The New England Patriots, which have the NFL's best defense, are going for their fifth Super Bowl championship in 16 seasons. They're a three-point favorite against the Atlanta Falcons, which boast the NFL's best offense and are looking for their first-ever Super Bowl title.
Who will take home the Lombardi Trophy? Here are three questions and a prediction for Patriots vs. Falcons in Super Bowl LI, which will begin Sunday at 4:30 p.m.
1. Can Atlanta contain Brady?
There's not much more to say about Tom Brady. He's one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, if not the all-time best. He's made stars out of average receivers, including Chris Hogan, who had more receiving yards in the Pats' AFC Championship Game win (180) than in his entire collegiate career (147).
The Falcons have already beaten two of the NFL's top QBs -- Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers -- in order to advance to the Super Bowl. Both of those men have better career playoff passer ratings than Brady does. But Brady has thrown just four interceptions in 14 games this season. Can Atlanta force the future Hall of Famer into mistakes -- or, at the very least, keep him in check?
2. Will Matt Ryan be great again?
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan should win this year's NFL MVP award because he's simply been the league's best QB throughout the season. The 31-year-old's 117.1 regular-season passer rating was the fourth best in NFL history, and he threw for over 700 combined yards and seven touchdowns in the Falcons' two playoff victories.
Falcons star receiver Julio Jones will go up against one of the NFL's best defensive backs in Malcolm Butler, but that might not matter, as Jones is playing lights out and making catches that are impossible to defend. Ryan has thrown 18 touchdown passes (six to Jones) and no interceptions in his last six games; can New England's formidable secondary do anything to slow him down?
3. Which team's running backs will shine?
In the regular season, Atlanta and New England were fifth and seventh in the NFL, respectively, in rushing yards per game, although the Falcons averaged 4.6 yards per carry to the Patriots' 3.9.
Atlanta running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined to rush for nearly 1,600 yards and 12 touchdowns in the regular season. Meanwhile, LeGarrette Blount is the Patriots' workhouse; he rushed for 1,161 yards and an NFL-best 18 touchdowns during regular-season play. Speedy RB Dion Lewis is a capable backup and an efficient receiver.
New England has the better rushing defense by a significant margin, but Freeman and Coleman are also efficient receivers, as they combined for 85 catches for 883 yards and five scores during regular-season play. Will they be the difference for Atlanta on Sunday?
Brady is 4-0 in Super Bowls not featuring the New York Giants. The Falcons are not the Giants. Also, the Patriots are a much more experienced unit. They have a superior coaching staff and the better defense. Therefore, the Patriots will win on Sunday.
Here are a couple other facts to chew on. First, the team with the NFL's best regular-season record hasn't won the Super Bowl since 2003 (although that team happened to be the Patriots). Also, while the Pats are No. 1 in points allowed per game, they also played the weakest collection of offenses during the regular season. It's fair to say New England hasn't faced an offense nearly as proficient as Atlanta's all season.
Take a look at a side-by-side comparison of this year's Falcons and "The Greatest Show on Turf," AKA Kurt Warner's St. Louis Rams in 2001.
How these Falcons compare to the Rams' Greatest Show on Turf 15 years ago: pic.twitter.com/HTN0rSR3u6
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 3, 2017
The Patriots upset Warner's Rams in the Super Bowl that year. This time, a Falcons win would be an upset -- and that's what I'm going with. Atlanta's offense has been flat-out unstoppable, and its defense has risen to the occasion at the right time. That's a blueprint for a Super Bowl championship.
Falcons 31, Patriots 26