1 Is Super Bowl LI Tom Brady’s revenge?
There’s no doubt the New England Patriots quarterback was on something of a mission when he returned from an NFL mandated four-game suspension rooted in the 2015 Deflategate drama. Brady, careful not to reveal too much about the Patriots or himself, would say things like “I want to prove myself.” And folks would read that as meaning he wanted to prove he is every bit the player after the scandal as before. The Brady family believes Deflategate was a “witch hunt,” because that’s what Tom Brady Sr. told a San Francisco TV station. “He got suspended because the court said that he could — Roger Goodell could do anything he wanted to do to any player for any reason whatsoever,” Brady Sr. said. “That’s what happened. The NFL admitted they had no evidence on him.” Brady has sidestepped the idea that he is mad at the NFL or commissioner Goodell. But would it be sweet revenge for him to have Goodell acknowledge him as a Super Bowl champion again if the Patriots win? Anyone who understands what a competitor Brady is understands it would be.
2 Is it true defense wins championships?
The Atlanta Falcons have the NFL’s highest scoring offense while the New England Patriots allowed the fewest points of any NFL team. That begs the question not whether the Patriots can keep pace with the Falcons but whether the New England defense can contain the Falcons offense. Given that Pats coach Bill Belichick has made his reputation stifling such great offense such as Buffalo’s in the early 1990s and St. Louis in the early 2000s to win Super Bowls, it raises the real possibility that it truly is superior defense that will determine this outcome. And, by the way, if you believe that means the Patriots have the advantage, understand that Atlanta coach Dan Quinn won a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks as their defensive coordinator. And in that win, Seattle shut down a record-breaking Denver offense.
3 Who is the most dominant offensive player in this game?
Any Super Bowl that includes Tom Brady seems like a stage for the New England Patriots quarterback. After all, he’s won three Super Bowl MVP awards. But guess what? The most dominant offensive player in this game just might be Atlanta’s Julio Jones. How dominant is Jones? He’s on a path to being better than Jerry Rice, who is perhaps the best wide receiver of all time In his first 76 NFL games, Rice, the NFL’s all-time leader in pass receptions, caught 346 passes for 6,284 yards. In Jones’ first 76 games, he caught 486 passes for 7,454 yards. “Julio could catch a snowflake in a wind tunnel,” said Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. The Patriots will cover Jones with Malcolm Butler, who was the hero of Super Bowl 49 when he intercepted a last-second Russell Wilson pass to seal a New England victory. Butler was a Pro Bowl player in 2015. He’s really good. The Patriots better help him against Jones, anyway. Because Julio Jones is better than any receiver Butler’s ever seen. Jones might be the best ever.
4 Is this the greatest quarterback matchup in the Super Bowl?
Well, there have been some great ones. Troy Aikman against Jim Kelly. Ben Roethlisberger versus Aaron Rodgers. Joe Montana against John Elway. Terry Bradshaw against Roger Staubach and Bart Starr against Len Dawson was up there, too. But in terms of sheer statistics, this one is hard to rival. Matt Ryan this season posted otherworldly numbers — including 4,944 passing yards, 38 TDs and only seven INTs. Tom Brady, meanwhile, set the NFL record for fewest interceptions in a season and established an NFL best TD-to-INT ratio when he threw 28 TDs to only two interceptions. So this one has the potential to start fires if both quarterbacks get hot. Of course, both have to play well. Folks in Miami are aware great QB matches can sometimes fail to meet the pregame hype — witness Dan Marino versus Joe Montana once upon a time.
5 So who is going to win?
Let’s see ... the Falcons are more explosive and something like 70 percent of the country wants them to win because they’re new and not controversial, and we don’t know that they’ve ever cheated. Also, their coach doesn’t grunt or growl answers to the media during news conferences. And having said all this ... I pick the Patriots. They’re more complete. Darth Vader, I mean, Bill Belichick is as good as anyone in preparing a team to win one game. And I love Tom Brady’s competitiveness. Matt Ryan is competitive, but he’s a nice competitiveness. Brady is a step-on-your-neck competitive. I like that. I respect that. Patriots 33, Falcons 28.