January 25, 2017
By Justin Lasher
It is safe to say that with just eleven days before Super Bowl LI, nobody is surprised that the AFC representatives hail from New England. New England has been the odds on favorite, not only to be in the Super Bowl, but to win it, for almost a year now. Deflategate suspension or no Deflategate suspension, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the rest of the New England Patriots were picked by most to be the 2017 Super Bowl Champions. In a March 16, 2016 article, CBSSports told us that at that time The Patriots had 15-2 odds of being Super Bowl LI winners. They had the best odds at that point, and not much changed with how they played during the season to change that thought.
New England started the season without Tom Brady for their first four games. They simply, and rather easily, went 3-1 during that stretch. No problem. With Brady back leading this team, they went 11-1 the rest of the way to finish the regular season with the league’s best record at 14-2. They have cruised in their first two postseason games, easily earning themselves a spot in Houston.
To say that New England has made things look easy in route to Super Bowl LI wouuld be a vast understatement. The Patriots outscored their opponents during the regular season 444-250. In games against Houston and Pittsburgh in the playoffs, they have an average margin of victory of 18.5 points. The Patriots enter Super Bowl LI riding a nine game winning streak.
There are several reasons behind why New England has had such a high level of success this season, and why they find themselves playing for yet another Super Bowl title. I listed each reason in our poll question of the day earlier, Single Largest Impact on New England’s Super Bowl Run?
One of the main reasons of New England’s success is that they have the best head coach in the game captaining the ship in Bill Belichick. Belichick continues to outcoach his opponents, with his superior game planning, play calling, and if you subscribe to the theory, cheating. Belichick is the best in the game in doing more with less. If you told me that The Patriots would go 14-2 with Brady missing four games and Gronk being largely absent and a non-factor, I would have laughed at you. Belichick has created the ultimate plug and play and continue to win organization.
One of the main differences this year for New England compared to recent years success is their team defense. The Patriots finished the regular season eighth in total defense, their highest ranking since 2013, when they finished seventh. They were able to stuff the run consistently and prevent their opponents from scoring many points. This defense had one shutout and held two other opponents to three points. They played spectacular so far this year, can they find a way to stop one of the league’s best offenses, in Atlanta?
Helping balance The Patriot offense this season has been the resurgence of being able to run the football effectively. New England averaged 117 yards rushing per game during the regular season, their most since 2013. LeGarrette Blount had a career year, with 1161 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns. Being able to run the football has only made a scary offense that much more intimidating.
Many will say that The Patriots had a easy ride to their #1 seed in the AFC and Super Bowl birth due to the fact that they play in a weak AFC Conference. Looking at the pure numbers, it is hard to argue that statement. The nine AFC opponents New England played this season combined for a 66-77 record, and only four of the nine had an above .500 record.
The final reason The Patriots find themselves in Houston playing in the Super Bowl is none other than Tom Brady. Brady played absolutely out of his mind in the twelve games he played during the regular season. Brady only threw two interceptions during these games and had a total quarterback rating of 112.2.
When you combine all of these impacts, you are staring at a very scary football team. New England is by far the most intimidating, machine-like, team I have ever seen. It will be anything short of a miracle for Atlanta to be able to defeat The Patriots on February 5, 2017.