It doesn’t seem that long ago that all 32 NFL teams were kicking off the season in September. Now, the final two standing heading to Super Bowl LI are the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons.
For the Falcons, this is a journey the team has not experienced since 1998. But quarterback Matt Ryan led an offense that scored a league-high 33.8 on average per game. Ultimately, it defeated the Green Bay Packers by a staggering 23 points, something not many would have predicted.
The Patriots also diligently made their way to the final matchup. Notably, this was accomplished with tight end Rob Gronkowski present in only eight games and quarterback Tom Brady suspended for the first four.
By Sunday evening, fans will have witnessed some great commercials, awesome plays and a super-star halftime show by Lady Gaga. We will also have a new champion to crown.
But first, we will share our list of bold predictions for Sunday’s big game, some of which might come true.
1. The word “Deflategate” is never mentioned
Say what? The New England Patriots are proudly participating in Super Bowl LI after playing without starting quarterback Tom Brady for the first four games. Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett combined for a 3-1 record during this period.
This is a pretty big deal. Brady’s suspension was for his alleged role in the “Deflategate” scandal that began in 2015. But so much for any other AFC East team being able to take advantage of a Brady-less Pats team four weeks. New England still found itself at the top in the NFC. And now, Brady will be playing for his fifth Lombardi.
So, who are the announcers to bring up a scandalous event that virtually had no negative impact on the Patriots’ success this season? We are going to say nobody. Perhaps the word “suspension” comes up by a sideline or booth announcer. But, why throw out the “gate” word and cast a cloud of negativity on the rest of the Patriots team? “Deflategate” is so January 2015.
As such, it would appear that even the commissioner is ready to let it go.
Roger Goodell said on deflategate, "We're moving on from that. It's part of our history, but we're confident in the process." No regrets
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 1, 2017
2. After no score on the opening drive, Tevin Coleman puts first points on the board
Super Bowls have a sneaky way of rattling the nerves of the participants. This could lead to the Falcons going three and out on their opening drive. But assuming they find their groove by the next drive, they could inch into scoring territory. This is when we could see second-year running back Tevin Coleman do his thing.
During the regular season, Coleman carried the ball only 118 times compared to the 227 totes that fellow back Devonta Freeman had. Freeman was the workhorse and scored 11 rushing touchdowns. But special plays brought Coleman into the lineup, ultimately leading to him rushing for eight scores.
Coleman is the larger of the backs, and the Falcons leaning on him in critical third down situational plays makes sense. He could feasibly be the first player to score in Sunday’s big game.
3. Julian Edelman will lead all receivers in yards
In the AFC Championship Game, wide receiver Chris Hogan stole the show. Brady targeted Hogan 12 times compared to the 10 passes he attempted to Edelman. As a result, Hogan hauled in a Patriots playoff record 180 yards, including two touchdowns (watch here and here).
On the Falcons’ side of things, Julio Jones had an identical performance to Hogan’s in the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers. It was quite amazing to watch Jones in action, slicing and dicing the threadbare Packers’ secondary (watch here).
This likely won’t be the case again for Jones or any of the other Falcons receivers against the Patriots. Jones especially might find it tight to break free with cornerback Malcolm Butler hovering around.
Therefore, we predict Edelman will tally the most receiving yards. Brady is going to find ways to get the ball to his favorite playmaker against a defense that ceded 280.9 receiving yards and a staggering 26.4 catches per game in 2016.
4. Vic Beasley forces a fumble, returns it for a touchdown
Beasley really broke out in his sophomore NFL season. He was a quarterback’s worst nightmare, leading the league with 15.5 sacks. Beasley also tied for a league-high six forced fumbles with one returned for a touchdown.
— DBN Fanatics (@DBN_Fanatics) January 3, 2017
Why not go for an encore? Surely Beasley could knock the ball loose as he takes out Brady on a sweet sack. Maybe Beasley pressures LeGarrette Blount or Dion Lewis into a fumble.
It seems like this task for Beasley should be simple, but we must keep in mind the Patriots never gave up a single defensive touchdown in all of 2016.
5. Lady Gaga opens her half-time act with “Poker Face”
Lady Gaga was absolutely brilliant when she performed the “National Anthem” in last year’s Super Bowl. So much so, that she received the honor and privilege of performing at this year’s halftime show.
It should be an incredible show, one that possibly sees her performing on the rooftop of NRG Stadium in Houston. But, what song will Lady Gaga open up her act with? According to Sports Betting Dime, these are the odds on what she sings on Sunday.
- Bad Romance: 1/1
- Born This Way: 13/2
- Edge of Glory: 10/1
- Poker Face: 22/1
- Paparazzi: 30/1
- Million Reasons: 40/1
- Field: 4/1
We are going for a mid-tier long shot and predicting she will open with “Poker Face.” That hit song spent 40 weeks on the Billboard chart after it debuted in April of 2009. It is one of her most popular tunes.
As halftime shows go, Gaga will likely only have enough stage (or roof) time to sing a small handful of songs. Here’s to hoping our “Poker Face” call hits when her show begins.
6. Dion Lewis takes it to the bank for another return score
The Patriots having a winning record (per ESPN) in all games Lewis has been active in the past two years. So, we can probably guess that head coach Bill Belichick has plans to utilize Lewis on certain plays and on special teams with a fifth Super Bowl victory on the line.
Lewis had only two kick returns during the regular 2016 season and managed one 23-yard long dash. But, he recently got our attention when his wheels went to town against the Houston Texans in the divisional playoffs. In that game, Lewis returned the ball three times for a total of 124 yards. He also almost literally left the Texans in the dust on this 98-yard touchdown (watch here).
Could Lewis deliver a repeat performance against Atlanta? We are going to say yes based on his recent accomplishment.
7. Matt Ryan and Tom Brady combine for only five touchdowns
We have covered both teams scoring either by way of running back, special teams and defense. So where does this leave Ryan and Brady as far as passing for touchdowns?
First of all, Ryan has been on fire in his past three games. During that span, he scored a total of 12 touchdowns, including a rushing score against Green Bay. We don’t envision another score on the ground considering he only did that once all season.
Plus, he could easily catch a case of the jitters under the spotlight of the Super Bowl. Remember, prior to this year, Ryan himself had melted under the pressure of the playoffs.
Ryan will be facing a New England defense that allowed only one passing touchdown to Ben Roethlisberger in the AFC Championship Game.
Meanwhile, Brady every now and then, has those head-scratching games when he struggles to score through the air. He also threw two interceptions against the Houston Texans just two matchups ago.
This game could be high-scoring, but the quarterback touchdowns won’t be the highlight of the show.
8. Neither head coach throws a challenge flag
This is a bold call considering there could be some questionable plays when a score is on the line. Were a players toes in before he fell out of bounds? Did the running back get the ball across the end zone before his knee hit the ground? Certainly, plays such as this could take place.
We definitely saw a lot of red coach’s flags sail on to the field during the 2016 regular season.
But surprisingly enough, over the past 10 Super Bowls, an average of only 1.4 coaches challenges have come about per title game. And, per this report, both head coaches Dan Quinn and Bill Belichick had a total of only four challenges all season.
— Kevin Seifert (@SeifertESPN) January 5, 2017
It goes against the grain, but it would be interesting if no red flags were thrown and all the plays looked clean.
9. The game-winning score comes via a Hail Mary
We are predicting only five quarterback touchdowns are scored all game long. But that does not mean that one couldn’t end up as a Haily Mary with the game on the line.
We are discussing two of the league’s most accurate passers after all. Ryan was on point all season, completing 69.9 percent of his passes. For his part, Brady nailed 67.4 percent of his attempts.
Surely, one of these quarterbacks could pull off a game-winning score in the end zone. Just imagine the 6-foot-4 Jones, or 6-foot-7 tight end Martellus Bennett nabbing such a catch.
10. A non-quarterback is named Super Bowl MVP
This leads us to our final bold prediction of Super Bowl LI. The odds support a quarterback winning MVP because that is easily the route to predict. Brady’s odds are an even at 1-to-1 and Ryan’s sit at 9-to-5.
Both quarterbacks are playing for the title because they have been darn good all season and during the postseason. But, there are so many other amazing playmakers here to consider. Jones for one, could be named MVP, providing the Falcons defeat New England. He was the top-rated wideout in the regular 2016 season according to Pro Football Focus. Perhaps, Beasley shines and he wins. Last year’s Super Bowl saw linebacker Von Miller be named MVP.
On the Patriots’ side, Edelman or Bount are good candidates. Heck, how amazing would it be to see Malcolm Butler officially win the MVP this time around? Butler made the game-changing play when he intercepted Russell Wilson just two years ago. As a result, Butler wound up with the MVP prize truck that was supposed to have gone to Brady.
*All odds referenced come via Sports Betting Dime.