• 59°

Super Bowl 51 preview: Patriots vs. Falcons

The long wait is almost over.

We are now two days away from the last and biggest football game of the year. Try and hold back your tears like I’m currently doing.

Super Bowl 51 is upon us. No more media days. No more typical media questions and boring coach answers at the podium. No more Tom Brady facing the NFL and Roger Goodell questions. No more “Is Matt Ryan elite?” questions.

It’s time to decide a Super Bowl champion. Will it be five Super Bowl titles for the team in Foxborough or will it be the Falcons’ first championship in franchise history?

Here are three key matchups to look forward to come Sunday night.

Who will try and stop Julio Jones?

The Atlanta Falcons traded up in the first round to draft Julio Jones in 2011 and NFL media members called the organization insane for giving up multiple future draft picks to get the former Alabama receiver.

Who’s laughing now? 7,610 yards and 40 touchdowns later, Jones has arguably been the best receiver in football since then. How will the Patriots stop Jones? You don’t “stop” someone of Jones’ talent, but you can slow him down.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has a philosophy on defense to take the opposing teams best player out of the game. That job would usually go to Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler. Butler has spent time covering each opposing top receiver over the season, but the Patriots sometimes moved him around the field and covered different receivers.

If that ends up being the case, the job of covering Jones will go to 6-foot-1 corner Eric Rowe, who’s been a revelation for the Patriots. Look for Rowe to spend the majority of the game on Jones with help from the safety over the top in coverage.

The Falcons are loaded at receiver with Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel right behind Jones. Sanu and Gabriel will test the depth of the Patriots secondary.

Can the Falcons get pressure on Tom Brady?

When teams defeat the New England Patriots, the key has been making quarterback Tom Brady uncomfortable in the pocket.

Over the course of the regular season, the Falcons ranked in the lower third of teams that blitzed against opposing offenses. If you get Tom Brady worried and jittery in the pocket, the defense can force errant throws and create turnovers off poor decisions.

Brady, however, has thrived when teams have blitzed him this season, throwing 11 touchdowns and to interceptions.

If the Falcons are to get pressure on Brady, outside linebacker Vic Beasley will be the key to doing so. Beasley had a breakout 2016-17 campaign with 15.5 sacks and 39 total tackles.

Can Beasley and the Falcons front seven can get pressure on Brady and get him on the ground? That will be a key matchup to look forward to.

Which defense will make a play when needed most?

The game Sunday night will feature the top scoring offense in Atlanta versus the top-scoring defense in New England. This matchup has happened five times in Super Bowl history with the top defense winning four of those games.

The Falcons defense has been on fire since the playoffs started, holding the Seattle Seahawks to 20 points and the high-powered Green Bay Packers offense to only 21 points, but looked average during the regular season. Will the recent trend continue?

The Patriots defense was stout against the run during the season, but has been known to give up yards in the passing game at times. The Falcons have been the most explosive offense in the league. Which defense will make the play to win the game?

Prediction:

The Atlanta Falcons have proved they are no fluke, reaching the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history. However, the Patriots are a terrible matchup for the Falcons on both sides of the football.

With a great defense and Brady wanting his revenge against Goodell, the Patriots should handle business and get one for the thumb.

Patriots 34, Falcons 27