Will it be the Patriots’ experience? Or the Falcons’ firepower? Our staffers make their picks for Super Bowl 51, which has makings of a classic
PETER KING: I wonder what Matt Ryan and the other deserving Super Bowl rookies will be feeling in the tunnel in the moments before kickoff. Troy Aikman, the picture of cool, told me he was hyperventilating waiting to go out for his first Super Bowl appearance. No idea how Ryan will feel, but I do know it’s fruitless to ask him now. He and his Super Bowl rookie teammates won’t know till 6:32 p.m. ET at NRG Stadium. As for the game: Bill Belichick’s going to do something—early—to confound a team that doesn’t see the New England defense often. I have no idea what it’ll be. But the Falcons have scored on eight straight first possessions, and my bet is that streak ends in Super Bowl 51. As for the other side of the ball, Belichick has done a good job conserving Dion Lewis all season for just a moment like this. My hunch is Lewis is a big factor in this game. Atlanta could win and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit. But I’m betting on experience and a 39-year-old quarterback with a 33-to-4 touchdown-to-interception differential.
Patriots 27, Falcons 23
ALBERT BREER: A lot of times we have that dynamic in the Super Bowl where we think it’s going to be one thing and it becomes the other. This time I think this is going to be exactly what we think it is. The Atlanta offense will be able to go up and down the field on that New England defense, because I trust in Shanahan’s ability to adjust on the fly. But I don’t trust that young Falcons defense yet. I don’t think they’re going to get the stops they need to get in the fourth quarter. And Tom Brady wins his fourth Super Bowl MVP.
Patriots 34, Falcons 31
JENNY VRENTAS: The Falcons have one of the most explosive, and deepest, offenses we’ve seen in recent memory. Their speed is a huge threat to the Patriots defense, especially if they spread them out with three wides and both of their versatile RBs in the backfield. But I just can’t pick against the Patriots’ experience. Belichick and Brady have been here six times before and know how to handle everything, right down to the longer halftime cooling off period. Look for the Patriots to put Malcolm Butler on Mohamed Sanu one-on-one and double Julio Jones all game long and slow that Atlanta offense; on offense, Tom Brady will be ready to expose any small mistake by a young Falcons D.
Patriots 31, Falcons 27
ROBERT KLEMKO: Too many weapons. It’s so difficult to pick against a Belichick-coached team but these Patriots haven’t faced an offense with this many viable options in some time. This pick is contingent on Atlanta scoring early and maintaining a lead with its run game. If the Patriots can score in the first quarter - something they’ve failed to do in each of their six trips to the Super Bowl - all bets are off.
Falcons 34, Patriots 31
ANDY BENOIT: These are two prolific offenses going up against bend-but-don’t-break defenses. That means the scoring drives will be long, which keeps the final score a little lower. This could very well be a “whoever has the ball last”-type game. The Falcons, I believe, are the more dangerous and explosive all-around team, but let’s not forget: The Patriots, who have a great quick-strike passing game, were also third in rushing this season and led the league in 30-plus-yard completions. They can beat you in a lot of ways, too.
Falcons 31, Patriots 28
EMILY KAPLAN: It’s well-worn but true: To beat the Patriots, you need to pressure Tom Brady. I’m confident the Falcons, led by Vic Beasley, can sustain enough of a pass-rush to disrupt New England’s quarterback. The key to this game is which defense can do enough to slow the other offense. The Falcons aren’t going to shut the Patriots’ offense down, and I’m not sure anyone can interfere with Atlanta’s firepower. When Kyle Shanahan’s crew is in rhythm—remember, their even-handed rushing attack is as impressive as anything Matt Ryan and Julio Jones can do—they are without equal.
Falcons 31, Patriots 24
TIM ROHAN: Give Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia two weeks to prepare for a game, and they can figure out any team, even the Falcons, who have one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history. Give Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels two weeks to prepare for a game, and they’ll find ways to exploit the Falcons’ young defense. Experience wins out this time. Brady wins his fifth title and stares down Goodell as he cradles the trophy.
Patriots, 35, Falcons 28
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