There is just one more NFL game left this season, as the New England Patriots will take on the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI on Sunday at NRG Stadium in Houston. If you were hoping to get a spread other than three points in either direction then you are out of luck because there's next to no chance that they take it off the key number of a field goal. The total has stayed pretty firm as well at 58.5 with some negligible movement.
From the AFC, you've got a New England (16-2 overall) team that demolished Vegas and was 15-3 against the spread. The Patriots have covered seven of eight games against teams with a winning record. The defense has held five straight opponents to 20 points or fewer. Yes, the numbers are glorious for that side of the ball, but when you look at their list of games and the QBs that they saw, you can see why.
Until facing Ben Roethlisberger in the AFC Championship Game, it was a who's who of mediocre quarterbacks. I especially enjoyed the stretch where they got the 49ers, Jets and Rams in a row. Now, that's not to say New England’s defense isn’t solid, but this unit is finally going to be stressed as Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has had two weeks to analyze the Patriots’ defense and put together a game plan to attack it. Although to be fair, Shanahan has been interviewing with San Francisco for its head coach vacancy and probably spent some time preparing for that eventual move, so his focus hasn’t been 100 percent on the Super Bowl.
New England’s offense continues to roll despite not having Rob Gronkowski and featuring a wide receiver corps that is mediocre outside of Julian Edelman. The Patriots have scored 30 or more points in four straight games and five of their last six. The backfield tandem of LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis has done enough to keep teams honest, but the running game hasn't really been featured too much. What else is there to be said about this side of the ball other than forcing Tom Brady off of the field without getting any points is a huge win.
Atlanta (13-5 overall) went 12-6 ATS and had 15 overs in 18 contests including all nine when the total was 49.5 or more. The Falcons were just 2-2 against the spread in their four games against the AFC West in the regular season. This offense has been rolling with just one game of fewer than 23 points and that was back in Week 10 at Philadelphia. Matt Ryan is considered one of the front-runners for MVP and you can see why when you look at his game logs.
Julio Jones is arguably the best wide receiver in the league and he lit up the Packers in the NFC Championship Game even though he wasn’t 100 percent healthy because of nagging toe injury. He’s had plenty of time to recover and heal up and the Patriots are going to pay plenty of attention to him, which is where Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel come into play. Gabriel’s big-play capability in particular could be an x-factor. I also like what I've seen from running back Tevin Coleman as a weapon and a complementary piece to Devonta Freeman. All-Pro center Alex Mack's health will be of importance because he's the most important piece to this offensive line.
The Falcons’ defense is another story. They've held five of their last six opponents to 21 points or fewer. All-Pro linebacker and NFL sacks leader Vic Beasley Jr. is dominant up front and Dwight Freeney has helped be a nice veteran presence. To me though, the concern is the secondary. Robert Alford and Jalen Collins aren't terrible cornerbacks, but they are potentially in over their heads against this Brady and this Pats offense. Young safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen are going to improve even more, but once again, I don't know if they are ready for the big stage.
Overall, I keep trying to think of reasons to take Atlanta. But in the end, I keep coming back to the extra prep time to let Bill Belichick study and game plan against his opponent. Falcons head coach Dan Quinn did great things with Seattle's defense, but this is a lot different for him. You are going to read big bets have come in on both teams over the week, but to me, the Patriots are the wager. With regards to the total, it seems too easy to take the over. If New England gets out to a big enough lead, then the Falcons’ passing attack comes more into play and we get closer and closer to the number. If you like the under, I'd wait a little bit because the public doesn't bet unders since it wants to root for points.
Pick: Patriots 34-23
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
(Top photo courtesy of NRGPark.com)