Even before the final whistle sounded to conclude yet another AFC Championship Game victory for the New England Patriots – who dismantled the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 36-17 rout – the Bovada sportsbook had already installed the Brady/Belichick two-headed monster as 3-point favorites over the Atlanta Falcons for Super Bowl LI.
And considering Atlanta’s own utterly dominant performance while dismissing the Green Bay Packers, in a 44-21 NFC Championship Game walkover that saw the Falcons find the end zone six times, New England’s status as favorites is undoubtedly owed to Super Bowl experience.
When the Falcons take the field at Houston’s NRG Stadium on February 5, quarterback Matt Ryan and wideout Julio Jones will be suiting up for the first Super Bowl appearance of their careers.
Conversely, the Patriots tandem of head coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady will be competing in their seventh Super Bowl trip, seeking their fifth Lombardi Trophy since winning it all in their first season together.
Between a team that has been there and done that in New England, and an Atlanta squad that will largely be experiencing the Super Bowl spotlight for the first time, Bovada’s opening number understandably leans toward experience.
For Ryan and the Falcons though, Sunday’s huge home win over the Packers may have managed to shed the proverbial postseason monkey altogether.
Previously, despite having an all-world QB in Ryan since 2008, Atlanta had gone one and done in its first three postseason trips – before reaching the NFC Championship Game in 2012. That game saw the Falcons flame out against the 49ers, and Atlanta has been on the outside looking in come January for the last three seasons.
Having finally returned to the playoff stage – and on the heels of a regular season which saw Atlanta’s offense tie the 1999 Rams “Greatest Show on Turf” team for eighth on the all-time points scored list – Ryan has been impeccable on his redemption tour.
With seven touchdown tosses, zero interceptions, and 730 yards through the air – including a pristine four TD and 396-yard aerial display against the overmatched Packers – Ryan has erased any memory of his prior playoff woes. And along with explosive receiver Julio Jones, who went off for nine catches and 180 yards last Sunday, the Falcons’ league-leading offense and its 33.8 points per game in the regular season has managed to improve to 40 points per game in the playoffs.
As for the Patriots, the aforementioned brotherhood between Brady and Belichick is the only common denominator in the team’s 15-year reign as the NFL’s modern dynasty. Despite missing the first four games of the year on a Deflategate suspension, Brady returned to post one of his best statistical seasons yet – at the age of 39 no less.
A fifth Super Bowl ring for Brady will move him past his childhood idol Joe Montana, while also pushing the Pats past the 49ers dynasty of the 1980s with five titles altogether. And as if he lacked for motivation, Brady can also force commissioner Roger Goodell, the man who authored and authorized Brady’s suspension, to personally hand over the Lombardi Trophy in Houston with a win.
To begin the week, that -3 line for New England comes at a -125 price, while Atlanta’s +3 spread costs +105 – signaling that the early money has been pouring in on the Patriots to start Super Bowl betting season. The moneyline opened in similar fashion, with New England (-155) and Atlanta (+135) separated by a slight margin, while the total is listed at 59 points.