LOS ANGELES, February 3, 2017 — The sideshows are over. The waiting is over. It is now time for the National Football League to solely be about football.
In political and pop culture news, there is none. This is Super Bowl week.
Saturday brings the newest enshrines to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
They receive gold jackets that let the world know they are the greatest individual players of all time.
Super Bowl Sunday offers the best teams, since football is the ultimate team game. The first 50 Super Bowls are in the history books forever.
The New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons bring us Super Bowl (51) LI. The game will be played in Houston at the Stadium where the Texans normally play. Kickoff is Sunday, February 5, at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time on FOX. FootballLocks.com has the Patriots favored by three points.
The Falcons are playing in the Super Bowl for the second time in Franchise history. Their only other appearance 18 years ago was a lopsided loss to Denver. However, Atlanta coach Dan Quinn is appearing in the Super Bowl for the third time in four years. He was the defensive coordinator for the Seahawks three years ago when they won their only Super Bowl. Two years ago he watched helplessly as the offense threw the game away against these same Patriots.
Everybody knows the Patriots. They are in their NFL record ninth Super Bowl. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are making their record seventh appearance. With four Super Bowl wins apiece, a win in this game would place both men in the conversation of best coach and quarterback to ever play.
The week brought everything from the Deflategate scandal to what life advice Belichick gave his grown children. A particularly poignant moment came when Brady was asked about his mother, who is battling a serious illness. Yet all of the human interest stories disappear once the ball is kicked off and bone-crunching hits are delivered. This is football.
How we got here:
The AFC was supposed to be a rematch from last year, with the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots on a collision course for another epic battle. Yet with Peyton Manning retired and Denver’s offense unable to complement its defense, Tom Brady’s Patriots coasted to a 14-2 record. The Patriots won the AFC East for the eight straight time and appeared in the AFC Title Game for the sixth straight time. Both of those feats are NFL records. There was nobody to seriously challenge New England. Kansas City had a great defense and a weak offense. The Oakland Raiders saw their hopes dashed in the regular season finale when Derek Carr suffered a broken leg. Pittsburgh did not have the defense to stop Brady, as the Patriots romped over the Steelers 36-17 in the AFC Title Game.
The NFC was a surprise. The Dallas Cowboys were the top seed with a 13-3 record and a ton of playmakers on offense. Two of their losses were to the New York Giants, who had a very physical defense. Both of these teams went down in flames to the Green Bay Packers. When Green Bay started 4-6, Aaron Rodgers said the Packers had the talent to run the table. They did, battering Big Blue and stunning the Cowboys in Dallas 34-31 on the game’s final play. Dan Quinn’s Falcons knocked off his former team as the Legion of Boom was torched by Matt Ryan in a 36-20 Atlanta win. In the NFC Title Game, the Falcons then beat the Packers with surprising ease, building a 31-0 lead en route to a 44-21 win.
The New England Patriots have first ballot Hall of Famer Tom Brady at the helm. Tight end Chris Hogan is playing lights out football. New England now has a top tier defense to take some pressure off of Brady having to do everything himself.
The Atlanta Falcons have Matty Ice playing at an elite level and Julio Jones living up to his building. Atlanta’s pinball offense can strike quickly in bunches. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are both solid running backs.
Both coaches, Bill Belichick and Dan Quinn, are strategists raised on the defensive side of the ball.
Key injuries: Anyone not deceased is playing. Rob Gronkowski is out injured, but Hogan has filled in superbly. Both teams are relatively healthy, especially at the skill positions.
Keys: Both teams have to be able to throw the football, especially Atlanta. Julio Jones has to be able to out-muscle his coverage and break New England’s defense. To have a chance at winning, Atlanta’s front four has to bring the pressure that forces Brady into errant throws.
Prediction: Three years ago featured a blowout that was over by halftime. Two years ago brought a thriller for the ages. Last year was an ugly defensive slugfest. While it may not be a blowout, Atlanta can only win if it is a shootout. A game inside a dome allows for the kind of track meet that helps Atlanta. The New York Giants showed in two Super Bowls how to hammer Brady into submission. However, Atlanta does not have the defense to carry out this blueprint. Matty Ice sometimes goes ice cold, while Brady has icewater in his veins. The Patriots are the superior team, and Brady is still burning for revenge from his four game suspension to start this season. New England has the experience, and should have Atlanta buried midway through the fourth quarter. Patriots 38, Falcons 26.