On Sunday, the New England Patriots will face the Atlanta Falcons in what could go down as a Super Bowl for the ages. Bill Belichick’s side are hunting a fifth ring whilst the Falcons are yet to taste victory in the NFL’s showpiece event.
Last week, I took a look at five reasons why both the Patriots and the Falcons are capable of lifting the Vince Lombardi Trophy on the biggest stage of all. Now, I’ve considered five key matchups that could determine the outcome on Sunday’s contest...
Julio Jones vs Malcolm Butler
Falcons receiver Julio Jones is a real threat and he will be relishing the opportunity to go up against Patriots fan favourite Malcolm Butler at cornerback. Whilst Jones can’t be stopped completely, Butler is certainly capable of limiting his impact.
The New England man was the hero in their Super Bowl win two years ago after his last-gasp interception all but ended Seattle’s hopes of a late comeback. Butler will only enhance his popularity with Patriots fans if he keeps Jones quiet in this clash.
Jones, currently 81/100 to record seven or more catches, torched the Green Bay Packers last weekend but the Patriots are on another level. The Falcons man will have his moments but ‘the Butler’ will be confident of shutting Jones down to an extent...
Kyle Shanahan vs Matt Patricia
This is the sixth Super Bowl to feature both the number one ranked offense and the number one ranked defence – and it would be fair to suggest that the statistical omens are on New England’s side here.
Defence has emerged victorious in four of the five previous encounters; and many will believe that Matt Patricia has the beating of Kyle Shanahan when it comes to scheme, system and play-calling.
Shanahan has the talent but Patricia’s hybrid-style defensive unit are forcing errors and making big, game-changing plays all over the field. If Atlanta go behind, Shanahan’s true coaching skills will be put to the test...
Vic Beasley vs New England’s Offensive Line
The Falcons All-Pro linebacker Vic Beasley led the NFL with 15.5 sacks during the regular season and the likes of Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon and Joe Thuney will need to be at their best to prevent Beasley from hitting quarterback Tom Brady.
In 2015, Atlanta selected Beasley with the eighth overall pick in the NFL Draft but almost cut the 24-year-old at the end of last season. Quinn opted to give Beasley another chance to prove his worth on the big stage and he has matured into a dominant defensive star.
As of February 1st, Beasley is priced at 3/1 with 888Sport to record the first sack of the game on Sunday night and you wouldn’t bet against it. The Falcons man will be out to prove his critics wrong...
Jake Matthews vs Trey Flowers
Matthews will be given the difficult task of stopping Trey Flowers; arguably the best pass-rusher on the New England roster. The 2015 first-rounder struggled to make a positive impact last year but has offered much better pass protection this time around.
However, Atlanta have still given up a decent number of sacks this year – with their tally of 37 ranking second worst among postseason teams. Flowers, who was drafted in the fourth round in the same year, has matured into a competent option at the position in recent months.
The Patriots man leads the team with seven sacks this season and he may well get the chance to go one-on-one with Matthews on Sunday night. With individual battles across the offensive and defensive line, Flowers could be key to New England’s hopes...
Matt Ryan vs Tom Brady
Last but not least, the battle of the quarterbacks. Ultimately, this is where Super Bowl’s are won and lost; and neutrals will be excited to see the two best signal callers in the NFL going up against each other.
Ryan, who led the league with a 117.1 passer rating, is the first quarterback in NHL history to head into the Super Bowl with a losing playoff record. Meanwhile, Brady is one of the most successful players in postseason history; winning four Super Bowl titles and six AFC Championship games.
Atlanta have the stars but New England have the scheme and Brady’s experience could be telling come game day. Ryan looks relaxed and composed right now but we are yet to see whether the Falcons man can produce on the biggest stage of all...