There are hundreds of different things you can bet on before Super Bowl LI, including if LeGarrette Blount will rush for more yards than the Oregon Ducks basketball team scores points, if Lady Gaga will mention Donald Trump during the halftime show and many regarding what broadcasters Joe Buck and Troy Aikman will say during the game. One of those bets is how many times they’ll combine to say the phrase “greatest of all-time,” and the only reason this prop bet exists is because the New England Patriots are there. The over/under is set at 5.5.
I would take the over. And if you’re more of a traditional gambler, I would also take the Patriots to win. They just have too much history on their side.
When Bill Belichick and Tom Brady take the field against the Atlanta Falcons in Houston on Sunday, it will be their seventh Super Bowl appearance together. For the Falcons, now in their 51st season as a franchise, it will be just their second. The Patriots indomitable pair now has more Super Bowl appearances than the Jets, Saints, Cardinals, Chargers, Bucs, Titans/Oilers, Lions, Browns, Texans and Jaguars combined. And it only took them 15 years.
Greatest dynasty of all-time? If New England wins it will be their fifth Super Bowl championship since 2001; the Steelers once won four in six years, albeit in a league with 26 teams instead of 32, and no wild card round; the 49ers won five Super Bowls from 1981 to 1995, but with changes at quarterback and head coach along the way. Do we revere a “dynasty” more because it made a significant impact in a short amount of time, or because they retained power for the longest number of years? In an era of free agency, major concerns of brain trauma, early retirements and the salary cap, the Patriots have managed to not only remain relevant for 15 years, but have almost never wavered from being one of the two or three best teams in the NFL.
Greatest quarterback of all-time? With one more win, Brady will become the all-time leader in Super Bowl rings for a quarterback, breaking a three-way tie between him, Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw. You can’t say he won his rings because he was carried by a defense, offensive line or exceptional skill players either. Maybe at times he was, but the players around him are completely different and change every year. Consider that it will be 15 years between his first Super Bowl appearance and this one. When Brady won his first Lombardi Trophy, American Idol had not premiered, Ted Williams was still alive and not yet a frozen head and nobody had ever heard of Nickelback.
Better days perhaps. However, Brady has never been as good as he is right now, not when he won three rings in his first four years as a starter, or when he threw 50 touchdown passes during a perfect 16-0 regular season record in 2007 or even a year ago. At 39, he’s still the most valuable player in the NFL, even if this year’s MVP is standing on the other sideline.
How about greatest coach of all-time? Currently tied with Pittsburgh’s Chuck Knox at four Super Bowl wins, Belichick can take sole possession of having the most Lombardi Trophies ever for a head coach. And while Belichick certainly could decide to walk away at any point and leave behind a game he’s been heavily involved with since he was eight, he is only 64. Though the Patriots benefited from an easy schedule, a weak division and the gift of facing Brock Osweiler in the divisional round, Belichick also had to overcome the four-game suspension of Brady, the injury to his backup quarterback on top of that, being without Rob Gronkowski for the majority of the year and the intentional dumping of two of New England’s best defensive players, Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins, and they still allowed the fewest points this season.
In the classic battle of the NFL’s highest-scoring offense up against the stingiest defense, history suggests that defense almost always wins. That’s how the Denver Broncos defeated MVP Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers a year ago. And the Seattle Seahawks defeating MVP Peyton Manning and the Broncos two years before that. Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is the assumed MVP, and he’s bringing a posse of offensive weapons headlined by Julio Jones, but Belichick is used to game-planning against the league’s best and coming out ahead.
Consider again the moment 15 years ago, when the Rams entered Super Bowl XXXVI with the number one ranked offense in yards and points for the third-straight season and were favored by 14 points. Kurt Warner was the MVP, Marshall Faulk was the game’s pre-eminent dual-threat running back, Torry Holt, a top-end deep threat number one receiver in the early stages of a Hall of Fame career. There are great comparisons to be made between the Falcons – MVP quarterback, dual-threat running back, top-end receiver – and the Rams’ three-year run as “The Greatest Show on Turf,” but we know how that ended: A 20-17 Super Bowl loss to Belichick and Brady’s Patriots.
History is likely to repeat itself.
Forget the vast differences in Super Bowl experience, though that has some level importance as many players have described that it’s just a different beast than anything they’ve ever experienced before, Belichick is a master at solving elite offenses and Brady should have no problem picking apart a mediocre defense. For the Falcons to win, they’ll not only need to be the ‘99 Rams on offense, but they’ll also need to channel the ‘01 Patriots on defense. They’ll likely need to force Brady to make a mistake, something he isn’t wont to do after throwing just two interceptions in the regular season; Atlanta’s defense allowed 31 passing touchdowns and had just 12 interceptions. They’ll need Ryan and the offense to continue their hot streak and score at least 30 points; the Falcons are 1-4 when they fail to score 30, New England has allowed 30 points once all season.
To win their first Super Bowl, Atlanta will need to play as flawlessly as the Patriots. That’s something New England is already masterful at, because they still have the two key figures they’ve had since 2001, and that’s why they’ll win their fifth. You can bet on it.