Check out our full-page cov­er­age of the big game.

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At­lanta led the NFL in points (540) by a wide mar­gin, thanks to a ca­reer year from QB Matt Ryan (2), who along with WR Julio Jones (11) are All-Pros. If that com­bi­na­tion comes close to its pro­duc­tion dur­ing the sea­son and, in par­tic­u­lar, the nine con­nec­tions for 180 yards and two TDs in the NFC cham­pi­onship game against Green Bay, the Fal­cons will be dif­fi­cult to stop.

While 2015 Su­per Bowl hero Mal­colm But­ler (21) will see plenty of Jones, New Eng­land schemes so well that fel­low cor­ner­backs Lo­gan Ryan (26) and Eric Rowe (25), and safety Devin McCourty (32) will be no strangers to Jones, ei­ther.

If the Pa­tri­ots can con­tain Jones, At­lanta wide­outs Mo­hamed Sanu (12) and Tay­lor Gabriel (18) must come through in a big way. The Fal­cons don’t have a lot of weapons at tight end, which means RBs Devonta Free­man (24) and Tevin Cole­man (26) will be keys in the pass­ing game, too.

Free­man rushed for 1,079 yards and 11 TDs, Cole­man for 520 and eight, but this is a pass­first team. There’s so much ver­sa­til­ity, though, that the Fal­cons are ca­pa­ble of keep­ing the Pa­tri­ots’ D off-bal­ance.

New Eng­land co-or­di­na­tor Matt Pa­tri­cia has play­ers for spe­cific roles on the line and be­hind it, though DE Trey Flow­ers (98) is the top pass rusher. DEs Chris Long (95) and Jabaal Sheard (93) and LB Rob Ninkovich (50) can do pretty much ev­ery­thing, while LB Dont’a Hightower (54) is the leader of the front seven.

Their matchups with a vastly im­proved At­lanta block­ing unit led by C Alex Mack (51) and tack­les Jake Matthews (70), a Hous­ton na­tive, and Ryan Schraeder (73) will be crit­i­cal. Look for Pa­tri­ots DTs Mal­com Brown (90) and Alan Branch (97) to try to over­power the guards, espe­cially Andy Le­vitre (67) on the left side.


One thing we know for sure: The Su­per Bowl en­vi­ron­ment won’t be too much for QB Tom Brady (12), a three-time MVP in the game.

As Brady seeks an un­prece­dented for the po­si­tion fifth ring, he will use just about every­one ex­cept mas­cot Pat Pa­triot as re­ceivers. The star in the AFC ti­tle game was new­comer Chris Ho­gan (15), who matched Jones’ num­bers and ap­par­ently was in­vis­i­ble to Pitts­burgh de­fend­ers.

He could wind up be­ing a fifth or sixth op­tion for Brady be­hind Ju­lian Edel­man (11), Danny Amen­dola (80), rookie Mal­colm Mitchell (19), and RBs James White (28) and Dion Lewis (33).

Even though his favoured tar­get, TE Rob Gronkowski (87) is side­lined, Brady has de­vel­oped a strong re­la­tion­ship with the backup, Martel­lus Ben­nett (88).

At­lanta has no chance if it doesn’t get pres­sure on Brady, espe­cially up the mid­dle so he can’t set up for the throws he prefers. Make him throw too soon, or hit him re­lent­lessly and Brady can have some is­sues. Then again, the guy has won seven con­fer­ence crowns and makes every­one around him bet­ter.

The onus is on NFL sacks leader DE Vic Beasley Jr. (44)), Tyson Jack­son (94), Brooks Reed (50) and vet­eran Dwight Freeney (93) to get in Brady’s face. Do­ing so is chal­leng­ing con­sid­er­ing the Pa­tri­ots’ un­der­rated of­fen­sive line led by C David Andrews (60), RT Mar­cus Can­non (61) and LT Nate Solder (77) rarely lets Brady get both­ered.

Should Brady have time to throw, rookie LB Deion Jones (45) and the en­tire sec­ondary will be tested on every pass. A rel­a­tively in­ex­pe­ri­enced sec­ondary of rookie S Keanu Neal (22), CBs Robert Al­ford (23) and Jalen Collins (32) could be in for a long day.


Eric Weems (14) gives the Fal­cons de­pend­able re­turn­ing on kick­offs and punts. He ranked sixth in punt run­backs (11.4 yards per) and would have ranked the same on kick­offs at 23.0 had he made enough re­turns to qual­ify. Matt Bosher (5) is steady but punted only 44 times this sea­son and only five times in two play­off games, which says a ton about the of­fence.

Matt Bryant (3) is in his 15th pro sea­son, but has never been to a Su­per Bowl. His leg re­mains pow­er­ful at age 41, and he doesn’t get ner­vous.

Vet­eran K Stephen Gostkowski (3) is among the NFL’s most re­li­able in all sit­u­a­tions. He also still re­calls miss­ing a PAT in the con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship game last year.

P Ryan Allen (6) ranked sev­enth in net av­er­age and the cov­er­age squads are solid. New Eng­land is un­afraid of us­ing Edel­man or Amen­dola on punt run­backs. Cov­er­age man Matthew Slater (18) is an Al­lPro.





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