, talented tight ends, fast and hard-hitting defenses, special teams units that could change the game and, above all else, two brilliant game-planning coaches.
From the outside looking in, this game has the hallmarks of one of the greats. It should be a three-plus hour battle that features momentum shifts, big plays, gambles and, if we’re all lucky, maybe one or two things we’ve never seen in a Super Bowl before.
3. A turnover will decide the game
For as dominant as the New England Patriots have been over the last 15-plus years, one pattern has stuck with them: their championship games tend to be settled by seven points or fewer. In fact, “tend” doesn’t necessarily fit the bill so much as “always.”
Since 2001, the Patriots have not had a Super Bowl final with a point differential of more than four points. And as talented as both the Patriots and Falcons are offensively, their head coaches knows first-hand you can throw season numbers right out the window when it comes to the Super Bowl.
Whether it’s a low-scoring game or a high-scoring game (and we’ll get to that in a moment), it seems unrealistic to expect either Tom Brady or Matt Ryan to get so far behind they can’t catch up. Accordingly, points, turnovers and time of possession will all come at a premium.
Ultimately, it’s a late turnover that will be the back-breaker for one of these two teams. And it’s hard to say which one will commit the mistake; the Patriots were third in the league during the regular season with a plus-12 turnover margin, while Atlanta was right behind them at plus-11.
2. It will be a low-scoring game
The early wisdom is that Super Bowl LI will be one of the highest-scoring in NFL history. In fact, oddsmakers in Vegas have even given an opening over/under of 58, which is the highest of its kind for a Super Bowl ever.
Given the two powerful offenses leading the charge for a Lombardi, it’s easy to see why expectations are what they are. But with two weeks for defensive-minded coaches to prepare and gameplan, it’s entirely possible they turn the betting world on its head.
As we’ve mentioned previously, Bill Belichick is meticulous in his preparation and game-planning, having successfully concocted a multitude of defensive game-plans that ultimately shut down some fiercely dangerous offenses. Super Bowl XXV against the Buffalo Bills and Super Bowl XXXVI against the St. Louis Rams immediately come to mind. Also note that the Patriots have the No. 1-rated scoring defense in the league.
It’s not much different for Falcons coach Dan Quinn, who, although he doesn’t have the same number of years invested as Belichick, does has a few nice examples on his resume as well. Super Bowl XLVIII against the Denver Broncos is the shining example.
Rather than 30-28, it’s plausible this game ends much closer to 20-17.
1. Falcons will win their first Lombardi Trophy
It’s hard to tell if this prediction is crazy or “bold” with a week and a half remaining until kickoff, but this story just feels so familiar. Tom Brady and the Patriots are Goliath, while Matt Ryan and the Falcons are David. The odds favor New England, the experience favors New England and the overwhelming sense in that the Patriots are already considered the champions.
The Falcons may take offense to all of that, but they should embrace it. In the minds of most, Atlanta is merely along for the ride and will be nothing more than a footnote. That means there’s no pressure on their shoulders, but quite a bit on those of the Patriots.
The New York Giants showed the world what can happen in those situations back in Super Bowl XLII, so the Falcons need to learn from that and embrace their position. They should go in being the afterthought, fight their rear-ends off, and come out the other side having shocked the world.
And that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Mere months after the Chicago Cubs win their first World Series in over 100 years, the Falcons will win their first Super Bowl ever.