With last week being a non-post with the probowl being the only action, lets recap on how things went two weeks ago. Once again the NAP – Atlanta Falcons easily covered the handicap but the double was let down by the Pittsburgh Steelers for whom injury to Le’Veon Bell essentially ended their hopes of progression. Overall it has been a very successful postseason with 6 out of 7 tips winning and two 3/1 doubles and a 13/2 treble!
Now just two teams remain in the hunt for Super Bowl 51, the seemingly perennial contenders the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons who are hoping to win it all for the very first time. In a nation that’s been bitterly divided for the last number of months, the one event that brings all Americans together probably couldn’t come at a better time! On that theme I can see similarities between their new President and New England. Those who follow the Patriots do so dogmatically even when the team’s morals have been called into questions whilst at the same time being universally despised by everybody else. That said much like Trump these guys are successful and aren’t shy at letting everybody know it. It certainly didn’t come as any surprise to me to learn that Coach Bill Belichick is a massive supporter of the new president but before this Buffalo fan gets too bogged down in his hate for the Patriots let’s move on to the game.
This sets up as the classic offence versus defence battle with the Falcons no.1 scoring offence facing the Patriots no.1 scoring defence. The old adage that defence wins football matches has certainly rung true when this has occurred in previous Super Bowls. In the 5 occasions it has occurred only once has the top scoring defence came out on top. There is also nobody better in the league at preparing his defence for a game than Belichick and given the fact that he’s had a fortnight to prepare his D for this one you know that he going to have it on point. This is far from the only trend that reads in the Patriots favour coming into this one. The Patriots record in the Brady/Belichick era in the playoffs against teams they haven’t faced during the regular season is a perfect 12-0 while in 4 career games versus the Falcons Brady is 4-0. Flipping sides, Matt Ryan is 0-2 in his career versus the Patriots and the last time the Falcons won a playoff game away from their home city was all the way back in 2002. For all of the points Atlanta’s offence has put up this season again the history makes dismal reading. Only 6 teams have ever scored more points than this year’s Falcons in a single season. None of those teams went on to win the Super Bowl that year showing high-powered offence is not enough for success on its own.
Probably the area where there is the greatest mismatch between the two however is in terms of experience. For the vast majority of the Atlanta Falcons roster this will be their first time at the rodeo. Contrast this to New England Quarterback Tom Brady is playing in his 7th Super Bowl. His previous 6 appearances give him more Super Bowl experience than the entire Falcons team combined. While this is no precursor to success it certainly doesn’t hurt especially in a high pressure matchup such as this one. With a possible 5th Super Bowl victory here Brady would become the most successful QB in the history of the game. If that didn’t already motivate him enough then the possibly of receiving the Vince Lombardi trophy from Roger Goodell who banned him from the first four games of this season surely will. As much as Brady has played it down his performances since returning from that suspension have given the 39 year old a season that has rivalled anything in his illustrious career. Despite losing his biggest receiving target, Rob Gronkowski to injury for the season he managed to find a way to get the job done with whatever cast of characters is put around him. In typical Brady fashion he is sure to find a weak spot in the Falcons defence and then try to exploit it mercilessly.
With all this said you would think that I’m pretty set on a New England victory in this one but that’s not the case. As good as Brady has been all year there is one Quarterback in the league who has outshone him and that is Atlanta’s Matt Ryan. Long held as being a good QB rather than a great one he has spent the season silencing the doubters and can seal his legacy with one last push here. This year he has thrown for 38 touchdowns against just 7 interceptions and set an NFL record by throwing a TD pass to 13 different receivers. In the last 6 games alone he has thrown for 18 TDs and 0 interceptions. Put simply this guy has just been on another level this year! The Patriots number one defence has been excellent all year holding opponents to under 16 points per game however as I alluded to a few weeks ago the strength of schedule for the Patriots and particularly the quality of QBs faced has left a lot to be desired. In fact when that defensive ranking is weighted with strength of Quarterback faced they fall to a middle of the road 16th Matt Ryan will easily be the best QB they have faced all year and also the one with the largest diversity of weapons on offence. I don’t see any way that the Falcons get held under 20 in this one.
In typical New England style they will attempt to absolutely shut down the best player on their opponent’s offence and here that will almost certainly be wide receiver Julio Jones. However that has proven no guarantee of success against the Falcons so far this season. In the two games Jones was absent through injury the Falcons averaged over 40 points. In the only 4 games where he was held to under 40 yards the Falcons also went 4-0. When Jones is contained Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel have come up big and they will need to do that again here. Ryan does admittedly have few targets at TE but running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevon Coleman along with being probably the best RB combo in the league can both catch a ball out of the backfield. This is very much a team that can beat you in a lot of different ways.
The offence being a sure source means that the key for Atlanta to gain victory here will come on the defensive side of the ball. Many feel that this is the Achilles heel that will end their hopes of victory as they are just the 7th team to reach the playoffs after allowing 400 points or more on the season. Conflicting greatly with their offensive performance this Falcons D is ranked just 27th in the league but again here I don’t feel the stats tell the complete story. On several occasions this season Atlanta has given up double-digit points in the 4th quarter of games that they had essentially won at that point anyway. It is also a young unit with four rookies and four second year starters that have been maturing throughout the season. Since their bye week they have averaged just over 20 points a game and that has been while facing some top opponents. Let’s not forget they held the Green Bay Packers scoreless until the third quarter 2 weeks ago and only conceded when the game was already tied up with a 31-0 lead. Perhaps most importantly for a game that may be a shootout is that they have finally managed to force some turnovers averaging 2 a game during that same period. Everybody knows that the only way to beat the Patriots is to get in Tom Brady’s face and if they can generate some pressure here they can rely on Matt Ryan and the offence to do the rest.
After a rather disappointing slate of playoff games which ended up rather one-sided it finally feels like we have got the matchup we deserve for the Super Bowl. This one has all the makings of a classic with the two best Quarterbacks in the league this year going head to head. For me the amounts of weapons that the Atlanta Falcons have at their disposal and their much tougher route to make it here gives them a very slight edge over the experience and defensive strength of the Patriots. While is tempting to pick them straight up for victory at 13/10 I always like getting who i consider the better team when they are plus point. Therefore the Falcons +3 has to be the pick from me in what could come down to who has the ball last.
Pick: Atlanta Falcons +3 @ 10/11
One of the best parts of Super bowl betting is that aside from betting on the outcome of the game there literally hundreds of other markets for punters to have a bet on. These range from those based on the outcome of various stat line to those that are random acts of chance (heads or tails on the coin toss) to the downright ridiculous such as what colour of Gatorade will be poured over the winning coach! They can also provide an interest if the game doesn’t turn out to be the spectacle we are all hoping for while at the same time being highly profitable. Last year’s recommended bets provide us with winners at 9/2 and 25/1! Here are a few of my favourites for Super Bowl 51.
Anytime Touchdown Scorer
With New England’s top corner Malcolm Butler likely to line up opposite Julio Jones and safety help likely to lean that way too, Mohamed Sanu will likely be facing against Logan Ryan one on one. Sanu has been a reliable pair of hands this year and given his three-inch height advantage over Ryan he is sure to be a big redzone target. He is generally priced 6/4 to score a TD anytime during the match but SkyBet have him at tremendous value of 2/1.
First Touchdown Scorer
This is a quite vast market so my preference is normally to look at value outsiders. The aforementioned Sanu is certainly that at odds of 16/1. His teammate Tevon Coleman may be 2nd in his teams running back order but is capable of breaking a big run or being a target in the passing game and 12/1 for him is also generous. However my preference is with one of the opposing running backs Dion Lewis who can find the endzone in a myriad of ways. Earlier in the playoffs he managed a receiving TD, a rushing TD and a return TD all in the same game against the Houston Texans and is a massive price at 14/1 to score the first 6 pointer.
Winner of the Opening Coin Toss Receives opening kick-off
This market is available at 3/1 as a special on Paddy Power. Given that the Atlanta Falcons have scored on their opening possession in their last 8 games I feel fairly confident that if they win the coin toss they will elect to receive the ball and hopefully put the pressure right on the opposition. The Patriots in comparison have elected to defer all but four-time since 2008 but interestingly elected to receive last time out versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. Given the Falcons propensity for making a quick start they may decide to employ the same strategy here. Grab this price while it’s still there.
Devonta Freeman Over 33.5 Yards Receiving @ 5/6
Freeman has hit this target in his last 4 matches and 5 times in his last 7. The two were he didn’t were blowout wins against the Rams and the 49ers where he didn’t need to be involved in the passing game. Against the Patriots it’s likely that Matt Ryan will have to very much use his running backs in passing situations. Luckily for him New England has given up the third most yards in the league this year through the air to RBs. This may be short odds but looks like a licence to print money!
Super Bowl MVP
This market is historically dominated by the Quarterback of the winning team and its take an exceptional performance from any other player to snatch that award away from them. With Atlanta’s defence needing a big game against Tom Brady, Vic Beasley, their biggest playmaker on D generates interest at odds of 66/1 to make it back to back defensive MVPs after Von Miller last year. Its been 20 years since the award went to a running back but with so much talent on show at the position here that drought could come to an end. New England LeGarrette Blount can be backed at 25/1 while Atlanta counterpart Devonta Freeman is chalked up at 33/1.
That’s all from me for this season. Hopefully many of you were on board for what turned out to be a very profitable year and perhaps some who followed for a betting interest have now developed a real love for the sport!
Best of luck,