We are now just ten days away from Super Bowl LI, a game between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots that promises to be ten times more exciting than last year’s Super Bowl. There are a lot of major storylines both on and off the field, but since the game is played on the field, we’ll focus on that. Both sides have incredible talent on both sides of the ball, which creates intrigue among some of the head-to-head matchups as well as those playing at different times. When thinking about some of them, three come to mind that stick out from the rest. With that being said, here are the top three matchups to watch in Super Bowl LI:
1. QB Matt Ryan vs. QB Tom Brady: This is the obvious one: the likely NFL MVP for this season against the most dominant playoff QB in the history of the league. Ryan is playing on another level right now after throwing for over 4,900 yards in the regular season and dominating his first two games of the postseason. He is trying to get rid of his past demons that suggest he’s not a clutch QB who can win in the playoffs, and with one more win, he would just about do that. On the other hand, Tommy Touchdown had the greatest touchdown to interception ratio in league history (14:1) in the twelve games he played, and after a crappy first playoff game against the Texans, he utterly destroyed the Steelers this past weekend. Brady is entering his seventh Super Bowl with the potential to win his fifth, and if he pulls of the feat, one would have a difficult time arguing he’s the greatest to ever play the position. No matter the outcome, these two should both have an excellent game, and it may come down to which one has the ball last.
2. Julio Jones vs. Patriots secondary: Some may be wondering why I took the whole secondary over just Malcolm Butler, and the answer is fairly simple: it’s going to take the whole cavalry to limit Julio Jones. After last week, Jones established himself as the best receiver in the league, catching nine balls for 180 yards and two TDs… with turf toe. Against what is admittedly a banged up Green Bay secondary, he looked like some combination of Calvin Johnson, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. with his physicality, route running and pure speed in the open field. It’s unlikely he dominates New England in such a way, as Belichick has a knack for taking away the other team’s best weapon (a.k.a. Antonio Brown last week.) Between Malcolm Butler, Devin McCourty and Logan Ryan, I’m sure the Pats will have some zone scheme set up to try and hold back Matty Ice’s favorite target. Still, it should be entertaining to see how it all plays out.
3. Vic Beasley vs. Marcus Cannon: This is the matchup that, in my estimation, not nearly enough people are talking about. For Atlanta, you have the league leader in sacks during the regular season in second year pro Vic Beasley. He relies on pure speed most of time to get around tackles and attack the quarterback, a tactic that worked out very well for him. For New England, you have Marcus Cannon, a right tackle who, in one season, went from the worst offensive tackle in human history to an All-Pro second teamer. He shut down pass rushers consistently all season, with his most notable game being against the Denver Broncos, in which he virtually made All-World edge rusher Von Miller null and void. Beasley struggled last week against an underrated Packers’ O-Line, while Cannon looked good against improving young pass rusher Bud Dupree (although it did look like Dupree beat him around the edge a couple of times.) These two might end up being the x-factors for the whole game itself, as whoever outperforms the other will be the deciding factor in how comfortable Brady is throwing from the pocket.
Cover photo via ESPN.