Super Bowl 51: position-by-position breakdown

A position-by-position look at how Atlanta and New England stack up against each other for Super Bowl 51 on Sunday in Houston.


The greatest quarterback of all time vs. the league MVP. Tom Brady tries to cement his status, and Matt Ryan attempts to take his career to a new stratosphere. Ryan’s passer rating this season (117.1) ranks fifth all time. In the playoffs, “Matty Ice” is averaging 9.7 yards per attempt with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. Brady is somehow as good as ever at age 39, throwing only four interceptions in 14 games. He posted the second-highest passer rating of his career (112.2).

Edge: Atlanta



Both teams feature versatile weapons out of the backfield, as the team’s primary backs have combined for 189 receptions this season. The Falcons’ combination of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman has been extremely productive, with 2,734 total yards from scrimmage (5.7 yards per touch). The Patriots’ trio of LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis and James White averages 4.7 yards per touch.

Edge: Atlanta


Brady’s receivers excel at creating separation, with Julian Edelman (1,361 yards) and Chris Hogan (955 yards) chief among them. Ryan threw a touchdown pass to an NFL-record 13 teammates, showcasing the diverse array of weapons at his disposal. Julio Jones (1,656) rises above the rest, but Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel also can make plays.

Edge: Atlanta


In the 12 regular-season games that Brady played, New England’s line allowed him to be sacked only 16 times. The team’s protection has undergone a major turnaround since being worked over in the playoffs last season, thanks to longtime assistant coach Dante Scarnecchia coming out of retirement. Atlanta allowed 37 sacks in the regular season and averaged 4.6 yards per rushing attempt.

Edge: New England



Both teams recorded 34 sacks in the regular season, with Falcons edge rusher Vic Beasley leading the league with 15.5. The Patriots have fewer stars up front, but the team has been tougher, allowing opponents to average 3.9 yards per rush attempt in the regular season and 3.2 in the playoffs. The Falcons have allowed their opponents to average 4.6 yards per attempt in 18 games.

Edge: New England


New England linebacker Dont’a Hightower was a second-team All-Pro selection, keeping the Patriots’ defense together after the midseason trade of Jamie Collins. Atlanta is young and fast at linebacker with rookies Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell, but the team will have to be careful not to overpursue.

Edge: New England


The Patriots allowed an opponent passer rating of 84.4 in the regular season, eighth-best in the NFL. The team’s secondary also tackles extremely well, and gave up the fewest yards after catch in the league. The Falcons are near the bottom of the league in yards after catch allowed, which could be a major problem against New England’s slippery receivers.

Edge: New England


These two units are relatively evenly matched, as the Patriots are seventh and the Falcons eighth in Football Outsider’s special teams rankings. Getting Lewis back on kickoff returns has boosted New England recently, as the back returned one 98 yards for a touchdown in the divisional round against Houston.

Edge: New England


Brady and coach Bill Belichick will set NFL records for most Super Bowl appearances by a quarterback and head coach with seven each. Belichick will be coaching in his 10th Super Bowl total. Atlanta coach Dan Quinn has coached in two title games as an assistant, and Matt Ryan has never started a Super Bowl.

Edge: New England


Contact reporter Ben Gotz at Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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