Dale Zanine- USA TODAY

Key matchups of Super Bowl LI

The Patriots have Super Bowl experience on their side, but the Falcons have some imposing weapons that will create matchup problems.


For many, Sunday’s Super Bowl is a matchup of New England Patriots QB Tom Brady vs. Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan. Or maybe Patriots coach Bill Belichick and what level of success he may find trying to limit Julio Jones’ effectiveness and explosiveness.

It is about those matchups and those stats … much more.

In Brady, the Patriots have the second-rated quarterback in the NFL in 2016, as the veteran king of modern-day Super Bowls led the league with a 112.2 passer rating. He is the model of efficiency, effectiveness and perhaps the greatest quarterback to play in the NFL, especially if success is measured by Super Bowl success, of which Brady has won four and has been named MVP of the game three times. He also has more Super Bowl pass attempts (247), completions (164), yards (1,605) and touchdowns (13) than any other being and ranks first in postseason wins (24), passing attempts (1,263), completions (788), yards (8,628) and touchdowns (61).


However, Ryan was perhaps the regular-season MVP and was second in 2016 with 4,944 yards passing and 38 touchdowns and the only quarterback to best Brady’s passer rating, as Ryan registered a 117.1 mark.  As well as the Patriots have done in the playoffs since pairing Belichick with Brady, Ryan is on a postseason tear himself – the only quarterback in NFL history with three or more touchdown passes in four consecutive playoff games.

Belichick, with his defensive prowess, might go down as the best head coach in NFL history with all of his success. No coach in NFL history has more postseason wins than Belichick’s 25 and only Chuck Noll has as many Super Bowl wins as Belichick’s four.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn has been on a bit of a Super Bowl heater, too, making the big game three of the last four years – the last two times as the defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowls 48 and 49. Two years later, he’s the head coach for Atlanta and facing off against another beautiful defensive mind, including the one that beat Quinn’s Seahawks two years ago with a last-minute interception that left Seattle head coach Pete Carroll under fire for opting to pass the ball instead of throw it from the 1-yard line with 20 seconds left.

The cornerback who crushed Seattle’s Super Bowl dream two years ago, Malcolm Butler, could be the one assigned to cover Jones, the best receiver in the game this year. Jones wasn’t in the top 15 for catches, but he was second in yards (1,409), first in yards per game (100.6) and fourth in yards per catch (16.96) and tied for 10th in catches longer than 25 yards with 11 of those. It’s not so much about limiting the number of receptions Jones has, but keeping the explosive plays to a minimum.

That’s where Butler comes in. Quarterbacks threw his way 90 times during the season, but he limited them to a 78.2 rating in those instances, according to Pro Football Focus. Butler is good at knocking away passes and intercepting them, but Jones is elite and will be one of the biggest tasks he has faced, if not the top task, this season.

But the key for the Falcons offense could be getting their other offensive weapons deployed if the Patriots’ concentration is focused too heavily on Jones. RB Devonta Freeman is averaging more than 100 scrimmage yards in his past eight games and just completed his second consecutive 1,000-yard season on the ground, and he is supplemented with a more explosive Tevin Coleman, meaning they have to exploit potential mismatches with New England’s linebacker corps. Receivers Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel will also have to be big parts of the equation if left in single coverage.


On the other end of the matchup is the Patriots’ fourth-ranked passing offense facing Atlanta’s 30th-ranked passing offense, in which Quinn may not have all of his young defenders up to speed just yet. The biggest mismatch to watch there could be Julian Edelman trying to exploit Falcons rookie nickel back Brian Poole. Edelman is adept at making defenders miss and the Falcons may have to bracket him with a linebacker when he’s in the slot, which could open up running lanes for LeGarrette Blount.

In addition, New England WR Chris Hogan has been coming on strong in the playoffs in the absence of TE Rob Gronkowski. Hogan had 180 yards in the AFC Championship Game and has been exploiting seams in defenses where Gronkowski used to be the beneficiary.

The Super Bowl is much about pageantry and entertainment to the casual fan, but for the football diehards there is plenty of strategy to digest. In other words, get your popcorn (and the more gluttonous treats) ready.

LEADER 7-6  
STREAKS   Past 4
COACHES VS. OPP. Bill Belichick: 4-1 Dan Quinn: 0-0
COACHES PLAYOFF RECORD Bill Belichick: 25-10 Dan Quinn: 2-0
VS. COMMON OPP. NE: 4-1 (Az. 1-0; Den. 1-0; LA 1-0; Sea. 0-1; SF 1-0)
Atl.: 5-1 (Az. 1-0; Den. 1-0; LA 1-0; Sea. 1-1; SF 1-0)
LAST WEEK W 36-17 vs. Pittsburgh W 44-21 vs. Green Bay
LAST GAME 9/29/13: Patriots 30 at Falcons 23. New England QB Tom Brady passes for 316 yards & 2 TDs. Patriots WR Kenbrell Thompkins has 127 rec. yards & TD.
LAST PLAYOFF Teams have not met in postseason.
REFEREE Carl Cheffers
BROADCAST FOX (6:30 PM ET): Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews, Chris Myers (Field reporters). Westwood One: Kevin Harlan, Boomer Esiason, Tony Boselli, James Lofton (Field reporters). SIRIUS: 88 (WW1), 81 (NE), 82 (Atl). XM: 88 (WW1), 225 (NE), 82 (Atl.)


PASSING Tom Brady: 291-432-3554-28-2-112.2 (2L) Matt Ryan: 373-534-4944 (2L)-38 (2L)-7-117.1 (1L)
RUSHING LeGarrette Blount: 299-1161-3.9-18 (1L) Devonta Freeman: 227-1079-4.8-11
RECEIVING Julian Edelman: 98-1106-11.3-3 Julio Jones: 83-1409 (2L)-17.0-6
OFFENSE 386.3 415.8 (2L)
DEFENSE 326.4 371.2
SACKS Trey Flowers: 7 Vic Beasley Jr.: 15.5 (1L)
INTs Malcolm Butler: 4 Deion Jones (R): 3
PR Danny Amendola: 6.7 Eric Weems: 11.4
KR Cyrus Jones (R): 22.5 Eric Weems: 23.0
PUNTING Ryan Allen: 44.7 Matt Bosher: 46.8
KICKING Stephen Gostkowski: 127 (46/49 PAT; 27/32 FG) Matt Bryant: 158 (1L) (56/57 PAT; 34/37 FG)


Have 9 Super Bowl berths, most in NFL history. Have won 8 consecutive division titles, longest streak in NFL history. Since 2001, have won 4 Super Bowl titles, most in NFL. Have 31-19 (.620) all-time postseason record, 2nd highest winning pct. in playoff history…Head coach BILL BELICHICK has 25 career postseason wins, most all-time. Has won 4 Super Bowl titles (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLIX), tied with CHUCK NOLL for most in NFL history…QB TOM BRADY is all-time SB leader in pass att. (247), comp. (164), yards (1,605) & TDs (13). Has won 4 Super Bowls as starting QB & 3 Super Bowl MVPs, both tied for most in NFL history. In Super Bowl XLIX vs. Sea., completed SB record 37 passes for 328 yards & 4 TDs. Ranks 1st all-time in postseason wins (24), passing att. (1,263), comp. (788), yards (8,628) & TDs (61). Has 11 career postseason games with 300+ pass yards, most all-time. Had 14.0 TD/INT ratio (28 pass TDs vs. 2 INTs), highest in NFL history (min. 20 pass TDs)…In Div. Rd. win vs. Hou., RB DION LEWIS became 1st player in postseason history with rush TD, rec. TD & KR-TD in same game. RB LE GARRETTE BLOUNT rushed for TD in AFC CG. Led NFL with franchise-record 18 rush TDs. Has 8 rush TDs in 7 career postseason games. Has rush TD in 6 of past 7 (incl. playoffs). RB JAMES WHITE tied for lead among NFL RBs with 5 TD catches…WR JULIAN EDELMAN had eight catches for 118 yards & TD in AFC CG. Ranks 7th in NFL postseason history with 84 catches. In past 9 playoff games, has 75 catches (8.3 per game) for 862 rec. yards (95.8 per game) & 3 TDs. Had 9 catches for 109 yards & TD in SB XLIX. Is franchise postseason leader with 84 catches & 937 rec. yards. Has 3 seasons with 90+ catches, 2nd most in team history. WR CHRIS HOGAN set franchise record with 180 rec. yards in AFC CG. Ranks 2nd among players in 2016 postseason with 275 rec. yards. WR DANNY AMENDOLA had TD catch in SB XLIX…CB MALCOLM BUTLER had INT with 26 seconds remaining in SB XLIX. Led team with 4 INTs & 17 PD. LB ROB NINKOVICH has 1.5 sacks in past 2 SB appearances. Had FR in AFC CG. Has 6 career postseason sacks. CB LOGAN RYAN has 16 tackles, 4 PD & INT in past 2 postseason games. Was only NFL CB with 90+ tackles (92), 2+ INTs (2), 1+ sack (1) & 1+ FF (1) in 2016. S DEVIN MC COURTY had INT in Div. Rd. CB ERIC ROWE had INT & 2 PD in AFC CG. LB KYLE VAN NOY had FF in AFC CG.


Making 2nd Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. Won NFC South & advanced to postseason for 1st time since 2012. Ranked 1st in NFL in total points (540) & 2nd in total offense (415.8 yards per game). Head coach DAN QUINN is making 3rd Super Bowl appearance in past 4 seasons. Was def. coordinator for Sea. in SB XLVIII & XLIX…QB MATT RYAN passed for 392 yards & 4 TDs for 139.4 rating in NFC CG. Is 1st QB in NFL history with 3+ pass TDs in 4 consecutive playoff games. Set franchise record & ranked 2nd in NFL with 4,944 passing yards. Has 6 consecutive 4,000+ yard seasons, tied for 2nd longest streak in NFL history. Led league with 117.1 rating, 5th highest single-season rating in NFL history. In past 6 (incl. postseason), has 1,861 pass yards (310.2 per game) with 18 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 133.3 rating. In past 3 postseason games, has 1,126 pass yards (375.3 per game) with 10 TDs vs. 1 INT for 126.2 rating…RB DEVONTA FREEMAN has 829 scrimmage yards (497 rush, 332 rec.) & 10 TDs (9 rush, 1 rec.) in past 8 (incl. postseason). Has 209 scrimmage yards (87 rush, 122 rec.) & 2 TDs (1 rush, 1 rec.) in 2 career postseason games. Had 1,079 rush yards, 2nd consecutive 1,000-yard season…WR JULIO JONES had 9 catches for 180 rec. yards & 2 TD catches in NFC CG. Is only player in NFL history with 2 postseason games of 180+ rec. yards & 2 rec. TDs. Averages 110.4 rec. yards per game in postseason, highest avg. in playoff history (min. 5 games). Ranked 2nd in NFL with 1,409 rec. yards, 4th season with 1,000+ rec. yards. Led NFL with 100.6 rec. yards per game avg. Has 26 catches (8.7 per game) for 429 rec. yards (143 per game) & 5 TD catches in past 3 postseason games. WR MOHAMED SANU aims for 4th consecutive game (incl. postseason) with TD catch. Had 5 catches for 52 yards & TD in NFC CG. WR TAYLOR GABRIEL has 5 rec. TDs in past 8 (incl. postseason)…DE DWIGHT FREENEY has 10 career postseason sacks, 4th most among active players. LB VIC BEASLEY JR. led NFL with 15.5 sacks. LB DEION JONES (106) & S KEANU NEAL (105) led NFL rookies in tackles. Neal tied for 3rd in league with 5 FFs. CB ROBERT ALFORD tied for 5th in NFL with 19 PD. CB RICARDO ALLEN aims for 3rd consecutive postseason game with INT. DT RA’SHEDE HAGEMAN had 1st career postseason sack & 3 TFL in NFC CG. Has 3 sacks in past 5 (incl. postseason). DE TYSON JACKSON had sack & TFL in NFC CG. 

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