The biggest advantage for the Patriots heading into Super Bowl LI isn't any of the players; it's the additional week afforded to Bill Belichick, so he can plan how to attack the Atlanta Falcons. With the Super Bowl bye in place, Belichick heads into the office on Monday knowing he's got about 12 days and 22 hours to grind on game film and figure out how to slow down the league's most prolific passing attack.
The particularly bad news for Matt Ryan and Atlanta? Ryan's never beaten Belichick. It's a small sample size, but in a pair of games played against the Patriots since being drafted No. 3 overall in 2008, Ryan's gone up against Belichick twice and lost.
|09-27-2009||NE 26-10||17/28 (60.7)||199||7.11||0-0|
|09-29-2013||NE 30-23||34/54 (63.0)||421||7.80||2-1|
Here are several more takeaways from conference championship weekend:
Defense trumps offense?
Another disturbing trend for Falcons fans: history is not kind to matchups featuring the No. 1 scoring defense and the No. 1 scoring offense.
Only once in NFL history has the No. 1 scoring offense beaten the No. 1 scoring defense, when the 49ers and Joe Montana managed to topple Dan Marino and the Dolphins in Super Bowl XXIV. The 49ers were also good on offense that year, though, which isn't the case with most of these other teams.
|Super Bowl LI||Falcons||33.8||Patriots||15.6||????|
|Super Bowl XLVIII||Broncos||37.9||Seahawks||14.4||Defense|
|Super Bowl XXV||Bills||26.8||Giants||13.2||Defense|
|Super Bowl XXIV||49ers||27.6||Broncos||14.1||Offense|
|Super Bowl XIX||Dolphins||32.1||49ers||14.2||Defense|
|Super Bowl XIII||Cowboys||24.0||Steelers||12.2||Defense|
|Super Bowl I||Chiefs||32.0||Packers||11.6||Defense|
The Patriots are closer to the 49ers' profile than anything else -- they were a top-five offense in terms of points scored as well as the No. 1 defense. But they also don't feel quite like the Seahawks defense did when it played the Broncos back in Super Bowl XLVIII, which turned into a Seattle blowout of Peyton Manning and Denver.
That Seattle defense was historically great and incredibly physical. The Patriots are fantastic, and it's possible we take their quality defense for granted at this point, but they're not that Seahawks unit in terms of what they can do to you in multiple areas of defense.
Plus, have the Patriots played anyone? At the quarterback position, they had a nice run to close out the season and beef up their stats.
#Patriots last 8 Quarterbacks Faced:— Evan Silva (@evansilva) January 17, 2017
Ryan Fitzpatrick twice
None of this is to question Belichick's defensive prowess, however. Antonio Brown was nullified by the Pats on Sunday. That's what The Hoodie does to an offense: take away its best weapon and make the other players produce.
The Steelers' alternate weapons -- Sammie Coates and Codi Hamilton -- had some terrible mistakes that cost Pittsburgh points. Taylor Gabriel and Mohamed Sanu, assuming Belichick plans to take away Julio Jones, offer a substantial improvement over those guys.
A history of over/unders
The Super Bowl already features easily the highest over/under total in modern history, with the number opening at 57 and quickly climbing above 60. The Falcons and Packers sported the highest over/under total in playoff history, with the number closing somewhere between 60 and 61, maybe higher depending on when and where a bet was placed.
The key takeaway to this number is how high it's climbing and how quickly it's climbing. 60 is absurd for a Super Bowl -- we've only seen four games since 2000 that had an over/under higher than 50.
And in all of those games, three of which featured the Patriots, the number went under.
The real surprise here is that the Saints-Colts matchup couldn't hit that total. Man, how did Peyton Manning only score 17 points against a Gregg Williams defense? Oh, right. You go back and think about those games, and it always featured a historical offense. The Rams in 2001 were The Greatest Show on Turf. The Patriots in 2007 were undefeated.
And the concern you have if you're taking the over in this game is that Belichick has two weeks to prepare and could slow down the Falcons both by limiting scoring opportunities via defense and by playing ball control with LeGarrette Blount. Atlanta will score, but the Pats are giving up less than 16 points per game.
It's worth noting that all other totals of at least 50 points in Super Bowl history are a combined 5-2 to the over. Recent history and the presence of Bill Belichick says the total should stay lower.
Opening drive success
Atlanta's first possession against Green Bay featured something everyone should be plenty accustomed to seeing: a Falcons march down the field that resulted in a touchdown. Atlanta has now scored a touchdown on the opening drive in its last eight games, a remarkable stretch of time that shows how well Kyle Shanahan is doing when it comes to scripting plays that start the game and how well Ryan is doing executing them.
These aren't instances of the Falcons just getting lucky either. Look at the distance and time covered during this streak:
The Rams thing is hilarious because it was a fumbled kickoff, but it takes down the average numbers, which are still staggering. Over the last eight weeks, the Falcons' opening drive lasted an average of 8.3 plays and went 61.8 yards and resulted in a touchdown every single time.
Keep an eye on how Belichick and the Pats attempt to counterbalance this, because you take away that initial march down the field and you can flip the field on the Falcons early.
The Shanahan factor
One thing worth watching for Super Bowl LI is any potential distraction the Falcons might face from the impending departure of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
The 37-year-old coach is expected to take the 49ers job once the Falcons are eliminated from the playoffs, but that can't happen until after the Super Bowl ends, win or lose. That means he'll spend the next two weeks preparing for the Super Bowl, game-planning the Falcons offense against Belichick all while also thinking about his expected upcoming move.
Now, clearly, Shanahan is a professional and can focus on more than one thing at a time. But it's human nature to toggle back and forth on various issues in your life, and he'll get plenty of questions about the new job during the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl.
Belichick probably doesn't mind the fact that he inherently gets an advantage by Shanahan likely leaving. Even if he spends 15 seconds between now and the Super Bowl thinking about his next job, that's 15 seconds he's not thinking about the Patriots defense. It's just the reality of the situation.
Counterpoint No. 1: Shanahan was probably taking this job before Sunday and it didn't really matter at all against Green Bay. Look at those first-drive numbers. He's locked in and on the same page as Ryan offensively.
Counterpoint No. 2: Shanahan couldn't ask for a better situation to be in currently. Falcons coach Dan Quinn faced a similar issue when he left the Seahawks for Atlanta. He was in the Super Bowl, against New England of all teams, when he decided he would take the job with the Falcons. Atlanta actually hired Shanahan before they hired Quinn because it couldn't be made official until Seattle's season was over.
You could come with a counter-counterpoint that Quinn's Seahawks gave up 28 points to the Pats, but Seattle should've won the Super Bowl. They didn't lose because of a defensive coordinator's decision. It's a tougher spot for Shanahan, but a good spot considering the mentor he has in Atlanta.
The greatest duo ever
In two weeks, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will head to Houston for their seventh Super Bowl together. That's an absolutely absurd number, something that shouldn't be real.
Brady will have started 14 percent of all Super Bowls. 14 percent!
In two weeks, 14 percent of all Super Bowls will have been started, in part, by Tom Brady.— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) January 23, 2017
As a duo, they absolutely dwarf the competition in terms of piling up wins.
Individually you can already argue -- and I would, personally -- they are the greatest at what they do. I think a large part of who people pick for "Greatest Quarterback of All-Time" honors relates to a generational thing, but I have a hard time not giving the nod to Brady when he's appearing in his seventh Super Bowl and won't have won less than four of those. A fifth ring by beating Atlanta should give him the edge in most conversations compared to Joe Montana.
The "but Joe never lost a Super Bowl" argument is dumb, because it implies Brady would get more credit for not making it to the Super Bowl the three extra times. He should have lost sooner and been worse at his job!
"It hasn't sunk in yet," Brady said. "We've looked, every week it's kind of been one day at a time and one game at a time. I haven't even said those words yet. Well, I said them after the game, but not at all this week or now. It's unbelievable. It's unbelievable.
"Yeah, it was a good day. I mean, we're going to the Super Bowl, man -- s---. You've got to be happy now."
Belichick passed Don Shula for most Super Bowl appearances, and that doesn't count his two Super Bowl titles as a defensive coordinator with Bill Parcells' Giants. All told he's coaching in his 10th Super Bowl. That means he's been involved in almost 20 percent of all Super Bowls.
Another insane stat:— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) January 23, 2017
Belichick will coach in his 10th SB as head coach/assistant.
Meaning he will have coached in 19.6% of all Super Bowls
He could win his seventh Super Bowl in two weeks. It's hard to fathom an argument being made for someone else regardless of the Super Bowl LI outcome.