Twenty-eight teams down, two to go. After two blowouts Sunday in the conference championship games, the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons woke up Monday morning with two weeks to prepare for the biggest game of the year. For many Falcons, it'll be the biggest game of their lives. For the Pats though, it'll be no big deal.
Super Bowl LI will mark the seventh Super Bowl for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, a new NFL record that demonstrates just how dominant this duo has been over the years. But when you look at these Patriots, it's not Brady's side of the ball that stands out. It's Belichick's. The defensive-minded head coach brings the league's top ranked D into the Super Bowl, which brings us to the first of seven things to know before the first Sunday in February.
1. Best Defense Vs. Best Offense
It's the most overdone factoid in sports, but in this case, it also happens to apply. The Pats' number one defense (15.6 points per game given up) will go head-to-head with the Falcons' number one offense (33.8 points per game scored) in two weeks, and one of those units will prevail. In the past, the "defense wins championships" adage has proven true. Will it again?
2. Falcons QB Matt Ryan is a beast
Outside of Atlanta and fantasy football websites, the Falcons star quarterback doesn't get the attention he deserves. But after an MVP season and an upcoming start in the Super Bowl, that will change. The nine-year vet was second in the league in TDs this season with 38, second in passing yards with 4,944 and first in quarterback rating with 117.1. You're going to be seeing a lot more of this toothy smile in the next few weeks.
3. Badass Running Backs
If Ryan is little-known, then his running back tandem is downright anonymous. But don't expect the Pats to overlook Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Freeman was one of 12 backs to put up over 1,000 in the regular season and Coleman chipped in with 520 of his own. They also happen to be two of the most productive pass catchers out of the backfield in the NFL. Coleman's 13.6 yards-per-catch were better than any running back in the league and Freeman's 462 receiving yards were fifth best.
4. If Falcons Pull Off Upset, Somebody Gets Rich
The media hasn't yet tracked down the Falcons die-hards who put money on the team before the start of the season. But when they do, expect to hear about it. The team began the season with 80/1 Super Bowl odds, which means someone out there stands to make bank if the Falcons can pull off the upset.
5. Tom Brady Has a History of Beating The Birds
The Pats' quarterback is a career 4-0 against the Falcons, which has nothing to do with his fifth game against the team. Still, it's fun to note that Touchdown Tom has thrown nine TDs against Atlanta with one one pick and has put up his highest quarterback rating against any team. Of course, he last played them in 2013.
6. New England's Deflategate Revenge
An inevitable storyline for this Super Bowl will be the Pats against Roger Goodell. As you'll recall, Brady began the season suspended for four games because of Deflategate. By leading his team to the Super Bowl anyway, Brady has shown Goodell just how inconsequential that punishment was. If Brady can become the first quarterback to win his fifth Super Bowl it will be the ultimate middle finger to the commissioner, which is almost enough to make one pull for the Pats.
7. Remember, We're All Falcons fans
OK, I said almost. But even with the chance to embarrass Goodell, it'll be hard for anyone outside of New England to pull for the Pats. The underdog Falcons will be looking for their first-ever Super Bowl in only their second appearance. The historically dominant Patriots, meanwhile, consider this routine. Time to learn the Dirty Bird and pull for the red and black.