Despite popular belief, defence will decide Patriots/Falcons Super Bowl

Heading into Super Bowl weekend, media members and fans alike have been fixated on both offensive and legacy-related story lines. Some feel Sunday’s game will emphasize a battle of two of the NFL’s top offences. Others are focused on what a record fifth Super Bowl ring would mean for Tom Brady’s legacy. Some focus on the emergence of Matt Ryan. While these are viable storylines, not enough people are paying attention to these two teams’ defences. In particular, how these defences will decide who wins Super Bowl LI.

Despite Brady and the Patriots’ offence being the main subject of discussion, not enough credit has been given to the team’s defence. New England ranked first in scoring defence during the regular season, allowing only 15.9 points per game. Per USA Today’s Nate Davis, this year’s Patriots defence was the first New England defence to lead the league in fewest points allowed since 2003. Through two playoff games, the Patriots’ defence has continue its dominance, having allowed only 33 points total (16.5 points per game).

Looking closer at the Patriots, their pass coverage is the defence’s most glaring deficiency. New England allowed 237.9 yards per game during the regular season, which ranked 12th most league-wide. The key for New England is to stop Atlanta’s top passing offence, particularly Ryan and receivers Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. The Patriots’ secondary, most notably Super Bowl L hero Malcolm Butler, will have to play the best they have all year if they hope to contain the Falcons. Butler will have a tough coverage assignment in Jones.

Speaking of Matt Ryan and the Falcons, Atlanta’s offence finished the regular season ranked first in points per game at 33.8. And the offence has showed no signs of slowing down; if anything, it’s only gotten stronger. Through two playoff games, Atlanta has average an incredible 457.5 yards in total offence, along with 40 points per game. With Ryan in the midst of a career year and firmly in the MVP conversation, Falcons’ fans are hoping the star quarterback can wrap up the team’s dream season with its first ever championship. If that is to happen though, the Falcons’ offence has to continue its scorching level of play so that Brady and company are under immediate pressure to score.

The importance of getting out to an early lead for Atlanta is crucial, especially when you consider the team’s defensive unit. The Falcons allowed a whopping 25.4 points per game and 266.7 passing yards during the regular season, which ranked 27th and 28threspectively. Those numbers improved over a smaller postseason sample size, with Atlanta allowing 238 yards per game and 20.5 points per game in two playoff games. Despite small defensive improvements across two playoff games, the Falcons defence will need big plays if they hope to stop Brady and the Patriots potent offence. Both Atlanta and New England ranked tied for second in turnover margin at +0.8, meaning both teams create approximately an extra possession off a turnover each game. This means that both teams will have to take full advantage of offensive opportunities. Look for guys like NFL sack leader Vic Beasley and linebacker Deion Jones to lead the charge against a Patriots’ offence that put up 27.6 points per game, third-best during the regular season.

Once you get past the Super Bowl plot-points that focus on the offences or the quarterbacks, the most important storyline in determining the result of the game emerges: defence. That very storyline will make or break one of these two team’s Super Bowl aspirations.

If history is indicator, New England has the edge ahead of the Super Bowl. That’s due to the fact that the Patriots have the stronger defensive unit of the two teams. Looking back at past Super Bowls that slated the league’s top offence and defence against one another, the defensive team won the majority of the time (five out of six Super Bowls, excluding 1989 between San Francisco and Denver).

While high-powered offence may steal headlines, it’s evident a strong defence puts you in better position to win a Super Bowl.

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It’s time for a Giant retool

By: Brad Joosse

Time to Retool.

New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese went big in free agency and the draft last off-season.

He needs to do it again.

Reese’s big moves paid off. Defensive end Olivier Vernon signed for five years worth $85 million. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins signed for five years worth $62.5 million. Defensive tackle Damon Harrison signed for five years worth $46.5 million.

Reese and the Giants were rewarded with excellent seasons from all three. Harrison was voted first team All-Pro, Jenkins and Vernon both made second team All-Pro. Rookie wide receiver Sterling Sheppard and cornerback Eli Apple consistently produced all year in their roles.

The Giants made the playoffs for the first time in five years, though the team struggled and were eliminated by the Green Bay Packers. Reese needs to retool his team for the playoffs and the chance to win the Super Bowl.

Reese must rebuild the offence though he hardly needs to start from scratch. Eli Manning is a solid veteran quarterback with two Super Bowl MVP’s in his career. Odell Beckham is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. Rookie Sterling Sheppard finished the year with 683 yards and eight touchdown receptions. The Giants have clear holes at other positions however. No Giant running back rushed for 600 yards while none of the tight ends had more than one touchdown reception.

There are options for the Giants. Tight end Martellus Bennent is a former Giant and will be a free agent. Bennent had a strong season with over 700 yards receiving and seven touchdowns. Jordan Cameron, Jared Cook, and Vernon Davis are all veterans with previous success and could be bargains for the Giants to sign.

Running back is a tougher position to address via free agency. There is a long list of running backs whose production dropped off after reaching the age of 30. Backs like Jaquizz Rodgers and Andre Ellington are impressive young talents but both struggle with injuries.

The Giants should draft a running back to tandem with rookie Paul Perkins who showed flashes and rushed for over 100 yards in week 17. The two best draft running back prospects are Dalvin Cook from Florida State and Leonard Fournette from LSU, they are ranked 4th and 10th respectively in the top 250 prospects list. The Giants will be drafting later in the first round and may need to trade up or can look to Christian McCaffrey from Stanford who is ranked 26th.

NFL rosters are constantly changing. The Giants made big changes last year and it paid off in a playoff appearance. The team needs to aim higher next year and aim for the Super Bowl. Drafting a young running back and signing a veteran tight end are just two changes the Giants can get closer to that goal.

Connor Cook crucial to Oakland’s playoff success: Derek Carr’s injury forces rookie quarterback into spotlight for Saturday’s wild card game

Dreams are often too good to come true for Raiders’ fans.
Heading into Week 16, the Raiders were in the midst of a dream season. After years of mediocrity, the team held an impressive 11-3 record heading into their matchup against a weak Colts team. With Khalil Mack leading Oakland’s defensive unit and star quarterback Derek Carr orchestrating the team’s offense, the Raiders were considered one of the few strong AFC contenders to make the Super Bowl.

Although the Raiders edged the Colts 33-25 to improve their record to 12-3, the team lost more than it won that day. Just a minute into the fourth quarter, Carr went down after a sack and was forced out of the game. It would later be revealed Oakland’s prized quarterback suffered a broken fibula on the play. Just like that, Oakland’s dream season and Super Bowl hopes took a huge hit.

It didn’t take long to see how the team would respond in the wake of the injury. Oakland faced the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos for its final regular season game, and the absence of Carr was quickly showing. The Raiders’ star-powered offense fell flat without its leader under centre, mustering up only six points in the team’s 24-6 blowout loss. To make matters worse, Carr’s replacement, backup quarterback Matt McGloin, suffered an injury and will miss the team’s Wild Card game.

With only a few days remaining until Oakland’s Wild Card tilt against Houston, all eyes now focus on rookie quarterback Connor Cook, who will be making his NFL debut. Cook, who started in college for Michigan State from 2013-2015, was announced as the starting quarterback ahead of Saturday’s game. Pressure is square on the rookie’s shoulders to improve his team’s chances of advancing to the division round. And it won’t be easy.

Cook will be up against a dominant Texans defense that ranked 1st overall in the NFL this season. If Cook hopes to cement his name in Raiders’ history with a breakout Wild Card game performance, now would certainly be a good time.

After all, rookies can step into the league and make a huge impact right away. Ask Cowboys’ rook’ Ezekiel Elliott, who’s led his Dallas Cowboys to a league-best 14-2 record…(!?!!..DAK PRESCOTT!) Even the greatest QB of all-time Tom Brady (sorry Peyton!) had to fill a star quarterback’s shoes at some point (throwback to Drew Bledsoe).
Raiders’ fans can never dream too much. Here’s to a New Year’s miracle; never know what can happen.