Prisco's 2017 Super Bowl pick: Not even Belichick's Patriots will stop Falcons
In a battle of two elite offenses, a final defensive stand will decide this shootout
HOUSTON -- The most intriguing part of Super Bowl LI is this:
Belichick is considered one of the great defensive minds of all time, and giving him two weeks to prepare for an offense is downright scary. We saw what he did as a defensive coordinator of the New York Giants to the Buffalo Bills K-Gun offense in Super Bowl XXV.
We saw him slow down the Greatest Show on Turf, the St. Louis Rams' explosive offense, in Super Bowl XXXVI to win his first championship as a head coach of the Patriots.
Against the Bills, Belichick used a 2-4-5 defense with two down linemen and played a lot of zone. They kept everything in front and blasted the Bills receivers after catches. Against the Rams, he took away Marshall Faulk and played man outside and his corners beat up the Rams receivers -- and got away with it.
They say Belichick's greatest strength is taking away one major part of your offense. That would likely mean Falcons receiver Julio Jones in this game.
"The thing Belichick does better than anybody else is he says he's going to take away your top guy and he does," Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "That's Julio. I wouldn't be surprised if they put two or three guys on him."
That would normally slow an offense, but not this Falcons offense, which is why I think they win this game. They averaged more than 40 points in two games without Jones this year. Matt Ryan also threw touchdown passes to 13 different players, a league record.
In a battle of the top-ranked scoring offense and the top-ranked scoring defense, I think the offense will get the best of it here.
Ryan has too many weapons.
"They have a two-headed monster in the backfield (Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman)," Oakland Raiders safety Reggie Nelson said. "What you going to do with (receiver Mohamed) Sanu? And they have Taylor Gabriel. Even if they focus on Julio, there are so many other guys who can kill you. If you sit back and play zone, he is going to eat that up."
The Patriots aren't great at rushing the passer either, ranking 18th in sacks per pass play, which will be a problem. If they blitz and single up in the secondary, this is an offense that can take advantage of that.
On the other side, Tom Brady will get his points as well. The Falcons are a young, small, fast defense, but they can make some youthful mistakes. Against Brady, that can be six in a hurry.
So I look for both teams to score a lot of points. The quarterbacks are simply too good to be stopped.
In the end, the Patriots will have the ball down 35-31 with a chance to go win it. This time, it won't be a Brady late drive to a title. Instead it will be a sack by Vic Beasley late to end the drive and give the Atlanta Falcons their first Super Bowl victory and give Ryan validation by some as a top quarterback.
Pick: Falcons 35, Patriots 31
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