The New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons find themselves atop the crest of a wave in terms of form as they roll into Houston for Super Bowl LI. Both teams have a multitude of potential game winners within their respective rosters.
With numerous mouth-watering matchups across the board, fans will be left salivating. Winning those individual matchups will play a vital role in deciding which team emerges victorious on Sunday night. We’ll take a closer look at three intriguing matchups you won’t want to miss.
Quite possibly the matchup of the game, sees Falcons wideout Julio Jones lined up opposite Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler. Jones has solidified his reputation as one of the NFL’s perennial talents at his position since entering the NFL in 2011 (6th overall pick).
Jones been nothing short of sensational for the Falcons during the playoffs, averaging 123.5 yards receiving per game. This following on from an impressing regular season, during which Jones went over 100 yards receiving on eight occasions. Jones has averaged over 100 yards per game for four consecutive seasons. Whilst many recognize Jones as one of the best, if not the best receiver currently within the NFL, the same accolades fall somewhat short when it comes to Malcolm Butler.
Seen by many as the hero of Super Bowl 49, Butler has transformed himself from a situational player with a limited role to a cornerstone of the Patriots defense. Despite Butler’s evolution into one of the NFL’s finest cornerbacks, praise for Butler’s skill set and attributes have gone somewhat unnoticed from a national standpoint. However those that frequent Gillette Stadium know all too well, just how dominant Butler can be. Butler set career highs in both passes defended (16) and interceptions (4) during the 2016 regular season.
Under The Radar Matchup
The addition of center Alex Mack has proven to be one of, if not the best free agent signings in recent memory. A notion sniffed at by the casual fan, as signing a center just isn’t deemed ‘sexy’. Mack’s presence has not only fortified the offensive line (a far cry for the previous season, where Matt Ryan spent the majority of snaps running for his life), but has enabled Matt Ryan to put together an MVP season. Mack excels in the run game in run game opening up the holes for Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.
Like Mack, the Patriots defensive tackle Malcom Brown‘s impact on a game fly’s under the radar due to a certain Mr Brady under center. The stats from a sack point of view (4 [3 regular season]) don’t tell the story of just how effective Brown has been rushing the quarterback. According to Pro Football Focus Brown generated 26 quarterback pressures, and is ranked fourth (among his position group) when it comes to stopping the run.
Biggest Impact On The Outcome?
Julian Edelman is as much as it pains me to stay this (especially from a Jets fans point of view) is my dark horse for Super Bowl MVP. The Patriots system compliments Edelman’s skill set superbly. I can’t think of another wideout that exposes zone coverage on crossing routes as successfully and consistently as Edelman does. Edelman has featured in 14 playoff games for the Patriots, averaging 11.2 yards per reception and will be chomping at the bit for Sundays matchup against rookie nickelback Brian Poole.
The transition from college to the NFL can be particularly tough for defensive backs. A scenario that rookie Brian Poole has become particularly familiar with. Despite some rough outings Poole has improved throughout the course of the season, featuring in all 16 games (9 starts). Whilst flaws can be found in his coverage they dissipate when it comes to blitzing (just ask Aaron Rodgers). The enormity of the task in hand for Poole, won’t be that of just covering Edelman, but fighting through the traffic of the Patriots ‘pick routes’ to limit Edelmans impact on the game.