On Sunday, February 5, the Atlanta Falcons will take on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI. The Patriots, one of the NFL’s most successful teams, will be making their 8th Super Bowl appearance in search of a fifth Vince Lombardi Trophy. Meanwhile, Atlanta will be making just its second ever appearance in a Super Bowl, and is searching for its first ever league title.
Much of the attention in the lead-up to the game has rightly been focused on quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots. Brady is one of, if not the, greatest players of all-time. He is set to appear in his ninth Super Bowl and could win a fifth Super Bowl ring. He has three Super Bowl MVP awards, is a 12-time Pro Bowler and two-time NFL Most Valuable Player. He has been in the conversation for MVP this year following a stellar season that didn’t start until after he served a four-game suspension for his role in the Deflategate controversy. Should he lead New England to another title, Roger Goodell, the league commissioner and the man who suspended him after the two-year debacle, will hand him the Lombardi Trophy.
There is no denying that the Patriots are a terrific football team. However, while people have been captivated by the Brady vs. Goodell storyline, the Atlanta Falcons have been flying under the radar. Quarterback Matt Ryan was superb all season long, throwing for nearly 5,000 yards, 38 touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 117.1. He deserved his first team All-Pro selection and is rightly the frontrunner for the league’s Most Valuable Player award. One of the deadliest offenses in league history has been created with Ryan as the fulcrum.
It’s nearly impossible for defenses to stop Atlanta’s high-flying attack. Behind Ryan, the Falcons have a two-headed monster in running backs Devontae Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Perfect complements to one another, they constantly keep defenses off-balance and make it impossible for defensive coordinators to key on the Falcons’ deadly air attack, which has been unstoppable for the last seven weeks.
Ryan spreads the ball around better than any quarterback not named Brady or Rodgers. Thirteen different players have caught touchdown passes from him this season. The Falcons’ varied attack is what makes them more dangerous than any other offense in the league. When defenses try to load the box to stop Freeman and Coleman on the ground, they get beat through the air. When they drop back into zone, Atlanta’s sterling offensive line gives Ryan time to find the open man or the running backs room in which to operate. When defenses attempt to go man-to-man, they are beat by Julio Jones.
Jones is the best wide receiver in the league. While Dez Bryant and Odell Beckham Jr. may dispute that claim, no one presents an absolute match-up nightmare the way the former Alabama standout does. He stands 6’3”, 220 lbs and runs the 40-yard-dash in 4.39 seconds. He runs routes better than anybody else, and no cornerback can beat him to a jump ball. Though he only has six touchdown receptions this regular season, he leads his team with over 1,400 receiving yards, and had one of the finest performances in NFC Championship Game history last weekend to torch the Green Bay Packers.
If a team tries to key on Jones, Ryan spreads the ball around to Mohamed Sanu, or Jacob Tamme, or Taylor Gabriel or one of the running backs. Fifteen different players have caught passes from the Falcons quarterback at some point this season. They have too many weapons for a defense to handle.
It’s entirely understandable that pundits across the country want to talk about the Patriots in the lead-up to America’s unofficial national holiday. Brady may just be the greatest quarterback of all time. Head Coach Bill Belichick could be about to win his fifth Super Bowl, giving him a resume no other coach could match. However, that is no excuse to sleep on Atlanta. The Falcons have been proving people wrong all season long. And with an offense that has scored 30 points or more in their last six games, they don’t look like they’ll be stopped anytime soon.