The Patriots look to cement their legacy as the greatest NFL franchise in history
Perhaps you’ve noticed, but the New England Patriots have been to the Super Bowl before, as they will soon be making their NFL-record ninth appearance in franchise history, and their seventh since 2001. They have arguably the best head coach, quarterback and owner combination that we’ve ever seen in professional football.
As the curtains begin to draw on a vanilla NFL season as a whole, it’s only appropriate that the Patriots are here, yet again. It’s been two years since Deflategate became an actual name for an investigation into alleged deflated footballs. It’s been seven months since Brady announced he would stop the legal process related to his role in the investigation, accepting his four-game suspension initially handed out by commissioner Roger Goodell.
So here we stand, four quarters away from Goodell possibly handing off the Lombardi Trophy to the Patriots for the fifth time in the last 16 seasons. How poetic would that be?
5 Reasons the New England Patriots Will Win Super Bowl LI
1. Bill Belichick
Belichick has a one-track mind in that he’s focused solely on his team, at that current moment. When asked about facing Atlanta in Super Bowl LI immediately after the AFC Championship Game on Sunday night, Belichick said he didn’t even know the Falcons had won earlier that day. Whether that’s true or not doesn't really matter, it’s just how Belichick operates; his only responsibility is to his team and nothing else, no social media, no other teams, no distractions.
It’s perhaps the blinders from the outside world that allow Belichick to be as good as he is, one of the best of all time, and certainly the premiere coach of this modern generation. Certainly no one has the resume that Belichick does: 16 seasons with one franchise that feature seven Super Bowl appearances and a shot at a fifth Lombardi Trophy.
2. Next Man Up: The Patriots’ Way
It’s an exhausted clichÃ© used by football coaches everywhere, but never has it been applied so aptly than Bill Belichick’s New England teams. Since the day Belichick took over, the key to success has never been about superstar production (besides Tom Brady) as much as every player knowing his role and simply doing his job on every snap.
Chris Hogan, the former Penn State lacrosse player, is the perfect example of “The Patriots’ Way,” New England’s version of “next man up.” Hogan wasn’t even drafted upon entering the NFL three years ago, but that didn’t matter on Sunday night as he had the biggest game of his career on the biggest stage of his life. Hogan had nine catches, setting a franchise record with 180 receiving yards, and two touchdowns.
It’s not just Hogan that makes the Patriots’ machine run so efficiently. It’s running back LeGarrette Blount, who was undrafted and couldn’t last with Tampa Bay or Pittsburgh before finding home in Foxborough. It’s also fellow back Dion Lewis, a former fifth-round pick that came to the Patriots by way of the Eagles and Browns and overcame a serious knee injury to score a touchdown three different ways in the divisional round win over Houston. And that’s just two examples. While many teams make large contract splashes in free agency to impact their roster, the Pats build through the draft and find the right puzzle pieces for their next masterpiece.
3. Tom Brady
He’s the best to ever do it, no question. His seven Super Bowl appearances are more than any other quarterback, and with a potential fifth victory looming, Tom Brady is knocking on the door of yet another record and laying claim as one of the most decorated American athletes of all time.
At 39 years old, Brady hasn’t lost his edge, if anything, he’s still at the top of his game. After being suspended the first four games of the season, Brady thrust himself into the MVP discussion by completing 67 percent of his passes for 3,554 yards, 28 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
Brady typically takes the same approach of his head coach, limiting distractions and focusing on the task at hand, but deep down one would have to believe that he wants nothing more than a fifth championship ring. A fourth Super Bowl MVP would be the icing on the cake, as commissioner Roger Goodell would have to present the honor to Brady in front of an audience of more than 100 million people, seemingly giving the quarterback the last word in an overinflated, two-year public he-said-he-said saga.
Standing in the way of Brady’s fifth Lombardi Trophy is an Atlanta defense that allowed 25 points and 371 yards per contest, and a pass rush that was tied for 16th in sacks.
4. Defense Wins Championships
Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense are used to the headlines, but coordinator Matt Patricia’s defense has been stealing the show in New England all season long, reminding fans of the units that helped the franchise win three Super Bowl titles in four seasons in the early 2000s.
The Patriots’ defense was No. 1 in scoring this season, surrendering only 250 points all season long and 15.6 per game. Much like New England’s offense, the defense isn’t led by a multitude of superstars, but by the group as a whole.
The defensive success comes with a caveat, the Patriots have really only faced one “elite” quarterback this entire season, and that was Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday night. Outside of Big Ben, the biggest names the Pats have faced are Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill and Carson Palmer. With that being said, New England kept Pittsburgh’s big three of Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell (who left early due to a groin injury) in check on Sunday night, allowing just 17 points, but facing the NFL’s No. 1 offense in the Matt Ryan-led Falcons is a whole other can of worms.
5. Too Many Weapons
Vegas is predicting that this could be the highest-scoring Super Bowl that we’ve ever seen. With Matt Ryan and Tom Brady leading the NFL’s two most efficient offenses this season, Super Bowl LI is destined to have some fireworks. Ryan of course has the explosive Julio Jones at receiver and Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in the backfield for the NFL’s top offense, but don't sleep on Brady’s options.
The Patriots will be without tight end Rob Gronkowski, but still have plenty of talent to go around. Stopping Julian Edelman, Brady’s favorite target this season, will be the first task for the Atlanta defense, followed by finding someone to cover tight end Martellus Bennett, especially in the red zone. Running backs LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis can hurt opposing defenses as well, especially Lewis out of the backfield as a receiver. The Patriots’ ability to spread the ball around to all their assets, especially against a vulnerable Falcons defense, could prove to be the difference in Super Bowl LI.
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.