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Fearless Rick's NFL Football Picks - Super Bowl 51 (LI)

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Super Bowl 51 (LI) Commentary, Picks and Props

All times Eastern

Super Bowl Quiz

Super Bowl Scores, MVPs, 1967-2018

Last week (conference championships): Coin 0-2; Rick 1-1 Playoffs total: Coin: 4-6; Rick 7-3 Regular Season total: Coin: 108-126-8; Rick: 117-117-8

Sunday, February 5

Super Bowl LI (51) 6:30 pm, NRG Stadium, Houston, TX
New England Patriots (-3, 58 1/2) vs. Atlanta Falcons (FOX)
- At last, the Super Bowl is less than a week away and the hopes and dreams of 30 other NFL teams have been dashed, leaving the Patriots and Falcons alone to contest for the title of the world's greatest (American) football team.

While the analysis of many in the sports world focuses on raw data from the regular season and the playoffs, it's worth noting that the game will be hosted on a neutral site, a condition neither team has encountered this season. Which side will be better prepared for the vageries of NRG stadium is an open question, but, while quarterback extraordinaire, Tom Brady, thrives on the spotlight and pressure games, the Atlanta Falcons have the edge in terms of raw temperatures being that Atlanta is much closer in latitude to Houston than is Foxboro, Massachusetts, home of the Patriots.

Another condition that is fairly obvious is the relative experience in super Bowls of the two head coaches, Bill Belichick of the Patriots and Atlanta's Dan Quinn. Belichick is highly regarded as one of the best ever to coach in the NFL, having taken the Patriots to six Super Bowls, winning four of them. The only team to have defeated the Pats in the Super Bowl is the NY Giants, winning, 17-14, in 2008 and again, 21-17, in 2012. Both times, Giants' QB, Eli Manning was the game MVP, but that should not diminish Belichick's overall greatness in the post-season.

As for Quinn, this will be his first Super Bowl as head coach. He was hired by the Falcons to begin the 2015 season and coached them all of 2016. Prior to joining the Falcons, Quinn had been with the 49ers, Jets, Dolphins and Seahawks as a defensive line coach or defensive coordinator and was the defensive coordinator for the Seahawks in the 2015 Super Bowl, won by New England, 28-24, on a fluke interception at the goal line in the waning moments of the game when it appeared the Seahawks were going to win.

So, while Quinn was on the losing end of that score, it certainly wasn't due to the Seattle defense. The Seahawk offense lost that game, prompting Atlanta to snatch up Quinn, a heady move, considering the current opponent. Quinn has experience against New England which should help Atlanta's cause. Also, considering that Quinn is, in the main, a defensive coach, the Atlanta defense should rightfully be expected to shine, though throughout the season, it was the Atlanta offense that grabbed all the headlines. Atlanta led the league in points scored during the regular season with 33.8 per game (New England, 3rd, 27.6) and the post season, averaging 40.0 per contest (New England, 2nd, 35.0).

Defensively, the Patriots were the best in 2016. They allowed a mere 15.6 points per game, whereas the Falcons were down near the bottom, at #27, giving up an average of 25.4 points per game. This appears to be a huge advantage for New England. Over its past five games, the Patriots have allowed 3, 3, 14, 16, and 17 points in wins over, respectively, Denver, NY Jets, Miami, Houston, and Pittsburgh, the last two in playoff competition. It should be pointed out, however, that none of the teams had solid offenses except Pittsburgh, and they lost their main offensive weapon, running back LeVeon Bell, to injury, early in the first quarter.

Looking at the Falcons, their defense definitely appeared to be improving by the end of the season. In weeks 14-17 of the regular season they defeated the Rams, 42-14, the 49ers, 41-13, Carolina, 33-16, and New Orleans, 38-32. Now, that last game stands out, but the Saints were the #2 offense in the league, and the Falcons had already wrapped up the NFC South division title.



In the playoffs, Atlanta hammered Seattle, 36-20, then stopped Green Bay in its tracks, 44-21. The Packers were #4 in scoring during the regular season, so the case can be made that Atlanta's defense is much better than at the beginning or middle of the season. They'll have every opportunity to prove themselves Sunday night in Houston.

Another consideration about Atlanta is that they were routing teams regularly during their run to the playoffs, so many of the opposition scores were late when the Falcons already had the game in hand. It's tough to argue with stats, but there seems to be a case to be made for the Falcon defense.

Turnovers are unlikely to be a factor in this contest though both teams are adept at taking the ball away on defense and protecting it offensively. The Patriots were #3 in turnover differential, at 12. Atlanta was right behind them at #4, with 11. Both teams turned the ball over just 11 times during the regular season. Both Tom Brady and Matt Ryan have high TD to INT ratios, though Brady's is the better of the two.

Picking between these two teams is - as the line indicates - a tough chore, but consider, in the four Super Bowl wins since 2001 by the Patriots, three of them were by three points and the other (Super Bowl XLIX, mentioned above, was by four. If history proves out that this will be a close game, there's a pretty good chance it's going to be won by a field goal, making the Falcons the choice, since getting three points (and that line has not budged even a smidgen since last week's release) will get you at least a push. If it's the Falcons kicking the game-winner or it becomes an all-out rout in case New England cannot keep up with Atlanta's torrid offensive pace, the Falcons will be the winner.

Slice it up any way you like, but the player that should be the difference is Atlanta's super receiver, Julio Jones. New England will have to devote extra personnel to cover him, leaving open other wideouts and backs. If they don't, Ryan and Jones will kill them. Additionally, the Patriots will miss tight end Rob Gronkowski, who suffered a season-ending injury against the Jets on November 27.

Atlanta has an above-average red zone defense, which magnifies the loss of New England's special tight end.

Last but not least, there are a plethora of proposition positions that can be had on the game. Here's Fearless Rick's take on these ridiculous props:
Tom Brady will throw for more than 300 yards.
Luke Bryan will sing the national anthem in under 2:15.
Julio Jones will be the game MVP (great odds +750).
The color of the gatorade poured on the winning head coach will be orange (tradition and as a quiet tribute to president Donald Trump's hair).
The Patriots will score less than 30 1/2 points.
Total TDs will be over 6 1/2.
Total successful field goals will be under 3 1/2.
Team to score the longest touchdown of the game will be Atlanta, and it will be more than 52 1/2 yards.
Both teams will make a field goal of 37 or more yards.

Finally, none of this is scientific. Enjoy the game, enjoy the show, have some good food (we're doing lobster) and drink with good friends and skip work on Monday (It's only your job. Who cares?).

Coin Flip: New England

Rick's Pick: Falcons 31 Patriots 24

Super Bowl Quiz

Super Bowl Scores, MVPs, 1967-2018


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