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It’s that time of year again! As January has progressed, the NFL play-offs whittled the 12 franchises who qualified for the post-season down until now only two remain. This Sunday’s game between the champions of the American Football Conference (AFC) and National Football Conference (NFC) will decide who gets to take home the Vince Lombardi trophy. And behind all the pomp and circumstance of ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ there are two teams vying for their share of glory.
Super Bowl LI is set up to be a clash between franchises with very different experiences of winning. The Atlanta Falcons will be searching for their first NFL title, whereas the New England Patriots look to secure their fifth. But on such a big occasion, will the experience count in New England’s favour or will beginner’s luck help on the biggest stage of all? We take a look at the teams and their chances.
The Falcons are a side led by their mesmerising offence chaired by quarterback Matt Ryan. Statistically the best quarterback in the league this season, and the standout candidate for this year’s MVP, Ryan has the most yards per pass attempt in the NFL – in fact, the most in the league’s history. He led them to a 11-5 record in the regular season, and a convincing victory over the Green Bay Packers last week displayed a precision and variety almost unmatched in football this season. He even rushed in for a touchdown himself.
The other star name is that of Julio Jones, a wide receiver who has stunned pundits and fans alike, particularly with his performance in the game against Green Bay. If Ryan can make the passes to Jones then he may well be able to carry it home for them. And it is very much up to Ryan, because if there ball is there to be caught, you can bet Jones with snatch it out of the air. Recently, Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has said that “Julio could catch a snowflake in a wind tunnel”.
Moreover, there are old scores to be settled for Falcons coach Dan Quinn, which may add spice to the encounter. Once of the Seattle Seahawks, his last game at the Northwestern club was a dramatic loss against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX, and I’m certain he won’t wish to see history repeat itself.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Whilst Matt Ryan is hits the form of his life, the New England Patriots are led by the best quarterback in the NFL for the past decade. Superstar Tom Brady has had another outstanding season, leading them to a league best 14-2 record. The Patriots dispatched of the Pittsburgh Steelers 36-17 in their sixth consecutive AFC championship game, in itself a quite remarkable record. This is even more impressive given the fact their best tight end Rob Gronkowski has been out since the beginning of December. Wide receivers Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman have really stepped up to the mark, and the defensive unit, with Super Bowl 49 hero Malcolm Butler, have proved incredibly difficult to break down.
All eyes will regardless be on Tom Brady. A masterful distributor of the ball, he always finds himself with a multitude of options. This lends a variety to New England’s game which means that an injury to another star player, like the aforementioned Gronkowski, does not derail hopes of a victory. Finding form into the twilight of his career, Brady continues to shine, and the 39-year-old will be aiming to orchestrate another victory for New England.
He partners once again in a Super Bowl final with Bill Belichick, Patriot’s coach and this magisterial pairing will be hoping to tackle all Atlanta have to throw at them. For his part, Belichick is a master at reading offences, and this stands them in great stead against such a potent opposition.
The Patriots go into the game as slight favourites, but we saw last year (in the case of Cam Newton’s Carolina Panthers) the tag doesn’t always lead to victory, and so American and worldwide audiences will be fascinated to see who ends up holding the Vince Lombardi trophy at the end of the night.