Super Bowl Preview: New England Patriots
It's Super Bowl Weekend, and the Sports Gazette is here to give you everything you need to know heading into the big game, starting with the AFC champions, the New England Patriots.
In a league system which encourages parity, and makes it almost impossible to consistently dominate, the New England Patriots led by mastermind Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, have dominated the sport for over a decade.
Tom Brady was selected with the 199th pick, in the 6th round of the 2000 NFL draft, replacing injured quarterback Drew Bledsoe at the start of the 2001 season.
Since that momentous turning point, the Patriots have made the playoffs on all but two occasions, one of which was the 2008 season when Brady went down injured, and have reached the Super Bowl a remarkable seven times.
To put that into perspective, the next closest teams are the Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants and the Seattle Seahawks, all of whom reached the Super bowl on three occasions since 2000.
Path To The Super Bowl
The Patriots season began mired in controversy, with Brady serving a four-game ban for the deflategate scandal from the previous season.
Things could have gone very differently for Bellichick's side, but the future hall-of-famer masterminded a 3-1 start with backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (and then third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett), before Brady returned to finish the season 14-2.
The season may be Bellichick's finest achievement yet, and a case can easily be made that he deserves the Coach of the Year award - an achievement he has only earned three times during his career.
The one question mark which may hinder that campaign, and casts a slight doubt over the Patriots season, is the strength of their schedule, which ranks as the easiest of all 32 teams.
During their 16 games, the Patriots only played five different teams with a winning record: the Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos and the Pittsburgh Steelers (who were without Ben Roethlisberger).
Nevertheless, the Patriots steamrolled their way into the playoffs with the best record in the NFL, and they didn't let up once they got there. On their way to the Super Bowl they defeated the Houston Texans (34-16) and the Steelers (36-17) by a combined 37 points to set-up the showdown with the Falcons.
Tom Brady (Quarterback)
The three-time Super Bowl MVP returned from his four-game suspension to put together one of his finest seasons yet. The Quarterback threw for 28 touchdowns and just two interceptions. If he hadn't been suspended, that puts him on pace for a season that looks like this: 4,739 yards, 37 touchdowns, 3 Interceptions and a 112 quarterback-rating. Not bad for a 39-year-old.
Chris Hogan (Wide Receiver)
Will the word "Lacrosse" be said on TV during live broadcast? Yes 1/3, No 2/1. That is a real bet that you can actually make on this year's super bowl and I'd advise you take the yes.
Hogan, a former Lacrosse player at Penn State, joined the Patriots this season after three years with the Buffalo Bills, starring in the AFC title game with nine catches, 180 yards and two touchdowns. His speed adds an extra dimension to an already potent Patriots air attack, and expect him to have a big game on Sunday against a vulnerable Falcons secondary.
Malcolm Butler (Cornerback)
Keep an eye on where 21 lines up on Sunday. How will the Patriots choose to negate the Falcons' potent offense? Will Belichick put him opposite Falcons star receiver Julio Jones? Will he try to neutralize the threat of speedster Taylor Gabriel? Or will he match up with the falcons number two receiveer, Mohammed Sanu?
No matter what Belichick decides to do, Butler, an undrafted free agent turned Super Bowl hero with the game-winning interception of Russell Wilson two years ago, is likely to have a a fundamental impact on how this game plays out.
- I'll just repeat this again: Tom Brady is 39 years old, and he still looks just as good as he did in his first few seasons. The age of last year's Super Bowl-winning QB Peyton Manning? 39.
- Brady could arguably seal his crown as the greatest quarterback to ever play the game this sunday. With a win, Brady would surpass all-time greats Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw, for most Super Bowl wins by a quarterback, becoming the first ever to earn five Super Bowl rings.
- How dominant have the Patriots been this season? During the regular season, they defeated their opponents by a combined 191 points, that's a ridiculous 12 poinst per game. The team with the next best record? The Atlanta Falcons, whose point differential is 4 points a game lower.
- The Patriots will be wearing white jerseys for Sunday's game. 11 of the last 12 Super Bowl's have been won by the team wearing white.
Prediction: Patriots 34, Falcons 24