January 23, 2017
Sports Insider Weekly
And then there were two. After 264 games and two weeks of disappointing playoff games, the final four teams met this past weekend to decide which top two would be meeting in the Super Bowl. But instead of competitive, nail biting match-ups, both championship games ended as blowouts, sending two high-octane offenses to battle it out in Super Bowl LI.
Peyton Manning and John Elway are two superstar quarterbacks who ended their NFL careers with a victory. Now, the same can be said for a stadium. The Atlanta Falcons spent 25 years playing in the Georgia Dome, which is being replaced with a newer stadium nearby. The home team’s NFC Championship victory seemed to be a fitting send-off.
Though the Falcons flew under the radar most of the season, there was no denying them on Sunday. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, who looked like a championship caliber team just a week prior, arrived in Atlanta riding an eight game win streak. But they were no match for Matt Ryan and the Falcons, who led 24-0 at the break.
“We ran into a buzz saw,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy told reporters after the thrashing. “Those guys performed great. We didn’t have enough to keep up with them.”
Green Bay finally found some footing in the second half, with Rodgers throwing three touchdowns to avoid a shutout. But the Falcons, driven by fear that the Packers could mount a nearly impossible comeback, never stopped scoring. Led by Ryan, who threw for 392 yards and four touchdowns, they added 20 more points in the second half en route to a 44-21 victory and Super Bowl berth.
“You can’t lose belief or confidence,” Ryan said. “One thing about this league is that you can get humbled very quickly. Learning what is best for you personally and what works best for our team has taken time for sure. I always felt like we would get to this point and have an opportunity to play in this game and I am happy that we are there.”
While the Falcons are celebrating their second-ever Super Bowl appearance, the New England Patriots are headed to an NFL-record ninth, and seventh with coach-quarter combo Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Brady has five rings, with his most recent title coming in 2015 against the Seahawks. That may be why he and the Patriots are favored to win the big game. Atlanta last appeared in the Super Bowl in 1998–they lost to the Broncos–and current quarterback Matt Ryan is ring-less.
The Patriots blew away the Steelers 36-17 in the AFC Championship game Sunday night, capitalizing on a porous defense and anemic offense. Pittsburgh, once known for their iron-clad defense, gave up 16 points in the third quarter alone.
“It comes down to execution,” Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats said. “Anytime you play New England you know they operate with a lot of detail. It’s important that your execution matches that detail level. We didn’t do it today.”
While the Patriots – Falcons match-up may seem lopsided, history has shown it’s never smart to underestimate the underdog. Both of Brady’s Super Bowl losses have come against the New York Giants; first in 2008 when the Patriots were undefeated all season, and again in 2011, when the Giants became the first Wild Card team to win a Super Bowl.
Contrarily, it’s hard to bet against the team with the best record in the league (14-2) and a quarterback going for a record sixth ring.
Whomever you’re rooting for, it should be a good game. Fingers crossed.