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266 games down, 1 more to go. Super Bowl LI provides us with a mouth-watering clash between the NFL’s greatest dynasty and one of the most explosive offenses in league history, as the New England Patriots will face off against the Atlanta Falcons in NRG Stadium, Houston, this Sunday. The Patriots can secure their fifth Super Bowl title with a victory, while the Falcons are aiming to win their first Lombardi Trophy in franchise history. Both sides are loaded with talent, and are coached by some of the brightest and most innovative minds in the game, which should result in a hotly-contested game that will go down to the wire.
Tom Brady would undoubtedly cement his legacy as the best quarterback of all time with a victory on Sunday. The 39 year-old is showing no signs of regression, boasting an impressive 33:4 touchdown-interception ratio this season, including the playoffs. Brady has a clear advantage against a relatively inexperienced Atlanta defense, that could potentially become the first team ever to start four rookies in a Super Bowl.
Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli deserve huge credit for building an extremely athletic defense that features playmakers at every level. Vic Beasley, who led the league in sacks with 15.5, needs to get pressure on Brady if the Falcons are to have any chance of slowing down the Patriots’ passing attack. The Broncos set the blueprint for beating the Patriots in the 2016 AFC Championship Game, in which Brady was hit a whopping 23 times. If Beasley and co. cannot make Brady uncomfortable in the pocket, things could get out of hand quite quickly.
Meanwhile, inside linebacker Deion Jones has had an exceptional rookie campaign, showcasing blazing speed and outstanding coverage abilities, leading all linebackers with 11 pass breakups this season. Expect to see him flying around the field making plays along with fellow rookie Keanu Neal, who has provided a physical edge to the Falcons’ secondary.
Brady and his receiving core have a clear advantage over an Atlanta defensive backfield that includes three players with two years or less of NFL experience. Julian Edelman has quietly been one of the most effective receivers in the league since Rob Gronkowski was lost to a season-ending back injury, while Chris Hogan comes into this game on the back of a sensational two-touchdown performance in the AFC title game. Despite the significant strides made by the Falcons defense throughout the season, it is difficult to see the Patriots’ aerial attack being slowed down.
Don’t be surprised to see LeGarrette Blount carry the ball 20+ times in this game in an effort to keep the Falcons’ offense off the field. Atlanta has been mediocre in run defense this season, and Josh McDaniels can prevent this game from turning into a shootout by controlling the clock. New England’s ability to sustain long drives throughout the game will be crucial to the outcome of the game.
Defensively, the Patriots will have their hands full against the most prolific offense in the league. The Falcons are averaging an astounding 34.4 points per game this season, while leading the NFL in yards per play with 6.7. Matt Ryan can place his name in the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks with a strong performance on Sunday, and he has a plethora of weapons at his disposal to assist him in doing so. Julio Jones is making a strong case for being the best receiver in the league, averaging over 100 yards per game this season. The Patriots have been using two receivers to mimic Jones in practice in the build-up to the game, and you can be sure that Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick have formulated a gameplan that aims to limit the star wideout.
Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel will have huge roles to play should the Patriots provide safety help over the top of Jones, and it is imperative that they exploit their one-on-one matchups. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman form what is arguably the most talented backfield in the NFL, combining for almost 1,600 rushing yards and 24 total touchdowns this season. Both backs are capable of ripping off chunk plays on the ground, so New England must be careful not to overcommit to stopping Atlanta’s high-flying passing attack.
Kyle Shanahan is going to come out with guns blazing in what is likely to be his final game as offensive coordinator for the team, but he faces a tough test against the number one scoring defense in the league. This Patriots defense is built on versatility, especially in the secondary. Safeties Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty are both capable of dropping down to the line of scrimmage and covering slot receivers and tight ends. Malcolm Butler is no stranger to making big plays in the Super Bowl, and his number one priority will be to contain Julio. Butler and the rest of the secondary do not have the luxury of a proficient pass rush to help them out, so there is a lot of pressure resting on their shoulders to perform.
The experience of the New England Patriots cannot be overlooked as a key factor in this game. Sunday’s game will mark Tom Brady’s seventh Super Bowl appearance, and he appears to be as hungry as ever to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. He should be able to exploit the weaknesses in the Falcons defense with the help of his numerous receiving weapons. Meanwhile, you have to trust Belichick to have a plan to keep Matt Ryan and Julio Jones in check. The Patriots are the more balanced and well-rounded team, and they have a slight edge in this matchup.
Score prediction: New England Patriots 34-27 Atlanta Falcons
This OTI Piece was written by Cathal Keane. Cathal is a passionate Cincinnati Bengals fan from Dublin. Follow him on Twitter @whodeycathal
Each week I will be advising you on the best players to start and sit in order to help you win your league. If you have any start/sit questions that you need answered before your games please feel free to ask me on twitter @JamesMaguire21 and I’ll be happy to help
Jameis Winston – QB (TB)
For most of this season Winston has been great and over the past few weeks hehas really emerged into a great fantasy option. This week he gets a fantastic matchup against a Saints D that has been week against opposing QB’s. Factor in that Winston has also been very good at home and he is a must start this week.
Other good QB starts: Eli Manning (NYG), Philip Rivers (SD)
Thomas Rawls (SEA)
I listed Rawls here last week and he finally delivered, and I expect that success to continue as he helps you through the playoffs. The Packers D has been very weak over the past few weeks and they have been susceptible to the run with RB’s scoring almost 20ppg against them over the past few weeks. Start him with confidence.
Other RB’s to Start: Jeremy Hill (CLE), Todd Gurley (LA)
Sterling Sheperd (NYG)
Sheperd has been good at times this season but has disappeared in some games. This week I expect a good performance from him as he faces a Dallas D that has trouble stopping opposing slot receivers. Factor in that he has been scoring a lot of TD’s over the past few games and he is a good start this week.
Other good WR starts: Tyler Boyd (CIN), Taylor Gabriel (ATL)
Ladarius Green – TE (PIT)
Now that Green is back and fully healthy he is finally showing what he can do and the Steelers are finding ways to get him the ball. He has a good matchup this week against a Bills D who can give up big games to TE’s and I expect Roethlisberger to look for him often.
Other good TE starts: Cameron Brate (TB)
Blake Bortles QB (JAC)
Bortles has been throwing a lot of picks this season and actually has more picks sixes than wins in his career. This doesn’t bode well for him this week as he faces a Vikings D that has been extremely tough on opposing QB’s. In fact they’ve only let 1 QB hit 20 points this year. I would keep him benched this week.
Other QB’s to sit: Blake Bortles (JAC)
TJ Yeldon (JAC)
Yeldon has been poor for most of this season, and with Ivory possibly back this week it makes him an even riskier play. He is facing a Vikings D that has been stuffing the run and allows very few TD’s. Keep him benched.
Other RB’s to sit: Theo Riddick (DET), Jerrick McKinnon (MIN)
Allen Robinson – WR (JAC)
I listed Robinson here last week and was proved right, and I expect him to have a tough game again this week. Robinson has been a disappointment this season, and I expect that disappointment to continue this week against a tough Vikings D. With Bortles playing bad and the Viking having good CB’s, if you have better options I would use them
Other WR’s to sit: Rishard Matthews (TEN)
Dwayne Allen – TE (IND)
Allen was fantastic last week, but for most of the season he has been mediocre or worse. It’s always possible that he will continue to be good, but I wouldn’t trust him. Especially this week as he faces a Texans D that is tough on opposing TE’s. In fact they have just given up 3 TD’s to TE’s all season.
Other TE’s to sit: Dennis Pitta (BAL)
This OTI Piece was written by James Maguire. James is a NY Giants fan from Westmeath, Ireland. He is a huge fan of the NFL and watches several games each weekend. He has been playing Fantasy Football for over 10 years with great success in all types of leagues. Most of his articles focus on Fantasy Football covering a range of topics relevant to both Dynasty and Redraft leagues. Check him out on twitter @JamesMaguire21 .
To make the rankings a little less subjective, I will rank each team’s play at quarterback, offense, defense. All of those rankings will be combine, with more weight on some categories than others, to form the OTI Power Rankings.
32 – Cleveland Browns (Last Week: 32) QB – 32 | Offense – 31 | Defense – 32
Robert Griffin III is coming back. There’s finally some excitement with the Browns!
31 – New York Jets (Last Week: 31) QB – 31 | Offense – 32 | Defense – 31
Just like any other year, the off-season will be an interesting one for the Jets.
30 – San Francisco 49ers (Last Week: 27) QB – 28 | Offense – 28 | Defense – 30
When a bad team gets crushed by another bad team, you know things are really bad.
29 – Los Angeles Rams (Last Week: 30) QB – 30 | Offense – 30 | Defense – 27
Jared Goff is really struggling. The off-season will do him good, although the coaching situation may be affecting him.
28 – Jacksonville Jaguars (Last Week: 29) QB – 29 | Offense – 29 | Defense – 28
At this point, the Jags might as well get the best draft pick possible.
27 – Chicago Bears (Last Week: 28) QB – 27 | Offense – 27 | Defense – 29
The Bears players are auditioning for next season. Many of them had huge games against the 49ers.
26 – Minnesota Vikings (Last Week: 25) QB – 24 | Offense – 26 | Defense – 22
The Vikings put up a good fight against the Cowboys, but they couldn’t get the job done. They’re running out of chances to get back a playoff spot.
25 – Cincinnati Bengals (Last Week: 26) QB – 23 | Offense – 23 | Defense – 25
It’s been a while since the Bengals had a very good game. However, they decided to play well a little too late.
24 – Arizona Cardinals (Last Week: 24) QB – 25 | Offense – 24 | Defense – 21
The Cardinals are playing better, but is it already too late for them?
23 – Indianapolis Colts (Last Week: 23) QB – 12 | Offense – 16 | Defense – 26
The Colts had a convincing win on Monday night. Lucky for them, they still have a shot at winning the division.
22 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Last Week: 22) QB – 17 | Offense – 19 | Defense – 20
The Bucs are now holding on to a wild card spot with a shot at winning their division. They started playing well at the right time.
20 – Carolina Panthers (Last Week: 15) QB – 21 | Offense – 20 | Defense – 17
It will be extremely difficult for the Panthers to make the playoffs this season — a year after making it to the Super Bowl. Teams figured them out very quickly.
21 – Philadelphia Eagles (Last Week: 16) QB – 19 | Offense – 22 | Defense – 16
The Eagles have really tumbled since the start of the season. It may be too late for them to come back. There is a big issue they need to get fixed, mainly at the wide receiver position.
19 – Houston Texans (Last Week: 19) QB – 26 | Offense – 25 | Defense – 9
The Texans are in danger of losing their division lead with the loss to the Packers. By the way they’ve been playing this season, they might not get it back if they lose it.
18 – Green Bay Packers (Last Week: 21) QB – 10 | Offense – 21 | Defense – 14
The Packers finally have a winning streak again. However, the Lions have already taken a command on the division, and it won’t be easy to knock them down.
17 – Tennessee Titans (Last Week: 18) QB – 18 | Offense – 14 | Defense – 19
The Titans have a real shot at winning their division. This late bye week will definitely give them an edge over the Texans and the Colts.
16 – San Diego Chargers (Last Week: 14) QB – 8 | Offense – 12 | Defense – 23
The Chargers are a good team that struggled this season. Hopefully, they can make the right changes next season and contend for the playoffs.
15 – Miami Dolphins (Last Week: 17) QB – 22 | Offense – 13 | Defense – 18
The Dolphins had a great streak going. This big loss to the Ravens will be a big test to see how they will bounce back.
14 – Baltimore Ravens (Last Week: 20) QB – 15 | Offense – 17 | Defense – 15
The Ravens are leading their division, and with both them and the Steelers having up and down games, this should be a fun race.
13 – New Orleans Saints (Last Week: 13) QB – 5 | Offense – 6 | Defense – 24
Generally, the Saints have been playing well, but they’re running out of time to claim a playoff spot.
12 – Buffalo Bills (Last Week: 11) QB – 20 | Offense – 18 | Defense – 8
The Bills had their shot at beating the Raiders. They can’t afford to let wins slip through their fingers.
11 – Pittsburgh Steelers (Last Week: 10) QB – 11 | Offense – 11 | Defense – 13
The Steelers have to keep winning. A loss may be one too many. Fortunately, thier schedule is pretty favorable.
10 – Denver Broncos (Last Week: 9) QB – 16 | Offense – 15 | Defense – 7
The Broncos don’t need to do much to keep their playoff spot. However, they have the toughest remaining schedule, facing the Patriots, Chiefs, and Raiders to close out the regular season.
9 – Detroit Lions (Last Week: 12) QB – 13 | Offense – 9 | Defense – 12
The Lions are starting to take a good lead on their division. They’ve been playing very well since Week Five, only losing one game since. Every game this season has been very close for the Lions. This week’s game against the Saints was the first decided by more than one score.
8 – Washington Redskins (Last Week: 8) QB – 9 | Offense – 7 | Defense – 11
The Redskins can’t afford to make mistakes. The division lead is out of reach, and now they’ve lost their wild card spot.
7 – Kansas City Chiefs (Last Week: 7) QB – 14 | Offense – 10 | Defense – 5
The Chiefs created a couple big turnovers, which were the difference in this game. They’ll still need to work really hard to overcome the Raiders. Next week’s big showdown is huge.
6 – Atlanta Falcons (Last Week: 6) QB – 6 | Offense – 5 | Defense – 10
Matt Ryan hasn’t thrown many interceptions this season, but every time he has, they’ve been costly. The Falcons have had a solid lead in the NFC South all year. Now they’re close to falling behind.
5 – New York Giants (Last Week: 5) QB – 7 | Offense – 8 | Defense – 4
The Giants’ latest loss makes it very tough for them to win the division. Now they should focus on simply making the playoffs.
4 – Oakland Raiders (Last Week: 4) QB – 3 | Offense – 3 | Defense – 6
The Raiders have had plenty of narrow wins this season. At this point, they can’t afford to lose or else they’ll be a wild card team. In fact, they have been playing extremely well on the road, so that wouldn’t be too bad.
3 – Seattle Seahawks (Last Week: 3) QB – 4 | Offense – 4 | Defense – 1
The Seahawks will be a very tough team to beat in the playoffs. They just need to Cowboys to lose to have a shot at the top seed in the NFC, which means a lot to them.
2 – Dallas Cowboys (Last Week: 2) QB – 2 | Offense – 2 | Defense – 2
The Cowboys are the first team this season to clinch a playoff spot. Now it’s time for them to lock down the number-one seed and make the road to the Super Bowl go through Dallas.
1 – New England Patriots (Last Week: 1) QB – 1 | Offense – 1 | Defense – 3
The Patriots cruised against the Rams. They just need to win out to seal the number-one seed. That’s not a tall order for this team, even with Gronk out.
This OTI Piece was written by Eli Bookstaber. Eli, born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, is a huge follower of all things NFL and an avid fan of the Redskins. He writes the weekly Power Rankings as well as “Bookie’s Playbook”, where Eli breaks down the X’s and O’s of various plays and things of the sort. He welcomes all feedback on his articles, and you can always talk to him about anything NFL-related. You can follow him on Twitter @Ebookstaber, but be prepared. He never shuts up.