Author’s note: This article was written prior to this year’s Super Bowl. Since the conclusion of the game, I have edited the article to include the results. The structure of the article begins with my predictions at the start of each heading and ends with a section that will explain what actually happened in the game with regards to what was discussed.
February 5th marks the date of this this year’s Super Bowl matchup between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons. Whether you are going to watch the game for the witty commercials, or the much anticipated Lady Gaga halftime show, it is worthwhile for anyone to understand why statistically the Patriots have a greater chance of winning than the Falcons.
The Patriots represent the AFC with a 14-2 record. The Falcons represent the NFC with an 11-5 record. Both teams have high fire power offenses with exemplary quarterbacks; Tom Brady (Patriots) and Matt Ryan (Falcons). Although Matt Ryan helms the #1 ranked offense, Tom Brady helms the #2 ranked offense and has much more experience in the big game having been to six Super Bowls already, four of which he has won. Matt Ryan has been to zero. Undoubtedly, though, the game will come down to the stronger defense since both of these offenses have the ability to score touchdowns. On the defensive side of the ball the Patriots are ranked #1 in the league, whereas the Falcons are ranked #27. The Patriot’s defense led by stars like linebacker Dont’a Hightower and cornerback Malcolm Butler have a statistical probability of holding the Falcons to less points than they will hold them to. The teams both have a sizable number of stars on both sides of the ball, but the Patriots experienced high power offense and shut down defense have a greater statistical chance of winning than the Falcons.
1. History Favors the #1 Defense
The old saying goes that defense wins championships, and this has most certainly held true in Super Bowl history. The Patriot’s enter the game as the #1 ranked defense and the Falcons the #1 ranked offense. This Super Bowl matchup will be the sixth time in history that the #1 offense and #1 defense face-off. In the years 2013, 1990, 1984, and 1978 the #1 ranked defenses won super bowls against #1 ranked offenses. The winners were the Seahawks, Giants, Broncos, and Steelers respectively. The only time the #1 ranked defense did not conquer the #1 ranked offense was in the 1989 Super Bowl between the 49ers and the Broncos. It is important to add that the 49ers’ quarterback in this game was Joe Montana, who is considered to be one of the best of all time. The Patriots certainly have the defense to uphold this historic trend.
What actually happened: The Patriot’s defense was porous in the first half letting up 21 points. In the second half, though, the defense only gave up 7 points. This allowed Brady and his offense to regroup and pull off an amazing come back to win the game in overtime. Below is the box score.
2. Overall Efficiency
ESPN has a statistic that calculates a team’s over efficiency. This measures a team’s per-play contribution to the scoring margin. So basically it determines how well the team works as a whole. The Patriots overall efficiency is 77.2, 7.6 metrics higher than the Falcons. This is also the #1 rating in the league. More convincingly, the Patriots overall defensive efficiency is 15 rankings higher than the Falcons. The Patriot’s at 59.5 metric defensive efficiency to the Falcon’s 44.7 metric defensive efficiency. As a whole, the Patriots’ defense is more efficient at preventing touchdowns than the Falcons are. This further indicates that the Patriots combination of a lethal offense and a brick wall defense will allow them to win this game.
What actually happened: In the first half the Patriots did not work well as a unit at all. The offense only scored 3 points and the defense let up 21 points. In the second half, though, the Patriots came out an entirely revived team. The offense started to play like they did all season scoring 31 points and the defense held the Falcon’s to only 7 points.
3. Quarterback Experience and Rating
Although Matt Ryan has had an exemplary season, nothing can match Tom Brady’s experience and success in Super Bowls. In all the seasons he has been a starter he has made it to the Super Bowl 47% of the time. The six times he has been he has won four of them. He is currently tied with two of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks, Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw, for the most Super Bowl wins. Brady’s phenomenal talent is huge concern for the Falcons. The Falcons’ defense only rushes the QB 24.9% of the time (sixth-lowest in the league). This will allow Brady more than enough time to get the ball off considering his average time from snap (the beginning of the play) to throw is only 2.39 seconds. Brady also has a wide selection of well renowned receivers to throw to. He has some of the best chemistry in the league with his wide receivers and it will certainly be hard for the Falcons’ to maintain consistently good coverage on such expertise.
What actually happened: In the first half Brady had a poor performance, which has been rarely seen in his entire career. Brady could not connect for any touchdowns in the first half. This did not throw Brady off of his game though considering all seven of his Super Bowl ended with a scoreless first quarter. Ryan, on the other hand, had a stellar performance the first half, but that quickly faded in the second. Below are the statistics from the two quarterbacks.
4. New Star Player
From being cut by the Miami Dolphins and being traded by the Buffalo Bills, Chis Hogan finally has a place to call home in New England, and he is taking full advantage of his opportunity. In the AFC championship game against the Steelers Hogan had 180 receiving yards, two touchdowns, and nine catches. This is nearly identical to Julio Jones’, the star Falcons’ receiver of six seasons, performance against the Packers. In addition to the young Hogan’s incredible performance against the Steelers, he was also a threat a week earlier against the Texans with a 95-yard outing. Having Hogan puts the Falcons defense on their heels because they now have to worry about yet another star receiver. The other wide receiver threats from the Patriots include veterans Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.
What actually happened: Hogan did not have as stellar of a performance as he did in the beginning of the playoffs. He had four receptions for 57 yards. In fact, only one of the Patriot’s true receivers had a touchdown and that was Amendola. Unsung hero James White, a running back, had the other receiving touchdown. Below are the receiving statistics from the game.
5. The Run Game
The Patriots have a very strong run game with running backs LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis, and James White. Blount capped 18 rushing touchdowns this year, the highest in the NFL. This is a huge caution for the Falcons’ defense who has allowed an average of 4.54 yards per carry, the seventh-highest yards per carry in the NFL. If we flip the field and the Patriots are on defense, the Falcons are still statistically behind them. On 400 attempts, the Patriots run defense allowed only three 20-plus rushing yards and just six rushing touchdowns. This could be disastrous for the Falcons because they already have to focus on such a strong Patriots’ pass game.
What actually happened: Blount and Lewis did not have stand out performances. This was surprising for Blount since he has been their go to running back for the entire season. Instead it was White who had the stellar performance. In addition to his receiving touchdown, White had two touchdowns on the ground, one of which was the overtime winner. He tied the most touchdowns scored in Super Bowl history. Below are the statistics of the running backs.
The Patriots will win this game because of several key factors. They have the #1 ranked defense and the #2 ranked offense in the league. This will bode well against the Falcons’ #27 ranked defense since the experienced Brady and company will be able to put up a lot of points while holding the Falcons’ offense to a minimum. In addition, the Patriots’ depth will make it very difficult for the Falcons to match up on defense. The Patriots’ depth comes primarily in the backfield and at the wide receiver positions with the addition of Chris Hogan. To bring more concern to the table for the Falcons, it has been historically proven that the Super Bowl favors the #1 defense.
Post-game conclusion: A scoreless first quarter was a surprise. Nonetheless this was not a scare for Brady and the Patriot’s coaching staff who have experienced this in the organization’s last seven Super Bowls. Instead, big concern came for the Patriot’s in the second quarter when their #1 ranked defense gave up 21 points. The Patriots responded by allowing their overall efficiency to get back on track after halftime. Both the defense and the offense stepped up. Brady did what was predicted and had an amazing performance, which was supplemented by other outstanding performances by Amendola, White, and Edelman. The defense then did their job and held the Falcon’s to only 7 points like they were expected to do. This led to one of the most incredible comebacks and conclusions of any Super Bowl in history.