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William Karmin, North Shore Country Day

Kurt Warner, Eli and Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson. What do all of these quarterbacks have in common? All of them are elite quarterbacks Tom Brady has faced off against in the AFC Championship or the Super Bowl. Add another to the list: Matt Ryan. Many of our fellow football fanatics were hoping to see Aaron Rodgers appear on the big stage versus Tom Brady. Rodgers is widely considered among the elite quarterbacks in the NFL and has yet to play Brady in a Super Bowl. Since Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons demoralized the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship, we are left wondering if they can do the same to Brady, Belichick and the New England Patriots.

The Atlanta Falcons entered this season with 150-1 odds to win the Super Bowl, according to William Hill. The Falcons season has been a true Cinderella story. Coming into the season, spectators expected the Falcons to have a good offense with one of the poorest defenses in the NFL. This was partially correct, but the Falcons offense came out this season on fire. Statistically, they finished with the second best total offense in the NFL. This group is led by quarterback Matt Ryan, who has cemented his status throughout the season as an elite NFL quarterback. Ryan has been so good that he had the highest QBR (Quarterback Rating) among all NFL quarterbacks this season. He has dynamic weapons to throw to as he has superstar receiver Julio Jones and a versatile running attack with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. On the other side of the ball is where the Falcons have question marks. The Falcons’ defense finished 25th statistically among NFL defenses, evidently showing that the offense has carried the Falcons to this point. However, the Falcons’ defense has risen to the challenge this postseason. The team ranks third among the 12 teams in the postseason. This success could be attributed to playing at home, where the Falcons’ fanbase carries the team to another level with the momentum of the stadium. So, playing this game in Houston could pose challenges since the team will not have total support from its fanbase. Look for the second-year outside linebacker and edge rusher Vic Beasley and rookie safety Keanu Neal to carry this Falcons’ defense in the Super Bowl.

The Patriots had a rough start to the season but have finished as strong as any competitor. They started the season without Tom Brady for four games because of the deflategate scandal. (Wouldn’t you love to see Roger Goodell hand Brady the Lombardi Trophy?) Even without Brady, New England went 3-1. Historically in the Brady- Belichick era, the Patriots are usually dominant on the offensive side of the ball with a mediocre defense. Interestingly, the Patriots have not only thrived on offense this season as the Patriots defense has been rock solid to say the least. Despite finishing 8th among defenses in the regular season, they managed to place first in points allowed per game among playoff teams in the postseason. Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia has done an admirable job with the Patriots’ defense given the amount of emphasis the Patriots place on putting together an offense with their roster structure through the draft, free agency and trades. Two of the Patriots star defenders, Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones, were traded last year for no value back for the defense. Regardless, the Patriots are led by quarterback Tom Brady and his uncanny ability to completely take over an NFL game by himself.

With all of the great championship games and series we witnessed in 2016 and so far in 2017 (Villanova vs UNC, Warriors vs Cavaliers, Cubs vs Indians, Alabama vs Clemson) we can only hope this one is as good as the rest. The Falcons run a very complicated zone defense, and that is good news for Tom Brady. Brady plays his best football when going against a zone. He is significantly better when playing against a zone coverage as opposed to a man coverage. Look for Brady to pick apart and exploit the Falcons’ defense.

Prediction: Patriots 31, Falcons 20

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