For a complete rundown of how players will score fantasy points
for your team, click on the “Rules & Prizing”
link on the NFL.com
entry page. Much of the content immediately below is included
on the “How to Play” page, although the information
I provide below should be more than enough to follow along easily.
At this point, you either have a lineup full of 4x players
or, at worst, a mix of 4x and 3x players with perhaps one substitution.
Otherwise, your entry is probably not in the running anymore and
that's OK. Trying to predict the Super Bowl entrants is tough enough,
but getting the right players on those teams can be every bit as
As it turns out, I nailed the teams making the Super Bowl. My
only regret? Somehow I failed to foresee the Packers' wide receiver
corps get destroyed by injuries to the point where Jared Cook
could emerge as the right play at tight end. Nevertheless, there
is no question I should score over 800 points in this competition
and finish among the top 1,000 or so entrants when all is said
and done. Both will be easily the best marks I have achieved in
Because I'm obviously not going to change any player in my all-4x
lineup, I will simply list my choices below and break down the
individual matchups in the next section.
With DraftKings bowing out for the Super Bowl, we are left with
only the traditional playoff pick-your-studs leagues that are
wrapping up this weekend.
Because there is only one game this week and I have no reason
to change any of my NFL.com picks, I decided this time around
to provide you with some of the most detailed analysis you are
likely to find on the web in regard to this game. Enjoy.
Key for quarterbacks, running backs, receivers
and tight ends: P Yds - Passing Yards P TD - Passing Touchdowns INT - Interceptions Ru Yds - Rushing Yards Ru TD - Rushing Touchdowns Rec Yds - Receiving Yards Rec TD - Receiving Touchdowns Rec - Receptions
Ryan - Ryan completed passes to 15 different receivers
this year and set a NFL record by throwing a touchdown pass to 13
of them. This is exactly the kind of distribution an offense needs
if it going to defeat a defensive game plan put together by DC Matt
Patricia and HC Bill Belichick. One of the few coaches Belichick
has struggled to beat over the course of his career was OC Kyle
Shanahan's dad in large part because the elder Shanahan's teams
always seemed to be able to run the ball against Belichick's defenses
and get what they needed in the passing game off play-action. Mike
is credited with popularizing the zone-stretch play, so while Kyle
doesn't seem to rely on it as much as his dad used to, it is still
very much an important part of the running game. Atlanta boasts
the NFL's fifth-best ground game this year, while New England finished
the regular season with the league's fourth-best rush defense. Even
if we call that "matchup" a draw, the bigger point to be made here
is the Patriots will not have the luxury of taking many chances
giving the Falcons a light box because Atlanta's running game is
good enough to take advantage of it - unlike many of the Patriots'
recent opponents. Patricia and Belichick will be able to dictate
matchups in the passing game on obvious passing downs given the
versatility of their defensive backs, but Kyle Shanahan and Ryan
have the weapons to keep New England honest on defense - again,
unlike many of the Patriots' recent opponents. Getting the Patriots
to bite on play-action will be pivotal.
Brady - Over the last few years, the only team that
has enjoyed consistent success against Brady is Denver. Simplistically
speaking, the Broncos were able to achieve this because they have
the two characteristics a defense needs in order to slow down
any elite quarterback: cornerbacks who can cover for at least
three seconds and the ability to get pressure with four rushers.
Brady has usually picked apart teams who couldn't do either one
and still performed at an elite level against defenses that could
achieve only one of the two. While Vic Beasley led the league
in sacks this season, I'm not sure anyone is ready to put him
in the same class as Von Miller. Additionally, while the Falcons'
secondary has held up nicely over the second half of the season,
no one will mistake Robert Alford, Jalen Collins and Brian Poole
for Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby. Even if we
say Beasley gives Atlanta a fighting chance to move Brady off
his spot in the pocket, the Patriots arguably have the advantage
in each of the most likely receiver vs. cornerback matchups.
Falcons running backs - If there is
one area in which Atlanta holds a decent to sizable advantage in
this position-by-position analysis, it is the speed and elusiveness
Freeman and Tevin
Coleman bring to the table over Patriots ILBs Elandon
Roberts and, specifically, Kyle
Van Noy. Some may remember the emergence of Roberts was one
of the primary reasons New England felt comfortable trading Jamie
Collins, so it is not his athleticism that is in question here.
However, neither Roberts nor Van Noy ranked inside the top 50 in
overall grade among linebackers per Pro Football Focus. Again, per
PFF, Van Noy allowed the second-most yards per coverage snap (1.85)
among his position group, while Roberts surrendered catches on 13-of-15
targets for receptions for 174 yards and a touchdown in coverage.
In part because the Patriots have stopped the run so well this season,
they have surrendered 102 receptions to the running back position
- second only to the Falcons (108). While that may seem like a stat
that makes the preceding paragraph irrelevant, it should be noted
Atlanta yielded only 17 catches to running backs over the final
five weeks of the regular season whereas New England gave up 31
- and no one would argue the Rams, Ravens, Broncos, Jets or Dolphins
(New England's final five opponents) have backs on par with the
tandem of Freeman and Coleman. It should come as no surprise if
the Falcons attempt to play both backs at the same time and try
to spread the field in order to get one or both isolated on Roberts
or Van Noy. This should not be a game in which Atlanta needs to
run a lot of screens either; if the Falcons are going to throw to
their backs, look for them to be on downfield shots such as wheel
Patriots running backs - The one
(and only) back Atlanta faced this season who most resembles Blount
in terms of style of play is Jonathan
Stewart, who finished with 50 yards on 11 carries in Week
16. While that stat line doesn't really tell us all that much,
there is no question in my mind Blount will need to be the primary
option in the backfield if the Patriots are interested in maintaining
any kind of offensive balance and keeping the game from becoming
a complete shootout. While Dion
Lewis and James
White typically offer OC Josh McDaniels two options out of
the backfield who are mismatches for most linebackers, they don't
pose the same kind of threat to WLB De'Vondre
Campbell (6-3. 234) or MLB Deion
Jones (6-1, 222), both of whom were drafted last year specifically
for their speed. Furthermore, DT Grady
Jarrett and RDE Tyson
Jackson are the only players on Atlanta's front four who possess
what most consider prototypical weight for players in their positions.
Blount, as most of us well know, checks in at 6-0, 250, so it
would make a ton of sense for the Patriots to use his size as
a way to counteract the speed the Falcons' defense is built on.
Does that mean he'll see the 20 carries he became accustomed to
prior to Lewis' return? Probably not, if only because he hasn't
topped four yards per carry in five straight outings, while Lewis
is shifty enough to make players like Campbell and Jones miss
in space just as much as he could players like Garrett or Jackson.
With that said, the best way to beat speed is to run straight
at it and preferably with as much bulk as possible. It should
come as no surprise if the Patriots choose to regularly employ
a sixth offensive lineman (perhaps on 20 percent of the plays?)
and see if Blount can't just wear out Atlanta's front seven, especially
since New England probably isn't going to try to milk the clock.
Jones vs. Logan
Rowe - Perhaps the biggest mystery entering this Sunday
is exactly how Patricia and Belichick plan on bottling up Jones.
But will that be their focus? Before you decide to start laughing
and quit reading, consider this: In games in which Julio Jones was
limited to 60 yards or fewer, Atlanta went 5-0, averaged 34.4 points
and sported an 11.4-point margin of victory. In other words, taking
away the Falcons' best offensive player didn't exactly slow down
the offensive machine. While many tend to believe Jones will receive
shadow coverage from Malcolm Butler, that approach is not New England's
style. Patricia and Belichick have long favored putting their second-best
corner on another team's star receiver and giving him safety help
over the top. Making it even more likely the Patriots won't ask
Butler to travel with Jones is the size difference between the two:
Butler is 5-11, 190, while Jones is 6-3, 220. Rowe is 6-1 and 205,
making it much more likely he will see the most snaps opposite Jones.
It's hard to imagine New England trusting Rowe to handle Jones by
himself on more than a handful of snaps, however, so expect safety
help on his side about 90 percent of the time.
Sanu vs. Logan
Ryan - Per PFF, Sanu ran 59.1 percent of his routes
from the slot this season, and this should be a game in which
Atlanta relies heavily on three-wide personnel. After taking a
beating on the outside early in 2016, Ryan began to emerge as
a quality slot corner. So, given the aforementioned defensive
attention on Jones, Sanu vs. Ryan should be one of the pivotal
matchups of this game from the Falcons' perspective. Sanu has
been extremely efficient of late, catching 13-of-16 targets over
his last three games, making it seem as if he's caught fire with
three touchdowns over that span. In reality, he's really the same
receiver he was in Cincinnati with a better quarterback - a possession
wideout with the capability to run a trick play or two to keep
the defense on its heels. All in all, this is a matchup Ryan should
be able to manage. If he can't for one reason or another, it could
very well be the reason Atlanta pulls the upset.
Gabriel vs. Malcolm
Butler - Let's be clear: I believe Butler will line
up against Sanu in two-wide sets and Rowe will start over Ryan
and see primary coverage on Jones. Even if Ryan starts, I suspect
he'll be the one to start out on Jones over Butler. I'm choosing
to make this Butler's primary matchup because I believe the Falcons
will use at least three receivers more than 50 percent of the
time. If I am correct about this pairing, Shanahan will need to
consider making Gabriel his primary slot receiver if he has any
hope of creating big plays in the passing game with his non-Jones
receivers. Also working against Gabriel is the Patriots' ability
to limit big passing plays. New England gave up one pass play
of 20-plus yards to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship
and tied for 10th this season in 25-yard pass plays allowed (27).
While Gabriel is more than just a big-play artist, he's probably
not at the point in his career yet where he can take his already
limited opportunities (roughly six targets per game) and produce
much against one of the highest-rated corners in the league (Butler).
He'll have a much better chance to do so against Ryan.
Edelman vs. Brian
Poole - Poole has done more this season than most could
expect from a rookie free agent and is ranked 37th among all cornerbacks
per PFF in overall grade. He mostly held his own against Doug
Baldwin and did a fair job against Randall Cobb, but Edelman is
a different animal in the sense that so much of the Patriots'
passing game revolves around him. But make no mistake: this is
a matchup that favors New England in a big way. Per PFF, Poole
gave up the fifth-most yards after the catch among slot cornerbacks,
while Edelman produced the fourth-most yards after the catch among
his position group. Given how often Edelman gets open within two
seconds of the snap, Poole will be fortunate to keep him around
six or seven scoreless catches.
Hogan vs. Robert
Alford - Sometimes I feel as if the Patriots try to
mock the rest of the league. Prior to arriving in Foxboro, Hogan
was primarily known for being a big slot receiver with little
speed. Try telling that to Pittsburgh. While I want to take nothing
away from a player coming off a career game and acknowledge New
England did a fine job in creating opportunities for him in the
AFC Championship, Hogan might as well have been the invisible
man in the Steelers' secondary, as he routinely had at least three
yards of separation on nearly every catch. On a number of his
receptions, he was flat left uncovered. Atlanta plays more man
coverage than a team with a Pete Carroll protégé as its head coach
(Dan Quinn), so the likelihood is that Hogan probably isn't going
to make the same kind of noise in the Super Bowl as he did two
weeks ago. With that said, Alford allowed a 105.0 QB rating in
his coverage per PFF, so Hogan is a good bet as any non-Edelman
wideout to be worth a fantasy start.
Mitchell vs. Jalen
Collins - Collins graded out as the 16th-best corner
per PFF and should be considered the top corner in Atlanta. The
question is whether or not the Falcons' coaching staff is willing
to consider tape and production over experience in the biggest
game of the year. However, Atlanta doesn't move its outside corners
around, so whichever receiver New England decides to line up on
the left side of its formation (to face RCB Alford as opposed
to LCB Collins) should be the Patriots' receiver that enjoys the
most success after Edelman. I've had a sneaky suspicion since
before the AFC Championship that Mitchell will have a big game
this postseason, so it would not surprise me if he steps up big
in this game. However, this matchup is easily the most difficult
of the top three Patriots' receivers.
Hooper - If there is one player in this game who probably
won't receive more than five minutes of attention from the media
and talking heads but could have a substantial impact, it is Hooper.
As noted earlier, the projected receiver/cornerback matchups don't
work out particularly well for the Falcons as I have them lined
up, which means Atlanta's willingness to spread it around will
be a key factor in its offensive success. Running backs and tight
ends will need to come up big in order for the Falcons to win,
and 6-3, 254-pound Hooper should have the advantage over 5-11,
215-pound Pat Chung. Of course, there's more to it than just size:
Chung graded out as the 86th safety out of 90 qualifying players
per PFF. Hooper hasn't exactly torn it up this postseason (three
catches on three targets for 33 yards), but Atlanta really hasn't
needed him to either. With New England likely able to slow down
the running game and Julio
Jones somewhat, the rookie will probably need to be a more
significant part this weekend.
Bennett - There really is no telling just how injured
Bennett is (I'm willing to bet he's going to need most of the
offseason to recover), so it makes little sense for me to spend
much time dissecting his potential impact on this game. The Patriots'
receivers should be able to carry the day anyway, so expect minimal
production here, outside of potential a short touchdown catch.
Key for kickers and defense/special teams
units: XP - Extra point FG - Field goal PA - Points allowed TO - Total turnovers TD - Defensive/return touchdowns
Coaching - Belichick's resume speaks
for itself and his ability to take away the opponent's strength
has been well-chronicled throughout the years, so let's focus primarily
on Atlanta here. Make no mistake about it: this Falcons' offense
is perhaps the biggest challenge the Patriots have faced in the
Super Bowl during the Belichick era, even more so than "The
Greatest Show on Turf" 16 years ago. How do I figure that?
While the Rams' individual talent was greater, HC Mike Martz relied
more heavily on his players' skill and their ability to run his
offensive precision than out-scheming opponents. The same cannot
be said for Kyle Shanahan, who is as good as any play-caller in
the league at complementing successful run plays with play-action
passes built off the same formations and motions. Although he often
has the edge in talent in passing game matchups, Shanahan can and
will scheme with the best of them in order to create coverage busts.
That makes Atlanta the rare team with enough talent - both from
a player and coaching perspective - to test a Patricia/Belichick
Vegas has the over/under on this game in the 58-59 range, which
I believe is the highest number in Super Bowl history. It's unlikely
that number will be high enough, but I do believe it will be close.
The No. 1 scoring defense (the Patriots) has won four out of five
Super Bowl matchups against the top scoring offense (the Falcons).
In fact, the only time the top-ranked scoring offense beat the
top-ranked scoring defense in Super Bowl history was after the
1989 season (Super Bowl XXIV), when San Francisco had the league's
third-best scoring defense in addition to its No. 1 offense. Small
sample size like that alone isn't a good enough reason to predict
a win for the Patriots, but it is a start, especially when you
consider like they also scored the third-most points this season.
New England should conceivably be able to reduce the effectiveness
of the Atlanta's ground game - certainly more so than any other
recent opponent - and will have a plan for Julio Jones, which
I laid out in some detail earlier. The key in my mind will be
how quickly and how often Shanahan can get Jones and Gabriel isolated
on Logan Ryan, because Matt Ryan probably isn't going to throw
to Jones in bracket coverage all that often or throw to Gabriel
if Butler is on him. Freeman, Coleman and Hooper need to dominate
in the short passing game and be able to help to win their individual
matchups downfield when they get those opportunities. In short,
Atlanta needs to live up to its reputation as a big-play offense
and lift the lid off of a Patriots' defense that doesn't usually
give up those kind of plays or make assignment errors. The more
the Falcons can turn this game into a track meet, the better.
On the flip side, New England probably needs to exercise a bit
of caution offensively. For the first time perhaps all season
long (at least with Brady under center), the Patriots will not
have the best offense on the field. Some tempo will be fine but
establishing the running game has to be a priority. I also have
my doubts as to whether or not New England's bend-but-don't-break
defense can consistently hold such an explosive and multi-faceted
offense orchestrated by a superior play-caller to field goals
in the red zone. As much as I would like to see Atlanta get its
first ring, it says here New England will get just enough stops
to send the Patriots to their fifth Super Bowl title under Belichick.
Super Bowl Prediction: Patriots
34, Falcons 30
Doug Orth has written for FF
Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy
Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s
hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday
in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national
sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”.
Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.