Super Bowl LI is set: Patriots and Falcons

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Since last week’s divisional round, we have seen Donald Trump sworn in as president and countless women take to the streets in unity, over what, I am not exactly sure, but that is an entirely different column. What I do know is no matter where you stand politically in this nation, it all goes out the window when the NFL Conference Championships are played. No one cares any more if you are a liberal or conservative, male or female, black or white, just as long as you pull for the same team.

Athletes are the same. Locker rooms are filled with players with drastically different political, religious, and other social views, but come game time, none of that matters. The focus is toward a singular goal and working your ass off to achieve it because failure is not an option.

Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick
(Claudia Gestro)

There are defined and undefined rules in which you play by and respecting those rules is as important as the game itself. And when the outcome is decided, you come together and congratulate your opponent, wish them well, and then set about working on what lies ahead. It’s just a shame that is no longer done in the political world, or in many other areas of life.

There is nothing wrong with celebrating a victory or being devastated by a defeat. However, to dwell on losing or to rub it in when you win is still generally frowned upon in athletics. It leads to what is called Bulletin Board material that is used to motivate a team the next time they square off with a bitter rival. Coaches, also known as leaders, hate it when this happens and players get on each other when they fail to comply. If you do not believe me, just ask Antonio Brown. However, in the world outside of sports, it becomes a tactic to distract us from the real truth, something so many political and social groups hide from.

A post game press conference will usually see the winning coach congratulate his opponent and to let everyone know just how fortunate they feel to have walked away as a victor. The losing coach will spend more time on his failure to have prepared his team better and when one strays and blames the officials or makes other excuses, it is generally viewed as a failure to hold one’s self accountable.

We can all stand to learn a lot from professional sports. Like many others, I am guilty of dwelling on the greed that drives owners to want more money. Yes, pro athletes are paid well, but the average fan has no clue as to what all is involved in remaining at the top level of a sport and be a well paid athlete. In fact, I’d say 99 percent of the fans have no idea what all is involved in reaching the top of their own profession let alone that of a pro athlete.

Whether you are a cynic or an optimist about the state of our nation, we have much to be thankful for. We are free to express our anger, humor, and views on any of a number of issues without risk of any political fall out. We can call someone an A-Hole because of their beliefs and then, for a few hours of time, forget all about it and join him or her in cheering for the team you both agree is the best in the NFL.

Now, since my team, the San Francisco 49ers, was eliminated from any shot at a Super Bowl this year before the season began, let me share with you my thoughts on this weekend’s games and whether or not you agree with them, like them, or remember them, be thankful we had these games to enjoy if for nothing more than to gives us all a chance to think about something other than the social and political discourse that seems to be tearing us apart these days.

Atlanta 44 – Green Bay 21

Aaron Rodgers running for a first down in the second half of Sunday’s game (YouTube)

The Falcons really are not twice as good a team as the Packers as the score would have you think, however, they played with twice as much energy which is why they won by such a huge margin. Green Bay’s defense had more holes in it than old underwear and Matt Ryan and a number of Falcon receivers exploited those holes and left Green Bay embarrassed.

Atlanta fed off the energy of their fans while Green Bay suffered from fatigue, the flu, and a fumble at the only moment they showed signs of waking up and getting back into a game they probably wish never took place. The victory was a great way for Atlanta to close out their final home game before moving into a new stadium next year and sees them landing at Super Bowl LI with an offense that looks nearly unstoppable.

Matt Ryan threw for nearly 400 yards with 180 of those yards going to Julio Jones on nine catches. The Packer defense was positively offensive in their performance. When Jones wasn’t making a mockery of them, seven other Falcons targets were. Add in another 101 yards of rushing and no one would blame Green Bay’s defense if they suffer from PTSD after what they experienced.

Wide receiver Julio Jones could be the difference in Super Bowl LI (YouTube)

Aaron Rogers was just 27 of 45 for 297 yards, not the great numbers we have come to expect and certainly not the great ones needed to counter the Falcon onslaught. Essentially, he was like the rest of his teammates, a bit off after a week that saw him fight a flu bug like other Packers while having to travel once more to slay a beast they never managed to figure out.

At 13 and 5, the Falcons would not seem to be a dominant team set to steamroll an opponent in the biggest game on the biggest stage the NFL has to offer, but don’t be fooled. This team is battle tested and firing on all cylinders. They have multiple weapons on offense and a ton of youth and speed that fly to the ball on defense. They will be rested, ready, and fearless and if you are not a believer yet, get ready to be shown a gigantic Dirty Bird when they play the Patriots in Super Bowl LI.

New England 36 – Pittsburgh 17

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger walking off the field at the end of Sunday’s game. (YouTube)

Another game that just did not live up to the hype. New England was suppose to find out what it was like to face a red hot Steeler team with the triple threat of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell. Instead, they saw Bell go down early while the Patriot defense doubled up on Brown making Big Ben rely on others. The recipe worked perfect for the Patriots and it didn’t hurt to have Tom Brady playing at his best.

This Patriot team is a dangerous team that is not the least bit flashy, but don’t let that lack of flash fool you. They were patient with their ground game, which at one point only accrued 13 yards on 13 carries. However, they stick with it and make you defend it which just gives Brady time for play action passes to a host of guys who might never be looked at as typical pro football players, but who embrace their roles and the opportunity to catch passes from Tom Brady.

New England not only goes to great lengths to study every aspect about their opponent, something all teams do, they also devise game plans specifically tailored to exploit any weakness another team might have or to take away any strength they might rely on to defeat New England. However, what the Patriots do better than any other team is stick with their plan and allow it to unfold while they impose their will on their opponents.

The Patriots used a Flea Flicker to good effect (YouTube)

Like Green Bay, it didn’t help the Steelers to have to play their third straight post season game and have to travel into enemy territory. They were a step slow all game and a bit tired just as the Packers were against Atlanta, but make no mistake, this is a smart, well coached, and very hungry New England team. Two-thirds of this team was not around when they beat the Seahawks two years ago. There won’t be a let up when they face the NFC Champion Falcons.

Super Bowl Prediction

When I watched the way Atlanta dismantled the Packer defense, I felt like I was watching the most dangerous and hard to stop offense since the Kurt Warner-led St. Louis Rams. It was a pure joy to watch. I thought there is no way anyone beats these guys in the Super Bowl.

Then I watched the Patriots put on a less flashy but equally impressive clinic and thought these guys really play like a solid blue collar team that will be ready for anything thrown at them. It also helps to know they are led by Tom Brady.

I am not so sure the Falcons will have their way with New England’s defense like they did with Green Bay. They will be tested far more than they were on Sunday. Meanwhile, New England will be playing a team they are not use to facing. Going against Julio Jones for the first time can become overwhelming awfully fast so it will be vital for the Patriot defensive backs to avoid break downs. Atlanta can score from anywhere on the field.

The Patriots celebrate after a 3rd quarter TD (YouTube)

The best way to beat the Falcons is to be able to play a more deliberate game. The Falcons thrive on a track meet and figure eventually they will out score the opposition. However, Tom Brady will be patient and methodical in what he does. Bill Belichick won’t abandon the ground game and will expect his team to dink and dunk their way on long drives that keep the ball out of Matt Ryan and company. This is where the Patriot experience and Patriot way will eventually prevail.

Barring anything unusual between now and the kickoff, I see New England capping off a great season and winning their fifth Super Bowl in what should be another close game.

New England 27 – Atlanta 24

Top photo: Falcons QB Matt Ryan (Wikipedia) and Patriots QB Tom Brady (Claudia Gestro)