The matchup for Super Bowl LI has been set as the AFC and NFC crowned their conference champions last weekend. The New England Patriots, who were favored to win it all wire-to-wire this season, will take on the Atlanta Falcons, who were at one point 75/1 to win the Super Bowl.
New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons
Odds: Patriots -3
In the AFC title game, Tom Brady had a huge day for the Patriots in a 36-17 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at home, going 32-of-42 for 384 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those went to Chris Hogan, who had nine catches for 180 yards for the Patriots in a career night. As a team, the Patriots had no turnovers while forcing two out of the Steelers.
Meanwhile, the Falcons ended the NFC title game by halftime as they went in to the locker room with a 24-0 lead over Green Bay. They did not let up in a 44-21 trouncing of the Packers at their last game at the Georgia Dome. Matt Ryan had an MVP-type performance, going 27-of-38 for 392 yards and four touchdowns and he even ran for a score. More surprisingly, the Falcons held Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense in check and forced a pair of turnovers.
New England opened up as a 3-point favorite for the Super Bowl, and you have to think it is because of their history. The Patriots are in the Super Bowl for the ninth time overall and seventh time for Brady and head coach Bill Belichick. The Falcons are in the Super Bowl for the second time and it is the first time for Ryan. Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn is in his first Super Bowl as the man in charge, but he was the defensive coordinator behind Seattle's back-to-back Super Bowl trips in 2014 and 2015.
Not only are the Patriots favored because they had the better record and are the bigger brand name, but they have far more experience.
The Patriots are 4-1 SU and ATS in their last five meetings with the Falcons, the last of which came in September 2013. While the Patriots are mostly the same team since then, the Falcons are a different group. Looking to this season (just regular season), the Patriots are 13-3 ATS overall, 12-3 ATS as the favorite, and they have a 6-9-1 record for the over/under. The Falcons were 10-6 ATS during the regular season, 5-1 ATS as an underdog and they were 14-2 in the over/under. Both teams have also won and covered in both of their playoff games so far, and both teams did that at home.
The Patriots and Falcons seemed to come out of their conference title games unscathed in terms of health, so recent injuries should not be much of a factor. Hogan and Falcons star wideout Julio Jones both were deemed to be banged up heading into the conference championship games but neither showed any ill effects. With two weeks to rest, both should be fresh. However, it is worth noting that the Patriots are without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is out for the season. Of course, he's been out a while but the job of the Falcons' defense will be much easier with him sidelined.
Look for the spotlight to be on the quarterbacks as Brady aims for his fifth ring, which would strengthen his claim to be the best of all time. Meanwhile, Ryan is the probable season MVP (because Brady missed the first four games due to suspension), and would love to cap his impressive season with a Super Bowl ring.