Super Bowl LI: Patriots-Falcons predictions by our (cough) experts

Super Bowl LI: Patriots-Falcons predictions by our (cough) experts

The big day is here.

After two weeks of media coverage, hype and dodging Donald Trump questions, the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons will finally square off tonight in Super Bowl LI. With that said, here are our (cough) expert predictions for Super Bowl LI.

Reuben Frank (9-7)
Every time I look at the matchups, I like the Falcons. They have a better running game. They have more dangerous wide receivers. They have Julio Jones. They have a defense that's played really well the last month and a half. They have Matt Ryan putting up ridiculous numbers.

The Patriots? They have the usual collection of journeymen, castoffs, free agents, late-round draft picks and street pickups. They also have Tom Brady, and I just can't pick against Tom Brady in a Super Bowl. On paper, the Falcons win. But I'm going with the Patriots, just because it's Tom Brady, it's the Super Bowl and I can't pick him to lose.

Patriots 31, Falcons 28

Dave Zangaro (8-8)
I think we're in for a good Super Bowl. At least I hope so. 

On its face, it doesn't make much sense to pick against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. I mean, they know what they're doing. 

But this season, they're about to run into an absolute buzzsaw. I know the Patriots are known for taking away their opponent's best weapon, so they'll try to stop Julio Jones on Sunday. The problem with that is there have been eight games this season where Jones either didn't play or had four or fewer catches. The Falcons are 7-1 in those games, so taking away Jones doesn't mean stopping the Falcons. 

I just think the Falcons' offense is performing at too high a level and their defense has been steadily underrated all season. 

(Also, a friendly reminder: the Eagles have beaten both these teams within the last two years.) 

Falcons 38, Patriots 36

Derrick Gunn (8-8)
Super Bowl LI has the makings of a real shootout. Atlanta's offense appears unstoppable right now. Not only did the Falcons lead the league in scoring during the regular season with 33.8 points per game, they're on a six-game win streak that inclues two playoff blowouts. HotLanta has averaged 39 points per game during the streak.

As for New England, ever since Tom Brady returned from his suspension in Week 5, the Patriots have averaged 30.7 points. So much attention has been given to the offense, but both defenses should be given props.

New England's No. 1-rated scoring defense has been consistent, while the young Falcons' defense, which has four rookies starting, has generated 13 turnovers and 14 sacks in its last six games.

Matt Ryan richly deserves the MVP award he won on Saturday night, but Bill Belichick is the best in the business at neutralizing an opponent's strength and exploiting weaknesses. The one big question for me is which team's defense can rattle the quarterback?

Because Belichick and Brady have been down this Super Bowl road so many times before, I give the Pats the edge on Sunday.

Patriots 31, Falcons 27

Ray Didinger (8-8)
The Falcons are red hot, winning their last six games and scoring more than 40 points in half of them, including a 44-21 beat down of Green Bay in the NFC title game. But history is not on their side this week. They had the top scoring offense in the NFL this season, but the New England defense allowed the fewest points. This will be the seventh time the Super Bowl will feature a No. 1 vs. No. 1 matchup, and in five of the previous six games, the team with the No. 1 defense won. That's a pretty strong trend.
 
Also, I can't shake the memory of the Falcons' 24-15 loss to the Eagles. The Eagles ran the ball down the Falcons' throats (38 rushing attempts for a season-high 207 yards) and Ryan Mathews ran for 108 yards, most of them between the tackles. The Eagles controlled the ball for more than 38 minutes and limited the explosive Atlanta offense to 11 first downs. I could see the Patriots doing much the same thing with LeGarrette Blount hammering away at the swift but smallish Atlanta defensive front.
 
So while the pregame conversion focused on Tom Brady going for his fifth Super Bowl ring — and, of course, getting his jollies at the expense of Commissioner Roger Goodell — the Patriots' quarterback may not be the key to winning this game, after all. I think it will be New England's running game and its underrated defense (which will limit the big plays by Julio Jones) that will make the difference in the end.
 
Patriots 27, Falcons 23

Andrew Kulp (9-7)
Five times before, the No. 1 scoring offense in the NFL has met the No. 1 scoring defense in the Super Bowl. On four of those occasions, defense won.

That said, the Patriots don't feel like your typical No. 1 defense. Just look at some of the teams they played this year: the Browns, the 49ers, the Rams, the Bengals, the Broncos, the Jets (twice), the Texans (twice), the Dolphins without Ryan Tannehill and the Steelers without Le'Veon Bell for three quarters of the game. I have seen some dominant, all-time great defenses flat out carry teams to championships in my lifetime — the 2000 Ravens, the '02 Bucs, the '13 Seahawks and the '15 Broncos — and I'm just not sure I view this group in that light.

It's also tough to bet against Bill Belichick — if anybody can scheme a way to stop Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel, it's that guy — nor can you count out Tom Brady. For that reason, I'm genuinely torn on which way to go, but my gut is telling me it's the Falcons' time.

Falcons 28, Patriots 27

Corey Seidman (9-7)
Part of me wants the Patriots to win just so we can all definitively state Tom Brady is the greatest QB of all time and Bill Belichick is the best coach. It would pretty much end any debate there, and I'm all for ending hot-air debates.

But Brady has been super unlikeable the last couple weeks. His political affiliation is his business, but it's pretty lame to call attention to who you support with a "Make America Great Again" hat in your locker, only to subsequently refuse to answer questions about it. Either keep it to yourself or answer questions, you don't get it both ways.

So, perhaps my judgment is clouded now because I'm actively rooting against Brady, but the Falcons have so much offensively and are playing so fast on defense that I think they pull this one out. If the game was being played outdoors, I'd go Pats all the way. But it's in the dome in Houston and we all know how fast the Falcons move indoors.

Falcons 31, Patriots 27

Andy Schwartz (9-7)
To beat the Patriots, as the Giants and others have proven, pressuring Tom Brady is a must.

Bill Barnwell elaborates on that — in exhaustive detail — here

The Falcons, who boast NFL sack leader Victor Beasley, beat Green Bay two weeks ago by rattling Aaron Rodgers. But Rodgers, as Eagles fans saw in November, excelled by adeptly navigating the pocket and extending plays. He wasn't able to do that against Atlanta.

Will the Falcons get to Tom Brady? I'm not betting on it. Brady is mobile — but not as mobile as Rodgers — and will get rid of the ball quickly. This Falcons' D is hardly a juggernaut, especially not in its home dome and especially against a Patriots team given two weeks to prepare. 

The only way the Falcons win is in a shootout. Could happen, but I'm not going with any team the Eagles beat this season to win the Super Bowl.

Patriots 31, Falcons 20

Options for Eagles in Rounds 4-7 of NFL draft

Options for Eagles in Rounds 4-7 of NFL draft

Here is a breakdown of players that should interest the Eagles on Saturday, the final day of the NFL draft. The Eagles have five more picks left — two in the fourth and one in the fifth, sixth and seven.

Options in the fourth and fifth round

Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma
Perine is an old school power back. He'd be a great complement to Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood although not necessarily a fit in this offense.

Jamaal Williams, RB, BYU
Williams has ideal size but not breakaway speed. He also has good vision and cutback ability.

Wayne Gallman, RB, Clemson
The forgotten man in Clemson's star-studded offense. Gallman is tough and versatile with the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.

Anthony Walker, LB, Northwestern
Walker had a breakout sophomore season but gained too much muscle the following offseason. If the 2015 version returns, he could be a solid player.

Shelton Gipson, WR, West Virginia
Gipson is a one-trick pony but his speed is legit. The Eagles could use a young burner.

Julie'n Davenport, OT, Bucknell
Jason Peters can't play forever. Davenport dominated at Bucknell. He's still a bit of a project, but he has tools to work with.

Roderick Johnson, OT, Florida State
Before the season, Johnson was a player to keep an eye on as a fringe first-rounder. He struggled at times this season but is still athletic and intriguing.

Jaleel Johnson, DT, Iowa
Johnson really flashes at times. Other times, his pad level is too high and he loses to offensive linemen despite outmuscling them.

Options in the sixth and seventh rounds

Chad Wheeler, OT, USC
Wheeler has had issues on and off the field but has shown flashes of being a decent tackle. He may not have the athleticism to hang at left tackle at the next level.

Charles Walker, DT, Oklahoma
He's had concussion issues and questions about his passion. But when Walker is in the lineup and focused, he can play.

Jalen Reeves-Maybin, LB, Tennessee
Reeves-Maybin is undersized but instinctive and fast. At worst, he becomes a special team's ace.

Tedric Thompson, S, Colorado
Thompson is a ball hawking safety, pulling in seven interceptions last season. It's not a position of need, but again, Thompson could help out on special teams and maybe develop into something more.

Eagles draft CB Rasul Douglas with 3rd-round pick

Eagles draft CB Rasul Douglas with 3rd-round pick

Eagles Draft Tracker

The Eagles doubled down on cornerbacks on Day 2.

The round after taking Washington's Sidney Jones in the second, the Eagles took a cornerback who can actually play this season, selecting West Virginia cornerback Rasul Douglas with their third-round pick (99th overall).

The Eagles had the 99th pick after the trade with the Ravens to get Timmy Jernigan. In that trade, the Eagles gave up the 74th pick and took back the 99th. They thought Douglas was a player they would miss out on because of the move.

Luckily for them, he was still available at 99.

"It was a long way to go from (second-round pick) 43 to 99 but we feel that this guy fits our system, tremendous ball skills, length, and someone who really was on our radar for a long time and had a really good process including at the Senior Bowl," Eagles VP of football operations Howie Roseman said.

The Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, was where the Eagles really started to like Douglas. While he was on their radar before, after being scouted by East Coast scout Ryan Myers, they were very impressed in Mobile.

"The thing that really stood out at his week at the Senior Bowl, you probably hear me talk about it all the time, this guy is tough," VP of player personnel Joe Douglas said. "And very competitive. You saw it all week. Every rep was like the last rep he was playing. I love the way this guy competes."

Rasul Douglas, who ran a 4.59 time in the 40 at the combine, had eight interceptions in the 2016 season. While that 40 time is slower than ideal, Roseman praised Douglas' 10-yard split and said his length and ball skills help to make up for it.

The 6-foot-2, 203-pound corner was once a junior college player who became a first-teamer on the All-Big 12 team. At 6-2, Douglas is the Eagles' tallest corner by two inches. In the past, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has used smaller CBs.

While Douglas will be able to play early this season unlike Jones, the Eagles claim that wasn't the reason they came back with another cornerback pick so quickly.

"It didn't matter the position, it was just the ability to pick the best player," head coach Doug Peterson. "And it just so happened it fit a need and we were fortunate there. This is a good player coming in here."

The last time the Eagles took two corners within the first three rounds was in 2002 when they double-dipped by taking Lito Sheppard in the first round and Sheldon Brown in the second.

This is the first time since 2012, the Eagles have picked a defensive player three times to start a draft.

The Eagles took defensive end Derek Barnett in the first round (43) and cornerback Jones in the second (43).

The draft will wrap up Saturday when the Eagles have five more picks in the fourth through seventh rounds. They have two in the fourth (118, 139) and one in the fifth (155), sixth (194) and seventh (230).

A huge need the Eagles have not addressed yet is at the running back position. Pederson said there are still one or two guys on the board who they like. A key for the Eagles is a back with three-down potential.