Game Predictions & Player Projections - NE vs. ATL

David Dorey, @DMDorey

SUPER BOWL LI

Prediction: NE 34, ATL 27 (Line: NE by 3, O/U = 58.5)

The 2017 playoffs are going down as the greatest proof that homefield matters - all but two of the 10 games so far has gone to the home team and the Cowboys lost literally on the final play of the game. But now there is no home field. The Patriots were 8-0 on the road this year while the Falcons were just 6-2. And the Patriots are bringing a much better defense - that always matters most in this final game of the year. The Falcons bring in the better offense though it is hard to count out any aspect of the Patriots when they have the ball. Rob Gronkowski is gone but the rest of the team has folded in nicely.

This should be a higher scoring Super Bowl since the Falcons can score points with an equally adept rushing and passing attack. The Patriots have an obvious edge with experience. So far polls indicate that 75% want the Falcons to win and yet only about 40% think that they can. The Patriots will bring a balanced attack against a weaker defense. The Falcons can only keep up if they can get their passing game clicking with someone other than Julio Jones or their rushing effort surprises.

New England Patriots

1 @ARI 23-21 10 SEA 24-31
2 MIA 31-24 11 @SF 30-17
3 HOU 27-0 12 @NYJ 22-17
4 BUF 0-16 13 LA 26-10
5 @CLE 33-13 14 BAL 30-23
6 CIN 35-17 15 @DEN 16-3
7 @PIT 27-16 16 NYJ 41-3
8 @BUF 41-25 17 @MIA 35-14
9 BYE ---      
News | Statistics | Roster
PIT at NE Rush Catch Pass
QB Tom Brady 320,3
RB LeGarrette Blount 60,1
RB James White 3,30
RB Dion Lewis 50 2-20,1
WR Julian Edelman 8-120,1
WR Chris Hogan 4-80
WR Malcolm Mitchell 2-40,1
TE Martellus Bennett 4-30
PK S. Gostkowski 2 FG 4 XP

Pregame Notes: The Patriots have yet to score fewer than 34 points in the playoffs. Granted that was at home but it also went against better defenses than what the Falcons will bring. Tom Brady remains on his Road to Revenge and the offense is scoring big points using different players each game. That makes it harder to forecast which player will excel but it is a safe bet that one or two will. In the end, the Patriots should have the best defense combined with more experience to get a lead and hold onto it.

QUARTERBACK : Tom Brady has been good for at least two scores and solid to great passing yardage in all recent games. Only when he has faced a top defense has Brady been left with fewer than 250 yards and a couple of scores and this is clearly a highly motivated game for him given that he started the year with a suspension. Brady turns 40 next August but so far there has been nothing said or seen that suggests that he will walk off into the sunset if the Patriots win.

RUNNING BACK : LeGarrette Blount was little used in Week 19 when Dion Lewis scored twice on his 15 touches but then Blount scored once on his 16 carries for 47 yards versus the Steelers in the Conference Championship game. Lewis was only used for six carries for 11 yards last week and only gained eight yards on his two catches. James White has been the more heavily used receiving back but even he never has more than three or four catches per game. He scored once against the Texans but it was his only catch that week.

This is a harder group to call but White is sure to catch a few balls and either Lewis or Blount always scores. Blount is more likely to get that touchdown but lately Lewis is doing more with yardage.

WIDE RECEIVER : Chris Hogan ended with a nicely timed career best game when he caught nine passes for 180 yards and two scores against a Steelers defense that clearly had not prepared for him and did not adjust well even when they knew he was a problem. Those were his first scores since Week 14. Julian Edelman is on a three game stretch with eight catches for 110+ yards and a score in two of the three. Malcolm Mitchell has not been a factor since back in Week 14 when he injured his knee and did not play until the Conference Championship when he only had one catch. Mitchell should be ready for more work if needed.

TIGHT END : Martellus Bennett was busier last week with five catches but only gained 32 yards. He had just one catch against the Texans. Bennett has nursed a sore knee most of the year and hasn't topped 35 yards in any game for the last six weeks though he scored twice to end the regular season..

MATCH TO THE DEFENSE: The Falcons were statistically good on the road against the pass because they played a softer schedule. The times that they faced a good passer they would allow three touchdowns and higher yardage. The Falcons tendency to score high points made most weeks a shootout and hence the poor ranking against quarterbacks. Brady should be a lock for three touchdowns and around 300 yards unless the rushing offense is wildly successful which is not impossible.

The Falcons only allowed two rushers to top 100 yards this year but allowed 19 total scores to running backs and higher yardage for receiving backs if opponents used them. Flip a coin between Blount and Lewis but one of them should run in a touchdown if not both.

The Falcons have been weak against tight ends but Bennett hasn't been more than a moderate factor all year - if that. And the success of the rushing effort will also impact how much he blocks and how often he might catch a pass.

Edelman is a good bet to extend his productive ways here but the secondary has allowed at least one or more touchdowns to wide receivers and Hogan served notice last week. This will be the weakest secondary that the Pats have yet faced in the playoffs. That means at least two receivers should turn in bigger games. Edelman is the obvious leader but it is likely that Hogan, Mitchell or even Bennett could surprise.


RANKS (1-32, 1 = BEST) TEAM QB RB WR TE PK DEF
Gaining Fantasy Points NE 6 6 21 5 8 18
Preventing Fantasy Points ATL 32 29 26 26 8 6

Atlanta Falcons

1 TB 24-31 10 @PHI 15-24
2 @OAK 35-28 11 BYE ---
3 @NO 45-32 12 ARI 38-19
4 CAR 48-33 13 KC 28-29
5 @DEN 23-16 14 @LA 42-14
6 @SEA 24-26 15 SF 41-13
7 SD 30-33 16 @CAR 33-16
8 GB 33-32 17 NO 38-32
9 @TB 43-28      
News | Statistics | Roster
SEA at ATL Rush Catch Pass
QB Matt Ryan 330,3
RB Devonta Freeman 50 7-60,1
RB Tevin Coleman 40 3-20
WR Julio Jones 6-90
WR Mohamed Sanu 5-60,1
WR Taylor Gabriel 3-50,1
TE Austin Hooper 2-20
PK Matt Bryant 2 FG 3 XP

Pregame Notes: The Falcons are the popular favorites to beat the Deathstar Patriots and the offense has been hitting on all cylinders to end the season. After posting 36 points against the Seahawks, the Falcons dropped 44 versus the Packers who just ran out of steam (and players). The road venue should be a bigger deal for the Falcons than the Patriots along with less experience in the playoffs. The Falcons are the surprise team in this year's Super Bowl though and were better on both sides of the ball to end the season.

QUARTERBACK : Matt Ryan threw for 4591 yards but only 21 touchdowns in 2015. He stepped up to 4944 yards and a career best 38 scores last season. He added into that with over 330 yards and at least three scores in the two playoff games. Better yet, he has not thrown an interception since back in Week 13.

RUNNING BACK : The Falcons rushing offense ranks #2 in the NFL and that was with most of the success coming in the second half of the season. Devonta Freeman scored ten times over his last eight games including both playoff tilts. Freeman has been held to around 40 to 50 rushing yards per game but adds four or five receptions. He's been consistent with around 85+ total yards every week lately and is on a three game scoring streak. Tevin Coleman scored in each of the last four games but ends with fewer yards than Freeman. Together they usually turn in over 25 rushes per game.

WIDE RECEIVER : Julio Jones is no secret weapon and yet he still scored at least once in each of the last three weeks and ends with at least 60 yards in each game. Jones only scored in three road games this year and none since Week 9. Jones has nursed a sore toe much of the year but comes off a nine catch, 180 yard effort over the Packers. He's plenty healthy. Mohamed Sanu had also scored in each of the last three games but scored in only one road game all year. Taylor Gabriel's breakout year appears to have ended in Week 15 when he last scored. Against the Seahawks in the Divisional Round, Taylor managed four catches for 71 yards but then only had two catches versus the Packers.

The Falcons need Sanu or Taylor to step up this week because Jones will not only be heavily covered, the Pats are usually good enough to hold their opponent's #1 receiver to a lesser game.

TIGHT END : The tight ends are rarely used and account for just one score over the last eight games. The yardage remains low with rarely more than 25 yards from either Austin Hooper or Levine Toilolo.

MATCH TO THE DEFENSE: The Patriots have only allowed more than two passing scores once all year and only four passers topped 300 yards on them. But the string of opponents they had rarely contained a top passing team. Just last week they gave up 314 yards to Ben Roethlisberger but only one score - though he was without Le'Veon Bell. Ryan should end up north of 300 yards here - he almost always does anyway.

What should be a turning point in this game is that the Patriots have not allowed a 100 yard rusher all year and only five rushers scored on them. DeAngelo Williams stepped in for the Conference Championship and while he scored once, he only gained 34 yards on 14 carries. This game should eventually move to the air if not from the start. The Patriots can shut down a rushing attack and force the Falcons to throw.

The Pats held Antonio Brown to only 77 yards on seven catches two weeks ago. This is a decent secondary that has only allowed two receivers to break 100 yards and only 109 yards at most. Unless Ryan starts to use his tight ends more than usual, the wideouts and Freeman as a receiver is going to be how the Falcons will need to compete.

The Patriots lack of high-powered offenses that they have faced makes this harder to call and the Falcons have been a top scoring team most of the year. This looks like a shootout in the second half but Ryan has to play his best game to find enough success to compensate for what his defense is likely to allow the Patriots/

RANKS (1-32, 1 = BEST) TEAM QB RB WR TE PK DEF
Gaining Fantasy Points ATL 3 2 3 14 1 9
Preventing Fantasy Points NE 9 7 9 8 2 1

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