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Previewing Super Bowl LI through the eyes of the Broncos

Zac Stevens Avatar
February 3, 2017


High flying offenses, MVP-caliber quarterbacks and hot defenses; the Super Bowl has it all it terms of storylines and intrigue. With millions of bets being placed in Vegas, and the Patriots wavering around a three-point favorite, the odds makers believe Super Bowl 51 will be a close game.

However, the truth of the matter is no one really knows until the game is played. Heck, the Denver Broncos were 11-point underdogs in Super Bowl XXXII and seven-point underdogs in Super Bowl 50 and those proved to be wrong, completely wrong.

As the most-watched American sporting event around the world each year, the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots will be broken down in nearly every single possible way by people attempting to find out who will prevail.

While the Falcons and Patriots haven’t faced each other this year, they have played five common opponents. Both teams lost to the Seattle Seahawks and both beat the Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams and Broncos. Since the common opponents win-loss doesn’t give any indication on which team will have the upper hand on Sunday, diving into each team’s performance against the Broncos may be the next best go to.

Unfortunately for the Broncos, it was clear in both games that Denver was far outmatched by the two teams in the championship. After a 4-0 start, Denver fell to Atlanta 23-16 at home for their first loss in what would turn out to be seven on the season. In Week 15, Denver lost to the Patriots 16-3 at home. Both of these Denver losses were even worse than the score would indicate.

Since New England beat Denver by 14 points and Atlanta only won by 7, one could conclude that New England will win, right? Not necessarily. To further examine the matchup, here are the five most important aspects of the game broke down by how each team performed against the Broncos.

Pass Offense
NE — 177 passing yards, 2 sacks. Brady: 16/32, 188 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs, 46 QBR.
Tom Brady was in rare form against the Broncos, and not in a good way. Brady and the New England passing game were inefficient, starting the game by missing their first eight attempts. However, Brady and company did just enough, even without Rob Gronkowski, to win despite being held down by the No Fly Zone.

ATL — 250 passing yards, 2 sacks. Ryan: 15/28, 267, 1 TD, 0 INTs, 66.5 QBR.
At the start, it looks like Ryan had a good, solid game. However, Ryan and the Falcons offense threw for nearly 70 yards more than the Denver defense allowed per game and exposed the Broncos’ pass defenses greatest weakness: running backs out of the backfield. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 167 receiving yards and one touchdown in a dominating performance against the league’s best secondary.

ADVANTAGE: Atlanta — In all of these categories, this is by far the most clear-cut, “Matty Ice” clearly outperformed four-time Super Bowl champ Brady.

Run Offense
NE — 136 rushing yards, 39 carries, 3.5 average. Lewis: 18 carries, 95 yards. Blount: 17 carries, 31 yards, 1 TD. White: 3 carries, 11 yards.
New England ran all over the Broncos in a very unconventional way. Instead of riding their season leading rusher, LeGarrette Blount, they used a very balanced attack with Dion Lewis getting the bulk of the work. As typical with a Bill Belichick led team, the gameplay was highly successful against a poor Broncos run defense.

ATL — 122 rushing yards, 32 attempts, 3.8 average. Freeman: 23 carries, 88 yards, 1 TD. Coleman: 6 carries, 31 yards.
With the way Atlanta was moving the ball through the air, the didn’t need to rely on the run, and they still put up great numbers on the ground. With the two-headed monster of Freeman and Coleman, Denver didn’t have much of an answer to the ground game, giving up yet another 100-yard rushing game on the ground.

ADVANTAGE: New England — Even with a struggling quarterback, and not relying on their most dominant rusher, the Patriots still found a way to have a very good game on the ground.

Pass Defense
NE — Against Trevor Siemian. 251 passing yards given up. Siemian: 25/40, 282 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT, 4 sacks, 16.7 QBR.
Although New England gave up nearly 300-passing yards to Siemian and the Broncos air attack, they didn’t let Denver move the ball in areas where it mattered. Siemian was held to one of his worst games of the year and Denver failed to score a touchdown, the only time that happened in the season.

ATL — Against Paxton Lynch. 183 passing yards given up. Lynch: 23/35, 223 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 6 sacks, 11.5 QBR.
Atlanta had the luxury of going up against a rookie quarterback in his first career start and made the most of it, holding Lynch to a Broncos season low 11.5 QBR. While Lynch finished with okay numbers, most of them came in the last five minutes of the game, when it was all but over anyway.

ADVANTAGE: New England — A convincing argument could be made for either team here, but the advantage falls to the team that had an equally impressive performance against the better quarterback, which this year happened to be Siemian.

Run Defense
NE — 58 rushing yards given up, 17 attempts, 3.4 average. Forsett: 10 rushes, 37 yards. Booker: 6 carries, 17 yards. Siemian: 1 carry, 4 yards.
Much like the Falcons were fortunate to face Denver with a backup quarterback, the Patriots faced Denver without C.J. Anderson. In fact, Denver’s leading rusher in the game, Justin Forsett, was playing in just his second game with the Broncos when they faced New England. Saying all of that, New England still dominated the line of scrimmage, and thus Denver’s ground game.

ATL — 84 rushing yards given up, 24 attempts, 3.5 average. Anderson: 11 carries, 41 yards. Booker: 6 carries, 23 yards. Lynch: 6 carries, 18 yards.
With Lynch under center, Denver desperately needed a big game on the ground, and the Falcons knew it and didn’t let that happen. Even with Anderson still healthy, the Falcons held Denver in check the entire game.

ADVANTAGE: Atlanta — It’s simple: Denver had to run the ball and the Falcons didn’t let them, all but killing the Broncos game plan.

NE — With his best player, Brady, potentially having the worst game of the season, Belichick still found a way to come away with an easy win after shutting down Denver’s offense.

ATL — Defensive-minded head coach Dan Quinn did a great job against a quarterback making his first career start. However, Atlanta’s most impressive coaching performance came from soon to be San Francisco 49ers head coach, Atlanta’s current offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, as he exposed Denver’s defense for the first time all year and gave the rest of the league a blueprint on how to beat Denver.

ADVANTAGE: New England — Again, a strong argument can be made for Quinn, Shanahan and the Falcons, but the needle tilts slightly in the Patriots favor after holding Denver to only 3 points on the road.

Prediction: New England 23, Atlanta 20
The Patriots play in yet another classic, nail-biting Super Bowl and again come out with a win. Both teams absolutely dominated the Broncos on the road, but the Patriots were just that much better, giving New England the upper hand.

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