It all comes down to this. The Atlanta Falcons (yay!) face off against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI on Sunday. Atlanta is playing for their first ever Lombardi Trophy, while the Patriots...well, they’ve been here a few times before.
The Falcons red-hot offense takes on the Patriots top scoring defense in a match-up of #1 vs. #1. While the Falcons defense has been improving, they’ll certainly have their hands full with the very dangerous Patriots offense.
Only one team can win the Super Bowl. Let’s break it down by the numbers.
Total Points/game: Falcons 33.8 (1st), Patriots 27.6 (3rd)
Total Yards/game: Falcons 415.8 (2nd), Patriots 386.2 (4th)
Passing Yards/game: Falcons 295.3 (3rd), Patriots 269.2 (4th)
Passing TDs: Falcons 38 (T-2nd), Patriots 32 (T-6th)
Rushing Yards/game: Falcons 120.5 (5th), Patriots 117.0 (7th)
Rushing TDs: Falcons 20 (T-3rd), Patriots 19 (5th)
Third Down Efficiency: Falcons 42% (11th), Patriots 46% (4th)
Turnover Margin: Falcons +11 (T-4th), Patriots +12 (3rd)
Even against an offense as potent as the Patriots’, the Falcons continue to dominate the offensive stats. Atlanta is 1st in scoring, 2nd in total yards, 3rd in passing yards, and 5th in rushing yards. You can tell why this team is first in scoring: the Falcons are T-2nd in passing TDs and T-3rd in rushing TDs. They’re also borderline top-10 on third down (and Ryan has been absolutely amazing on third down in the postseason) and are one of the most protective of the ball (+11 TO margin, T-4th).
Though Atlanta bests them in most stats, New England’s offense is very good as well. They’re top-10 in virtually every offensive stat. The Patriots are 3rd in scoring, 4th in total yards, 4th in passing yards, and 7th in rushing yards. New England is also potent on third downs (46%, 4th) and are incredibly good at taking care of the football (+12 TO margin, 3rd). In short, they’re a balanced offense capable of attacking a defense in many different ways.
Total Points/game: Falcons 25.4 (27th), Patriots 15.6 (1st)
Total Yards/game: Falcons 371.2 (25th), Patriots 326.4 (8th)
Passing Yards/game: Falcons 266.7 (28th), Patriots 237.9 (12th)
Passing TDs: Falcons 31 (28th), Patriots 21 (T-8th)
Rushing Yards/game: Falcons 104.5 (17th), Patriots 88.6 (T-3rd)
Rushing TDs: Falcons 15 (T-18th), Patriots 6 (1st)
Third Down Efficiency: Falcons 42% (26th), Patriots 37% (7th)
Sacks: Falcons 34 (T-16th), Patriots 34 (T-16th)
The Falcons defense, while looking a great deal better in the playoffs, has still had a lackluster season overall. They’re 27th in scoring, 25th in yards, and 28th in passing yards. Atlanta also tends to give up a lot of third downs (42%, 26th). Where they’ve been better is against the run (17th in yards, T-18th in TDs) and in generating sacks (34, T-16th).
New England’s defense has been very good statistically this year. They’re the top-ranked scoring defense, which is no small feat. The Patriots are also 8th in total yards, 12th in passing yards, and T-8th in passing TDs. Where they’ve really excelled is against the run: they’re T-3rd in yards and 1st in TDs (only 6 allowed this season). New England’s weakest link is it’s pass rush, which is T-16th in sacks with 34 (the same number as Atlanta).
If you only looked at the raw numbers, you would probably think that New England has the best shot at winning this game because they possess a very good offense and defense. While it’s true that the Patriots are a very well-rounded team that has played good football this season, they haven’t been great.
To illustrate this point, we’ll look into the actual differences between the Atlanta and New England offenses. This is a similar argument to the one I made during the Green Bay Stats Preview.
The Falcons and Patriots are 1st and 3rd, respectively, in points scored. On it’s face, that doesn’t seem like a huge difference. Except, it is, if you’re scoring a historic number of points. The Falcons averaged 33.8 points/game compared to the Patriots 27.6 points/game. That’s a difference of 6.2, which works out to essentially a TD per game. Think about it: that’s approximately 16 more TDs over the course of a season, and Atlanta’s offense has been even more potent in the playoffs.
Another stat where this type of significant difference is apparent is in total yards. The Falcons and Patriots were 2nd and 4th, respectively, in total yards. But the actual difference between the two teams works out to be 29.6 yards/game. That doesn’t necessarily seem like a huge gulf, but over sixteen games that works out to be 473.6 yards. That’s more than one entire game’s worth of yards.
The point I’m trying to make is that Atlanta’s offense is not like any other offense in the NFL this year. If you haven’t played the Falcons, then you really haven’t played an offense like the Falcons. New England’s defense is good, and performed as well as you’d expect against a cupcake schedule of offenses. By cupcake, I mean that the Patriots played only two top-15 QBs in passer rating during the regular season (Russell Wilson, and Matt Moore).
I believe the Patriots defense is good. But the thing about good defenses is that they can still get exposed against elite offenses, which the Falcons most certainly are. No, it won’t be the 44-point thrashing that Atlanta put on the Packers, but the Falcons are too much for anything outside of an elite defense to handle.
Still, the numbers don’t clearly give an advantage to one team or the other. So, I’m calling it a push based on the statistics.
Overall Advantage: Push
What are your thoughts on the game? Do you view the Patriots as a defense capable of shutting down the Falcons’ historic offense? Is the Falcons’ defense capable of slowing down a very good Patriots’ offense?