Hold on tight, everyone. We’ve got two weeks — 12 days exactly — before the next and last football game is played this season. So we’ve got a lot to cram in.
I’m hearing, and you’re probably hearing and reading too, that Super Bowl LI has the potential to be one of the great championship finales of all-time. It certainly provides the matchups — Julio Jones versus Malcolm Butler; the heroes — probable MVP and all around great guy Matty Ice making his first appearance in the Super Bowl; the greats — Tom Brady and Bill Belichick; the legacies — again, Brady and Belichick; the intrigue — commissioner Roger Goodell versus all of New England. What doesn’t this game have?
But all this talk and hype could go right out the window if it turns out to follow in the path of the championship games we just witnessed last Sunday — and, remember, everyone said how those two games were going to be great.
What we can say is that we don’t know how Super Bowl LI will turn out or who will decide the game or what events will transpire that will have us all talking come the following Monday morning at work. So why try predicting anything? (Well, for now at least. Check out a post next week and I’m sure I’ll have given great reasons why a prediction is in order.)
Let’s play it safe now — again, TWO FULL WEEKS we have!!!! Let’s ease into this. Here’s 30 facts involving the two teams set to square off in Houston on February 5.
1. Both the Patriots and Falcons strut into Houston after big wins in their respective conference title games. It’s the first time since 1978 that both Super Bowl teams won their conference championships by 19 or more points.
2. While the Patriots came off as the preseason Super Bowl favorites, the Falcons were at 80-1 odds, behind Jacksonville and the Jets. Yes, you read correctly.
3. Super Bowl LI features the league’s number 1 offense in Atlanta and league’s the number 1 defense in New England. “Defense wins championships” has held true in all five previous such matches in Super Bowls.
4. No NFL MVP has won the Super Bowl since Kurt Warner pulled off the feat in 1999.
5. Tom Brady will have appeared in 14% of all Super Bowls after LI is in the books. This is his seventh — a record for any player at any position.
6. Brady put up MVP-caliber numbers this season in just 12 games. he posted an NFL record with a 28:2 touchdown to interception ratio.
7. The Pats defense ranked first in points allowed this regular season — 15.6.
8. LeGarrette Blount’s 18 rushing TDs were not only a New England record for rushing, but the mark also led the league.
9. Bill Belichick will be making his ninth appearance in the big game in his coaching career — seventh as head coach of the Patriots.
10. The Patriots best defensive player in the AFC Championship Game according to metrics was Kyle Van Noy. The linebacker wasn’t even on the Patriots roster until midseason when Belichick acquired him from the Detroit Lions.
11. New England’s linebacker leader Donta Hightower played the fewest percentage of snaps against Pittsburgh that he has all season since week 5.
12. Patriots receiver Chris Hogan caught 9 balls for 180 yards in the AFC Championship Game. Those are Julio Jones numbers. In fact, Julio caught 9 passes for 180 yards last Sunday.
13. The odds-on-favorite to win the MVP this year, Matt Ryan, set career highs in yardage (4,944) and TDs (38). The maestro of the Falcons offense has saved his most explosive performances for the playoffs — huge wins over Seattle and Green Bay have catapulted the NFC South Champs into the Super Bowl for just the second time in the franchise’s history.
14. Kyle Shanahan has quickly become one of the hottest coaching candidates — and is likely to head west to take the vacant 49er job once the Super Bowl ends. The young offensive coordinator has teamed nicely with Matty Ice to form a prolific tandem, scoring the seventh most points in any NFL single season.
15. Since week 13, Atlanta has averaged 39 points per game. Seriously.
16. The Falcons have scored a touchdown on their opening possession in 8 straight games.
17. So Bill Belichick and New England DC Matt Patricia go from game planning for Antonio Brown to now trying to defend against Julio Jones? Not an enviable task. Jones’s 300-yard receiving game earlier this season was the first since 2013 and only the sixth in NFL history.
18. Atlanta’s offense has been hugely successfully due much in part to their strong backfield play. Tevin Coleman and DeVonta Freeman put the Falcons fifth in the league in rushing while losing, a league-best, one fumble in 2016.
19. Atlanta linebacker Vic Beasely led the league with 15.5 sacks.
20. Head coach Dan Quinn is making his third Super Bowl appearance in the last four years — ’13 and ’14 as Seattle’s defensive coordinator and now as the head man leading the Falcons. Don’t forget who Seattle played two years ago and what offense Quinn had to prepare for.