1. Tom Brady (NE vs. Atl, Sun. 6:30 p.m.)
At 39-years-old, Brady is making his unprecedented seventh Super Bowl appearance this weekend. By every stretch of the imagination, Tom Brady has been absolutely stellar in 2016. He’s tossed a passing score on 6.5% of his pass attempts–his best rate since 2010—and his 9.30 adjusted yards/attempt mark is the second-best of his career, just barely behind his record-breaking 2007 season (9.4 AY/A). While Brady and New England’s offense struggled a little against Houston in the Divisional Round, Brady and the Pats’ passing offense absolutely ate the Steelers alive in the Conference Championship. Brady tossed for 384 yards on 42 attempts for three scores in a classic Brady route at home. While the Falcons’ offense is humming along at a startling pace, Brady and Co. will have every opportunity to return the scoring favor. As a team, the Falcons’ defense has improved slightly recently—but their secondary is still a bit of a mess. Most notably, all of the Falcons’ cornerbacks are giving up counting statistics in bunches. RCB Jalen Collins has allowed a touchdown in three of his last four games while LCB Robert Alford has allowed 5/81/1 and 5/51/1 in coverage in the Falcons two playoff games (per PFF). Even slot corner Brian Poole has allowed 8.95 yards per coverage target in his last five games, well above league average of about 7.6 YPT. With a plethora of healthy weapons coming off of an additional week of rest—both Malcolm Mitchell (knee) and Conference Championship hero Chris Hogan (thigh)—all Patriot receivers should be well rested and ready to attack Atlanta’s weaknesses. No matter the direction Brady looks in Super Bowl 51, he’ll have an amazing matchup versus burnable corners.
2. Matt Ryan (Atl vs. NE, Sun. 6:30 p.m.)
At 59 points, Falcons-Patriots is the largest over/under for the Super Bowl ever, eclipsing Colts-Saints in 2009 (56.5). For good reason, Vegas are giving major respect to Atlanta’s elite offense. Since Atlanta lost to Kansas City at home in Week 13, Matt Ryan has averaged 310.2 YPG, has an 18:0 TD-to-INT ratio, and he has thrown for 9.54 yards per attempt. Ryan led the league in YPA for the full year by a mile (9.3). In the six games since their loss to the Chiefs, Atlanta is averaging 39 points per game and their offense has eclipsed 40 points three times in that span. For perspective, the 2013 Broncos averaged 37.9 PPG while the undefeated 2007 Patriots averaged 36.8 PPG. Even though the Falcons’ have been throwing up crooked numbers on scoreboards all year long, it still seems like Ryan and Co. are underrated even as NFC Champions. As for the Patriots secondary, we know Atlanta is incredibly multiple in their attack and can and will try to beat New England in all dimensions of the field. Still, even though New England has not really been tested as of late, we have to mention that the Pats’ two boundary corners are playing fantastic football right now. Over the last five weeks, RCB Logan Ryan has allowed just 4.7 yards per coverage target per PFF, well below league average (7.60). In that same timeframe, LCB Malcolm Butler has allowed just 4.3 yards per coverage target per PFF. It is unclear whether or not HC Bill Belichick will assign an isolated CB on Julio Jones for the entire game, but in terms of size-adjusted speed, Logan Ryan would have a better shot at tracking Julio’s uncanny burst. At any rate, this Patriots’ defense may be in for a shock to their proverbial system. Almost impossibly, the Patriots have not faced a single quarterback that finished inside of the top-8 passers in adjusted YPA this year. Matt Ryan’s adjusted YPA of 10.09 in 2016 was the fourth-best of all-time among signal-callers with at least 300 attempts in a single season.
1. Devonta Freeman (Atl, vs. NE, Sun. 6:30 p.m.)
Both teams left in the Super Bowl rotate their backs pretty aggressively, but Freeman is the guy left who most fits the profile as a “lead” back. In two playoff games, Freeman has 36 touches, with a TD in each game (one rushing, one receiving). He has 28/87/1 rushing and 8/122/1 receiving, and despite the Falcons having the NFL’s best offense overall, you can make the argument that Freeman’s ability to contribute as both a runner and receiver is really the engine that makes the whole thing go. And while the Patriot defense has given up just 3.4 YPC during the playoffs (obviously a small sample size), the club has also given up 17 receptions to RBs. Obviously, Freeman can get them in both areas. Keep in mind, though, that Falcon C Alex Mack, their best interior blocker, is dealing with an ankle injury, though he is fully expected to play in the game. And if the Bill Belichick we’re used to seeing shows up in this game – the one that likes to do everything in his power to neutralize a team’s best threat, perhaps the Patriots are dedicating a ton of resources to controlling Julio Jones. If that’s the case, Freeman is even less likely to see heavy boxes than he already is (it’s hard to stack the box against this passing offense). Again, the Patriots’ run defense has been strong pretty much all year, but they’ve given up roughly 7 receptions per game to the RB position on average this season. At a 61% snap rate in the playoffs, Freeman has the highest snap ratio for RBs left in the playoffs, and he’s our #1 RB option in Super Bowl LI.
2. Tevin Coleman (Atl, vs. NE, Sun. 6:30 p.m.)
If there’s one player who showcases the creativity and effectiveness of OC (and future 49er HC) Kyle Shanahan, it perhaps isn’t Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, or Devonta Freeman. Instead, we’d argue that it’s Coleman. The second-year back is perhaps one of the key players of the entire Super Bowl, especially if Patriot coach Bill Belichick opts to try to shut down Julio (“try to” being the operative words). In the playoffs, Coleman is playing just 39.1% of the snaps, but is averaging 14 touches per game, and has scored 2 TDs on his 28 touches. For what it’s worth, he’s also averaging 3.9 YPC in the playoffs to Freeman’s 3.1. But it’s Coleman’s versatility – splitting out wide, going in motion, etc. – that makes him so difficult to defend, and if the Patriots are bracketing Julio, you can argue Coleman is actually their most dangerous player, and we’d expect Shanahan to gameplan around Coleman, one of his best big-play threats. The Patriots have given up just under 7 receptions per game to opposing RBs this year, and Coleman can obviously make a big impact in that area. Additionally, nearly 60% of the fantasy points the Patriots have allowed to RBs this season have come through the passing game, which was easily the highest in the entire NFL. Coleman isn’t the better option in this backfield on the surface, but he is one big play away from outscoring Freeman.
3. LeGarrette Blount (NE, vs. Atl, Sun. 6:30 p.m.)
If the Patriots are going to apply a ground-and-pound philosophy in the Super Bowl, Blount will likely be their focal point. The major question is this – will they be able to pound it out? With a projected over-under of near 60, it’s projected to be the highest-scoring Super Bowl in history, and the Patriots are going up against the NFL’s #1 offense. The rub is that Atlanta’s run defense has struggled of late, allowing 558 yards rushing on 104 carries in its last five games (5.4 YPC). And though Blount has averaged just 3.3 YPC during the playoffs, he’s actually been New England’s most effective runner in that department. Blount is second in snaps to Dion Lewis over the last five games, however, and Lewis’ versatility may well be more important against the high-powered Falcons than Blount’s power. For Blount to reach his ceiling, he needs a short TD or for the Patriots to build a lead, and fortunately those two things are not mutually exclusive.
4. Dion Lewis (NE, vs. Atl, Sun. 6:30 p.m.)
Lewis’ versatility may make him the most important backfield player against the Falcons in Super Bowl LI. Over the last five games, Lewis is actually the Patriots’ backfield snap leader, and he has the advantage of being able to catch the ball better than LeGarrette Blount, and run the ball better than James White. In other words, if the Patriots don’t want to “tip their hand,” Lewis is their best back, and in a game that has about 60 as the projected over-under, that makes his role incredibly important. Far be it from us to actually project how the Patriots will use their RBs, but over the past five games, the Falcons have allowed 5.4 YPC to opposing RBs, and have given up 14 catches to the position in two playoff games. Those are both phenomenal stats for Lewis supporters this week.
5. James White (NE, vs. Atl, Sun. 6:30 p.m.)
In the playoffs, the Falcons have given up 14 total catches to RBs in two games. And as this game is projected to be the highest-scoring Super Bowl in history, there’s a good chance the Patriots will have to throw it a ton in this game. And White is their best receiving back – though he had just 10 opportunities and has played just 27.9% of their snaps in the playoffs, he is easily a smoother receiver than Dion Lewis, and much smoother than LeGarrette Blount. The issue is White is a poor interior runner, and having him in the game essentially tips the Patriots’ hand. But then again, if the Patriots are forced to score with Atlanta, the NFL’s #1 offense, will that matter? White is a huge part of the Patriots’ offense if this game is a shootout, and an excellent option for fantasy. It wouldn’t be outrageous to think he scores more points than any Patriot RB in this game, but he also has a much lower floor than Lewis and Blount.
1. Julio Jones (Atl, vs. NE, Sun. 6:30 p.m.)
Jones comes into the Super Bowl on an absolute tear, scoring in three straight games while managing a toe injury that’s hindered for a good chunk of the season. He went into beast-mode in the NFC Championship, posting 9/180/2 receiving on 12 targets with the highlight coming on 73-yard catch-and-run score. The Falcon and Patriots have the highest point total (59) for a Super Bowl ever, so this game has a chance to be a shootout. Matt Ryan is averaging 310.2 yards per game and the Falcons are averaging 39 points per game since Week 14. The Patriots could look to use some combination of Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler, and/or Eric Rowe, plus safety help over the top to double team Julio this week. HC Bill Belichick and company will look to limit Jones the best that they can, but Kyle Shanahan will move him around the formation to try to free him up to get him some good looks. Jones is going to put up some production no matter how much attention the Patriots give him, but the Patriots are unlikely to let him crush them, so expectations need to be kept in check.
2. Julian Edelman (NE, vs. Atl, Sun. 6:30 p.m.)
If you are looking for the best bet to be heavily involved in the Super Bowl, Edelman is your guy. He’s averaged 12.3 targets and 7.3/100.4/.33 receiving in his last nine games since Week 11. He also has 8+ catches and 118+ receiving yards in his last three games. He actually finished as the #2 receiver in the AFC Championship, despite posting a whopping 8/118/1 receiving on 10 targets against the Steelers. The Falcons and Patriots have the highest point total (59) for a Super Bowl ever, so this game has a chance to be a shootout. Slot CB Brian Poole has allowed 8.95 yards per target in his last five games, well above league average of about 7.6 YPT, so Edelman has a favorable matchup. Poole and the Falcon CBs should have trouble containing Edelman, plus they are giving up 40 FPG to WRs in the playoffs. He’s been the safest PPR option since Week 11, and he’s guaranteed to be active again this week.
3. Taylor Gabriel (Atl, vs. NE, Sun. 6:30 p.m.)
Gabriel hasn’t made a huge impact since Week 15, which will need to change this week. The Patriots will do plenty to slow down Julio Jones, and Matt Ryan is going to need the likes of Gabriel and Mohamed Sanu to step up. Gabriel posted just 2/24 receiving on 3 targets in the NFC Championship, dropping his other look against the Packers. The Falcons and Patriots have the highest point total (59) for a Super Bowl ever, so this game has a chance to be a shootout. Matt Ryan is averaging 310.2 yards per game and the Falcons are averaging 39 points per game since Week 14. The Patriots could look to use Logan Ryan and safety help over the top to double team Julio this week, and Sanu could see more of their best CB Malcolm Butler, leaving Gabriel with potentially the best matchup against Eric Rowe. HC Bill Belichick and company will look to limit Jones the best that they can, so Gabriel should have some chances to make plays. He’s played just 40% of the snaps in the playoffs, but they generate him targets when he’s on the field. If there is such a thing as a sleeper in the Super Bowl, Gabriel could be that guy if he gets a couple one-on-one chances against Rowe, and the Falcons will likely need him to make at least one big play to help their chances.
4. Mohamed Sanu (Atl, vs. NE, Sun. 6:30 p.m.)
Sanu has been on a solid run heading into the Super Bowl, scoring TDs in three straight games. The Falcons could need him to make a couple plays as well this week, with the Patriots looking to slow down Julio Jones anyway they can. Sanu posted 5/52/1 receiving on 7 targets against the Packers in the NFC Championship. The Falcon and Patriots have the highest point total (59) for a Super Bowl ever, so this game has a chance to be a shootout. Matt Ryan is averaging 310.2 yards per game and the Falcons are averaging 39 points per game since Week 14. The Patriots could look to use Logan Ryan and safety help over the top to double team Julio this week, and Malcolm Butler could match up with Sanu at times, which isn’t an easy matchup. HC Bill Belichick and company will look to limit Jones the best that they can, so Sanu should have chances to make plays. The Falcons will try to get Sanu some matchups with Eric Rowe, a matchup that favors the Falcons. Sanu has been on a roll in the playoffs, catching 9 of his 12 targets and scoring twice, but the Patriots could stick their best CB Butler on him at times if they double Jones. Sanu isn’t the type of player to go nuts – he’s topped 60+ yards just three times in 17 games – so his best chance to make an impact is to extend his TD streak to four games.
5. Chris Hogan (NE, vs. Atl, Sun. 6:30 p.m.)
The Falcons should pay closer attention to Hogan than the Steelers did in the AFC Championship. He ran wild two weeks ago, setting career-highs with 9/180/2 receiving on 12 targets and also breaking Deion Branch’s team record for receiving yards in a playoff game. The Patriots used Julian Edelman and Hogan exclusively in base personnel in the AFC title game. The Falcon and Patriots have the highest point total (59) for a Super Bowl ever, so this game has a chance to be a shootout. The Falcons will likely play more man coverage after watching Pittsburgh’s zone defense get absolutely torched in the AFC Championship, and he’ll have some winnable matchups. RCB Jalen Collins has allowed a TD three of his last four games, and LCB Robert Alford has allowed 5/81/1 and 5/51/1 in coverage in the Falcons two playoff games. Counting the postseason, Hogan is averaging a league-best 18.7 yards per catch for receivers with 25+ catches. He’s catching 81% of his passes in the playoffs with 13/275/2, becoming a huge factor for Brady the last couple weeks. It’s clear that Brady is getting more and more comfortable with Hogan in recent weeks. It’s not a lock that Hogan is heavily involved in this offense from week to week, but he can win in this matchup on the outside and he’s certainly coming in smoking hot.
6. Malcolm Mitchell (NE, vs. Atl, Sun. 6:30 p.m.)
Mitchell has been bothered by a knee injury the last month, missing Week 17 and the Divisional Round. He returned to the field in the AFC Championship but made no impact, catching just a 5-yard pass on 4 targets. Mitchell did step back into a prominent role, playing on 63% of the snaps and running a route on 80% of Tom Brady’s dropbacks against the Steelers. He was a little bit rusty in his return, but he should be much healthier heading into the Super Bowl. The Falcon and Patriots have the highest point total (59) for a Super Bowl ever, so this game has a chance to be a shootout. The Falcons will likely play more man coverage after watching Pittsburgh’s zone defense get absolutely torched in the AFC Championship, and he’ll have some winnable matchups. RCB Jalen Collins has allowed a TD in three of his last four games, and LCB Robert Alford has allowed 5/81/1 and 5/51/1 in coverage in the Falcons two playoff games. Mitchell will see both players playing on the outside, and he could still be a factor down by the end zone. The Falcons are giving up 40 FPG to WRs in the playoffs, and he’ll have decent matchups on the outside. There’s an outside chance he can make an impact, especially down in the red zone.
1. Martellus Bennett (NE vs. Atl, Sun. 6:30 p.m.)
Reportedly playing with a crack in his ankle plus a knee injury, Bennett clearly is not at 100 percent health entering Super Bowl 51. The extra week of rest may help, but Martellus Bennett admitted his ankle will need surgery this offseason. We’re not doctors, but it’s apparently hard to play tight end effectively through “chipped” bones in your ankle. Bennett’s multiple nagging ailments have completely zapped his production, too. Bennett has cracked 40 yards receiving just once in his last nine games and has been held to three or fewer catches in seven of those nine contests. Atlanta did allow 7/78/1 to Jared Cook in the Conference Round, 3/22/1 to Jimmy Graham in the Divisional Round, and their linebacking/safety corps permitted 63.3 yards/game to enemy tight ends during the regular season (eighth-most). Still, with Bennett’s multiple injuries, he’s still a shaky low-floor bet for the Super Bowl. The last time Bennett saw more than five targets in a game was way back in Week 10.
2. Austin Hooper (Atl vs. NE, Sun. 6:30 p.m.)
With 1/10 and 2/23 in two games since returning from a knee injury that cost him Weeks 16-17, the rookie Hooper just has not been a huge factor for the Falcons in their playoff run. He has been out-targeted by the Falcons’ vastly less athletic run-blocking tight end Levine Toilolo (6:4) in the playoffs and Hooper has played on just 52% > 60% of snaps in that span. Toilolo has played on 82% and 72% of Atlanta’s snaps in the Divisional and Championship rounds. Atlanta is incredibly multiple schematically and could rip one or two big plays to their tight ends in the Super Bowl, but it is a low-volume bet at best. New England finished the 2016 regular season allowing the seventh-fewest fantasy points per target to enemy tight ends.