Goliath versus goliath: The Patriots and Falcons are more similar than you think

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Matt Ryan has led the Falcons to the Super Bowl. (Courtesy of WikiCommons)

Henry Schweber

sidelines

This weekend’s Super Bowl matchup has all of the things you could ask for: two elite quarterbacks (yes, Matt Ryan has been elite this year), a plethora of shifty receivers and running backs, plus defenses that make plays when called upon.

For the average NFL fan, to see the dominant Patriots dynasty making a Super Bowl run this year was expected – that’s fair. However, I believe you’d be hard pressed to find as many people who truly believed that the Atlanta Falcons would be making that same push.

Before the start of the season, NFL Network projected the New England Patriots to be 11-5, a good record that would certainly make them a playoff team. The Patriots actually outperformed their preseason projection, ending the year with a league best 14-2 record (one of those losses came while Tom Brady was suspended).

The Falcons, on the other hand, were projected to go 5-11 and not even come close to the playoffs – let alone the upper half of the NFC South. Thankfully for them, the games are played on the field and not in some network booths, as they surprised many with a superb 11-5 record on the year.

When it comes to both of these teams’ successes, we see a lot of parallels. We know that Tom Brady is an elite quarterback and in fact arguably the best quarterback in NFL history. The same could not be said for Matt Ryan for most of his career. He’s always put up impressive yardage totals, but his interception totals were too high and his win percentage was too low. This season, however, Ryan has been MVP caliber as he completed 69.9 percent of his passes for 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.

Part of his success stems from his ability to spread the ball around to many different receivers, as Ryan set an NFL record with 13 different receivers catching a touchdown from him this year. This is something that Brady has done not only this year, but throughout his entire career. Spreading the ball around worked extremely well for Ryan this season, as it allowed larger running lanes for their shifty running backs, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

The Patriots offense, while not as explosive, has followed a similar formula. The implementation of a two-back system, with Legarrette Blount handling short yardage and goal line work and Dion Lewis being the electric pass-catching back, has solidified the Patriots as not only offensively sound, but also unpredictable. The threat of the run keeps Brady upright more often as he drops back to pass, giving him time to fire short slants to Julian Edelman, goal line fades to Martellus Bennett or deep balls to Chris Hogan.

Where this exciting matchup will be won, however, lies on the other side of the ball. The Patriots defense has been superb all year, with shutdown defensive backs Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan helping to anchor a solid secondary, while their run defense has also been stout. The Falcons have had a bit more trouble stopping opposing offenses, but linebacker Vic Beasley led the NFL in sacks this season. So, if the Falcons can keep the pressure on Brady that will alleviate some of the stress put upon the secondary.

As we all know, Tom Brady with time in the pocket is unstoppable, and the Falcons need to make sure that doesn’t happen if they want to win the biggest game of the year, and perhaps their entire franchise’s existence.