NFL Line Watch Super Bowl 51
By: Art Aronson
Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Atlanta vs. New England (-3)
In the 1998 season the Falcons were en route to their first Super Bowl appearance, and that run included a 41-10 whooping of the Patriots. But that was pre-Gillette Stadium, pre-Bill Belichick, pre-Tom Brady and pre-Patriots Dynasty. This time around the Falcons - who were crushed by Denver in that Super Bowl - will be facing a New England team that has practically owned the event since Atlanta made it only appearance.
The Patriots have basically laughed at the roadblocks that have been placed in front of them this season:
***Brady gave up the ghost on DeflateGate, accepted a 4-game suspension, New England plugged in its untested rookie backup QB (and even the backup's backup), and still rolled to a 3-1 start in taking control of the division. Arriving late on the scene in Week 5 may be the only thing to keep the MVP off Brady's shelf. He is 39 years old, in excellent physical shape, playing better than ever, and is talking about playing 5 or 6 more years.
***Does anyone even remember that Rob Gronkowski (back operation) is out for the season? The best tight end in football gone. In New England it's next man up, scrap the two-tight end offense, and move forward with Martellus Bennett. No biggee.
***Try taking two of your most athletic defensive players (Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins, both traded), and actually getting BETTER on that side of the ball. In NE, it's what you do.
Despite it all, New England has won. And won. And won. The second-best team in the AFC, Pittsburgh, left Foxboro last weekend after the Patriots had taken their lunch money in an easy AFC title game victory.
Can the Falcons calm themselves down, get to work and defeat a Pats team that has been to the SB six times since the Falcons made their only appearance?
Expected MVP Matt Ryan has emerged from the middle of the QB to become among the best in the league, wideout Julio Jones continues to turn heads despite a toe injury, and the Atlanta defense - 25th overall during the regular season after yielding 152 points in the first four games - made life miserable for both the Seahawks and Packers in the playoffs. The ingredients are there.
The oddsmakers have looked at all this and made the Patriots a field-goal pick, with a hefty total of 58.5. Early bettors figure that this is just about right, because there has been just about equal money on both teams.
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