By Andrew Zuhosky
There’s a significant contest this weekend in Houston, and there’s a significant chance that you might have heard about it in recent days.
No, ladies and gentlemen, I’m not talking about Dennis Bermudez vs. “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung in the main event featherweight fight at UFC Fight Night Houston on Saturday night.
I’m talking about an event that’s dominated the sports newscasts the last week. Seriously, you probably have been able to turn on TV and see reports about it.
The likes of “NFL Total Access,” “FOX Sports Live” and “The Jim Rome Show,” along with other sports programs on TV and radio, have all been in Houston this week to cover this event.
On Sunday night at just past 6:40 p.m. EST, the AFC Champion New England Patriots will battle the NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons for the right to be named champion of the NFL. Both squads are in the top 5 of the league in scoring offense.
Man alive, what a showdown this is going to be. Let’s start to break this down by talking about the Falcons.
This year, Atlanta began the season by winning six of its first 10 games, highlighted by a 4-1 stretch in the first five games of the season. In addition, the Falcons have had their opening drive end in a touchdown in each of their last eight games, dating back to Nov. 27 against the Arizona Cardinals.
The Falcons have been led by quarterback Matt Ryan, who has thrown for 44 touchdowns this year, including the playoffs, along with wide receiver Julio Jones.
I think if Jones and Ryan each have career games this Sunday, the Falcons have a good shot coming away with the win, but don’t forget about running back Devonta Freeman, who has scored two punt return touchdowns this year in addition to his 11 touchdown runs.
Although Freeman’s been quiet in the playoffs, only rushing for 87 yards the last two games, if he can make New England’s tacklers miss, he’ll find the end zone with ease. Atlanta is the NFL’s top scoring offense.
On defense, the Falcons are anchored by linebackers Vic Beasley and Deion Jones. They’ve been stalwarts all year, with Beasley leading the NFL in sacks and Jones leading the league in interception return yardage while tied for the lead in pick-6s.
But in the other corner stands Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the 4-time Super Bowl Champion Patriots, looking to win the belt for a fifth time.
Brady has again been the catalyst for the #3 scoring offense, throwing for 33 touchdowns this year, including the playoffs, but he’s been without tight end Rob Gronkowski since early December after he was placed on injured reserve.
Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola have filled in ably in Gronk’s absence. Edelman’s caught 121 passes this year, including the playoffs, for 1,361 yards and four touchdowns all told.
Amendola only caught 27 passes this year, including postseason, for 255 yards and four touchdowns. All four of Amendola’s TD receptions were made prior to Thanksgiving Day.
Don’t forget about New England’s defensive players like cornerback Malcolm Butler, who had four interceptions this season, two of them in the Christmas Eve game vs. the New York Jets. If the Patriots can pressure Ryan on Sunday, Butler might just pick off another pass or two.
I personally think it’ll be a close game this Sunday night. It may go down to the wire. I like Atlanta in a 38-35 classic.
I thought it might be fun to run a simulation of the game using my copy of “Madden NFL 17” and see what the computer spit out.
Here’s what came up: My simulation produced a 10-3 New England win. One would think that my sim also had Tom Brady as MVP, but that wasn’t the case.
With three tackles and two sacks in the contest, my simulation had Dont’a Hightower as MVP.
Three days remain until the game. Enjoy it this Sunday, and if you’re going to a watch party, please don’t drink and drive.