After convincing victories in the Conference Championships, the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots will meet in Super Bowl LI on February 5 (6:30 PM ET) at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. The game will feature the league’s highest-scoring offense led by the likely NFL MVP Matt Ryan, up against Tom Brady and the Pats’ top-ranked scoring defense.
The Falcons have been designated the home team, as it flips back-and-forth between the two conferences every year, and will get to choose whether they wear their red or white jerseys. Vegas doesn’t seem to care that the Falcons will get their choice of jersey colour, though, as New England has opened as a three-point favorite.
Carl Cheffers will serve as the head official of Super Bowl LI, in spite of Travis Kelce’s opinion of him. Fox will broadcast the game and you’ll be listening to Joe Buck and Troy Aikman call it. The National Anthem will be sung by Luke Bryan and Lady Gaga will lead the halftime show.
Now that you know the finer details of the 51st Super Bowl, I want to take a look back at the previous 50 and draw some trends. Does it matter who’s the home team? Does it matter who broadcasts the game? Does it matter who performs at halftime?
I can’t answer those questions definitively. I can only point out the historical facts of that matter.
Below, you’ll find the aforementioned trends, along with the Super Bowl history for each team, and projections for the game’s key players.
You won’t find my pick for the Super Bowl. For that, you’ll have to come back later in the week. Cliffhanger!
New England Patriots SB History
The Patriots will be playing in their ninth Super Bowl, going 4-4 in the previous eight. This will be the seventh appearance for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, who are 4-2 so far. The last appearance for the team came two years ago when they beat the Seattle Seahawks 28-24. Only 23 of the players who were on that roster are still around.
Here are a few fun facts from New England’s previous appearances:
- New England is 2-5-1 against the spread in the Super Bowl.
- New England is 4-1 when scoring more than 17 points in the Super Bowl.
- The New York Giants are the only team to beat Tom Brady in the Super Bowl.
- Brady’s passer rating in the Super Bowl is 95.3.
- When Brady is sacked more than once in the Super Bowl, New England is 1-2.
Atlanta Falcons SB History
The Falcons are making just their second appearance in the Super Bowl, losing their only other trip to the John Elway-led Denver Broncos 34-19 in 1999. Only two players on the Falcons roster have ever played in a Super Bowl: Dwight Freeney and Dashon Goldson. There’s not much Falcons Super Bowl history, but here’s what I’ve got for you…
- Dan Quinn won Super Bowl XLVIII as the defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks.
- Matt Ryan was 4-0 in college bowl games.
- The city of Atlanta has not won a major sports championship since the Braves in 1995.
- Atlanta’s Super Bowl berth means the NFC South is the first division to send all four teams to the Super Bowl since the divisional realignment in 2002.
Super Bowl Trends
- The NFC is 24-22 in the Super Bowl, but have lost three of the last four.
- Favorites are 33-16 straight-up (XLIX was a pick ’em), but have lost four-straight and six of the last eight.
- Favorites are just 26-21-2 against the spread, and only 1-7 ATS in the last eight.
- There have only been six instances where the favorite won but did not cover the spread, last occurring in 2009.
- This is the second time both Conference Championships were decided by more than 19 points. The AFC won the Super Bowl and covered the spread as the favorite in the 1978 Super Bowl.
- The team wearing white jerseys has won 11 of the last 12 Super Bowls, and is 38-12 all-time.
- The AFC is 2-0 in Super Bowls in Houston.
- The favorite is 2-0 straight-up in Super Bowls in Houston, and 1-1 against the spread.
- New England is 1-0 in Super Bowls in Houston.
- The AFC is 7-1 in the last eight Super Bowls that have had an attendance between 70,000 and 73,000 – NRG Stadium seats a little over 72,000.
- The NFL MVP has not won the Super Bowl since Kurt Warner in 1999.
- The top scoring offense is just 10-13 in Super Bowls.
- The top scoring defense is 14-5 in the Super Bowl.
- The top scoring offense and top scoring defense have met six times in the Super Bowl. The defense is 5-1 in those games.
- The NFC is 4-3 in Super Bowls broadcast by Fox.
- The NFC is 3-1 in Super Bowls where Joe Buck has the call.
- New England is 2-2 in Super Bowls broadcast by Fox.
- The AFC has won the last two Super Bowls where a female was the lead performer of the halftime show.
- The AFC is 1-0 when Lady Gaga sings at the Super Bowl.
- No team has allowed more than 400 points during the regular season and won the Super Bowl – Atlanta allowed 406 this season.
Key Patriots in Super Bowl LI
Outside of the obvious (Tom Brady), there are a few players on the defensive side of the ball that will have to perform at a high-level for New England to win this game. The first is Trey Flowers. The second-year pro led the Patriots with seven sacks during the regular season. However, Flowers has yet to record one in the playoffs. In fact, Matt Patricia’s defense has only gotten to the opposing quarterback three times in their two postseason games. It is vital that Flowers is able to put some pressure on Matt Ryan.
Odds Flowers records a sack in the Super Bowl: 6/1
The other player I would like to highlight is actually a group of players. Malcolm Butler is the Patriots best cover corner, but Bill Belichick does not always match him up with the opposing team’s best receiver. If an opposing receiver is that dominant, Belichick has been known to put his best corner on the second-best receiver and then blanket the star receiver with two of his other defensive backs. Not only is limiting Julio Jones incredibly important, but the job done on Taylor Gabriel and Mohamed Sanu is just as crucial. Logan Ryan, Eric Rowe, Devin McCourty, and Patrick Chung all need to be prepared to be in man-coverage without any help on Gabriel and Sanu.
Odds Gabriel and Sanu combine for 150 receiving yards: 7/3
Key Falcons in Super Bowl LI
Again, moving past the obvious (Matt Ryan), a few Falcons defenders need to show-up for Atlanta to win its first Super Bowl. The first player is rookie free safety Keanu Neal. Tom Brady and Chris Hogan took advantage of some mishaps from the Steelers safeties in the AFC Championship game. It resulted in Hogan catching nine balls for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Generally, the Falcons play a Cover 3 defense with Neal playing center-field. It is absolutely imperative that Neal not allow Brady to connect on deep shots down the middle of the field and take big chunks at a time.
Odds Brady connects on a pass deeper than 40 yards: 1/3
The other two players who will play big roles are rookie linebackers Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell. A major factor of the Falcons late-season defensive improvements have come from Dan Quinn asking his defense to play more man-coverage. I fully expect this to continue. When Quinn wants man-coverage against the Patriots, it will mean either Jones or Campbell will be responsible for covering Dion Lewis and James White out of the backfield. Pittsburgh’s linebackers did an excellent job containing the two Pats running backs in the passing game, holding them to just 16 yards combined on five receptions. Just like Pittsburgh, Atlanta’s linebackers possess the speed to keep up with the Patriots backs. Lewis is one of New England’s most dangerous weapons, and the two rookie linebackers must keep him in check.
Odds Lewis and White are held under 50 combined receiving yards: 5/3
Photo Credit: Georgia National Guard (Flickr: Playoff Pass) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.