This Sunday the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons will face off in the biggest sporting event the United States has to offer; Super Bowl LI. The stories surrounding these two teams make an already great game even more meaningful. Will the Atlanta Falcons win their first Lombardi Trophy in franchise history, or will the New England Patriots cap off Tom Brady’s road to redemption with him surpassing Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana with an unprecedented 5th Super Bowl win?
The Patriots (ironically named seeing as how most American fans prefer to root against them) road to Super Bowl LI began back on January 15, 2015, when they hosted the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game. It was a rainy day in Foxborough, as the Patriots beat the Colts handily 45-7. The Patriots would then go on to win Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks (albeit partly due to Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell of the Seahawks making one of the worst play calls in NFL history). The Patriots, prior to Super Bowl XLIX were accused of tampering with the footballs by decreasing the air pressure making them easier to grip in the messy conditions. The accusations went all the way to court and after a year of investigations it was decided that quarterback Tom Brady would be suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season, the franchise was also fined and stripped of draft picks. In the wake of what has become known as “Deflate Gate”, the Patriots ran roughshod over the NFL, jumping out to a 3-1 start while reverting to their second and even third string quarterbacks. While Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett, the second and third stringers respectively, held down the fort, in week 5 Brady took over. Brady was 11-1 as a starter, leading the Patriots to a 14-2 record overall. Many people believed that Brady should never have been punished due to a lack of evidence, but NFL commissioner Roger Goodell thought otherwise. Now Patriot fans are hoping for the ultimate retribution; Brady winning the Super Bowl, becoming the most decorated quarterback in NFL history, and forcing Goodell to hand over the Lombardi Trophy, sticking a metaphorical middle finger to all of his detractors.
While Brady’s feel-good story would be a nightmare to the vast majority of football fans, they can be saved by the Atlanta Falcons, who look to establish a feel-good story of their own. Beginning play in 1966, the Falcons are as old as the Super Bowl itself (despite Super Bowl I being the climax to the 1965 season, it was played in 1966). Unlike the Patriots, who will be appearing in their 9th Super Bowl, the Falcons have reached the big game for only the 2nd time in their history. The Falcons have never won a Super Bowl. The leader of the Falcons, quarterback Matt Ryan, aka “Matty Ice”, is coming off the best season of his career. The NFL Honors award show will take place on February 4th, the night before the Super Bowl, and Matty Ice has put together an impressive M.V.P. campaign. Finishing the season with a hand full of career highs; 4,944 passing yards, 69.9% completion percentage, 38 touchdowns vs. only 7 interceptions, 9.3 yards per pass attempt (led the league), 13.3 yards per pass completion (led the league), and a Quarterback Rating of 83.3 (led the league). The Falcons will also be leaning on their superstar running back Devonta Freeman, who has scored 27 total touchdowns over the past 2 seasons, the 2nd most in the NFL.
In sports in pays to be a gold digger, and nobody has manned the gold mine that is the Super Bowl more than Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. Including his time as an assistant coach for the New York Giants from 1979-90, and his year as the Patriots assistant coach in 1996, Belichick will be making his 10th appearance in the Super Bowl. The Falcons young head coach Dan Quinn has quickly established himself as a bit of a gold digger as well, serving as the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks from 2013-14 Quinn will be making his 3rd Super Bowl appearance in 4 years.
The Super Bowl will take place at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. The Patriots average 407.2 yards per game in that stadium, while the Falcons average 290 yards per game. Tom Brady has never lost to the Falcons in his career, as he is a perfect 4-0. Tom Brady is tied with Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana for the most Super Bowl victories by a quarterback in NFL history with 4 while passing Charles Haley for the most Super Bowl appearances by a player with 7. To put Brady’s 7 appearances into perspective, the entire Falcons roster combined has mustered up only 5 appearances. The four players on the Falcons with Super Bowl experience are Dashon Goldson (XLVII), Dwight Freeney (XLI & XLIV), Courtney Upshaw (XLVII), and Philip Wheeler (XLIV). With those 5 appearances in hand, the only player on the Falcons roster to win a Super Bowl is Dwight Freeney in Super Bowl XLI as a member of the Indianapolis Colts. If the Falcons win Super Bowl LI, they would join division rival 2009 New Orleans Saints as the only team to win 3 games in a row against Super Bowl winners in the playoffs. The Falcons defeated the Seattle Seahawks, and Green Bay Packers to get to the Super Bowl, both franchises have won Super Bowls.
At the end of the day when all the smoke clears the only statistic that matters is the final score.