After digesting as much analysis as I could all week and talking to people smarter than me I am ready to pick the Atlanta Falcons to win the Super Bowl. Unless a lot of stuff happens.
I think the Falcons have the better roster. With Rob Gronkowski out, the Patriots don't have anyone on offense other than Tom Brady who is impossible to mark, and Matt Ryan's brilliant play this postseason suggests he can offset Brady's greatness for a game.
Bill Belichick thrives on reducing the effectiveness of opposing offensive stars, but the Falcons won their first six games this season when Julio Jones was held to fewer than 100 receiving yards. Their only loss when he didn't reach 100 came in the final game of the season against Tampa Bay.
The Falcons not only can win if Belichick and the Patriots handle Jones - they might be better off if the Patriots try.
The Falcons' backs should have big days in the passing game if offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan sends them on routes to the outside of the field. The Patriots' linebackers shouldn't be able to cover them. The Patriots are expected to bracket Jones and use Malcolm Butler on either Mohamed Sanu or Taylor Gabriel. Either Sanu or Gabriel should have a big game.
The Patriots' No. 1 defensive ranking is based somewhat on their ability to smother terrible teams. The Falcons will move the ball.
On offense, the Falcons' greatest concern has to be the health of center Alex Mack, who will play with a broken leg. If he can't finish the game the Patriots will surely try to attack the Falcons up the middle, hoping to disrupt Ryan.
The Falcons' defense might be the biggest variable in this game. They are young and they give up a lot of yards. The Patriots are likely to try a power running game to keep the game from becoming a shootout. If the Falcons get beat up by the running game their pass rush may not be effective enough to disrupt Brady, and it was the Giants' pass rush that set up the Patriots' two Super Bowl losses of the Brady-Belichick era.
In the end, making a prediction on what should be a close game is rather silly. One tipped pass can change the course of the game. And who would have predicted that the Seahawks two years ago would faiil to score after having second-and-goal from inside the one with one timeout left and Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson in the backfield?
I'll take Falcons 29, Patriots 25. I think the Falcons' offensive versaility and depth wins the day. But I could be wrong.
Hall of Fame voting
The writers who vote on the Pro Football Hall of Fame are getting bashed for not voting for Terrell Owens. I get it. His numbers justify his selection.
But there is a reason he's not getting in. These voters are veteran NFL reporters. They deeply research their votes, and talk to a lot of former coaches and players. From what I can gather, NFL players and coaches campaign against Owens because of the way he behaved as a teammate.
I think he should be in and will get in. I also think it would be fair to place the blame for this situaton on Owens. All he had to to to be a Hall of Famer at this point is not be a complete jerk to his own teammates and coaches when he was playing.
Personally, I'd still rather see Owens in the Hall than Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Yes, Jerry won three Super Bowls, and yes his a genius businessman, but I thinks players should be given preference over owners, unless we're talking about the owners who founded the league. Jerry's reward is being very rich and famous.
I also feel strangely about the induction of Morten Andersen. He's the league's all-time leading scorer. I guess he should be in. Again, I would prefer to see players who put their brains and limbs at risk for 70 snaps a game over someone who swings his leg a few times a game. Maybe kickers should have a separate Hall for players who never took a hit.
But Morten is a good guy and an accomplished player, so I'm happy for him. And on the latest Sports From Hell show, Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jeff Schultz talked about the Hall, the Super Bowl and the Falcons after telling a great story about how Andersen was introduced to football. Check it out at MNSPN.com, subscribe to The Minnesota Sports Podcast Network on Itunes.
Our next live show: 6 p.m. Wednesday at Hell's Kitchen with Chuck Foreman.