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Tuesday, 11 December, 2018

Experienced Pats are up to their toughest examination

Rampant Falcons offence can be curtailed

Bill Belichick and Tom Brady can mastermind another triumph
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BBC1 & Sky Sports 1, 11.30pm Sunday

For the second successive year, an NFC South team - 66-1 to win the Super Bowl before opening kick-off - head to the end-of-season showpiece with the world anticipating a sizzling offensive performance.

Cam Newton was expected to lead Carolina to a dynamic triumph over dour Denver 12 months ago only to be crushed by a rampant defence.

And it is hard to escape the parallels with this year's clash between New England and Atlanta in Houston.

The Falcons posted an average of 33.8 points in their 16 regular-season matches and have failed to reach 24 in just one of their 18 games this term.

That's not bad for a team who few had confidence in after they won their first five matches of last season only to finish with an 8-8 record.

Offensive co-ordinator Kyle Shanahan will take plenty of the credit for the turnaround - he looks destined to join San Francisco as head coach after the game - and it is difficult for any team not to be confident going into a Super Bowl having beaten Seattle and Green Bay in the playoffs and scored 80 points in the process.

Julio Jones is the most dangerous receiver in the league, the twin-pronged running back attack of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman can leave any defence drained and there is a varied and talented supporting cast as well.

And all of that adds up to a record points line for the big game and the fact that New England were the third-highest regular-season points scorers will only encourage those anticipating a scorefest.

But while the Falcons have improved defensively in the last six weeks, it is difficult to get away from the fact just five of the league's 31 other teams conceded more points than their average of 25.4 per regular-season outing.

That the Falcons conceded 48 touchdowns in their 16 games compared to the Patriots' 27 is another telling statistic.

This is a massive test for the Falcons defence against a team who, unlike them, have plenty of Super Bowl experience and probably the greatest coach-quarterback combination the game has ever seen in Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

This will be the pair's seventh Super Bowl. They have won four of them and were unlucky to lose the other two, both against the New York Giants.

The Patriots conceded an average of 15.6 points per game during the regular season and while their detractors talk of a straightforward schedule and how they have not met an offence of Atlanta's quality, the Falcons may not have faced a defence that can be so strong despite a lack of star names.

One of the surest bets of the night is that if the Patriots fail to win, it will not be down to a lack of preparation and we could all make a lot of money if we knew what was going on inside Belichick's head.

Expect a few surprises on both sides of the ball but it all boils down to them being well-drilled and experienced and the statistics are on their side as well.

This is the seventh time the Super Bowl has been between the top-scoring offence and the tightest defence and the defensive kings have won five of the six meetings. Seattle thrashed Denver 43-8 the last time it happened three years ago.

Top scoring defences have won 12 of the 16 Super Bowls they have been involved in.

And there is an extra element as well.

Should the Patriots win, this will be the sweetest of their Super Bowl triumphs under the coaching master, simply because Brady had to sit out four games at the start of the season and fork out a hefty fine after the Deflategate episode at the end of the 2014 season.

That fuelled an everybody-hates-us mentality which should be hugely motivational.

It's easy to conclude that a team who have covered the handicap in 14 of their 18 matches have been underestimated for most of the season.

This looks another such occasion.  

Recommendation
New England -3
1pt 21-20 Paddy Power


 

Venue NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
Surface Artificial
Weather Drizzle, 21C (retractable roof likely to be closed)
Best handicaps New England -3, Atlanta +3
Points line 58-58.5

Probable line-ups
New England offence
LT N Solder 77; LG J Thuney 62; C D Andrews 60; RG S Mason 69; RT M Cannon 61; TE M Bennett 83; WR C Hogan 15, J Edelman 11; QB T Brady 12; RB J White 28; L Blount 29.

New England defence
DE C Long 95, T Flowers 98; DT A Branch 97, M Brown 90; LB S McClellin 58, D Hightower 54, R Ninkovich 50; CB L Ryan 26, M Butler 21; SS P Chung 23; FS D McCourty 32.

New England special teams
K S Gostkowski 3; P R Allen 6; PR D Amendola 80; KR C Jones 24.

Atlanta offence
LT J Matthews 70; LG A Levitre 67; C A Mack 51; RG C Chester 65; RT R Schrader 73; TE A Hooper 81; WR J Jones 11, M Sanu 12; QB M Ryan 2; RB D Freeman 24; FB P Di Marco 42.

Atlanta defence
DE B Reed 50, T Jackson 94; DT J Babineaux 95, G Jarrett 97; LB V Beasley 44, D Jones 45, D Campbell 59; CB R Alford 23, J Collins 32; SS K Neal 22; FS R Allen 37.

Atlanta special teams
K M Bryant 3; P M Bosher 5; PR/KR E Weems 14.

 

This is a massive test for the Falcons defence against a team who, unlike them, have plenty of Super Bowl experience and probably the greatest coach-quarterback combination the game has ever seen in Bill Belichick and Tom Brady
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