The quarterbacks are often the star attraction in the Super Bowl, and that is certainly the case with this matchup. Tom Brady vs. Matt Ryan. Matty Ice vs. a guy who doesn't need a nickname. The elder statesman of the NFL, who is playing as well as he ever has, against one of the rising players - one who could very easily be MVP this year. Two guys who fling it fearlessly and with ruthless efficiency. It doesn't get much better than this - especially if you like seeing lots of passing yards and touchdowns through the air. If you like interceptions or incompletions, though, then it might not be your day.
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Handicapping Super Bowl LI will require plenty of attention to the two men under center, so it only makes sense to evaluate the two players from seven different criteria:
Age: The gap here is significant, but nothing like the 13-plus years we saw last year between Peyton Manning and Cam Newton. Brady will turn 40 in August. Ryan turns 32 in May. So there are not quite eight years between them. When Brady was entering the NFL, Ryan was a high school freshman. A big gap indeed, but it would be a much bigger concern if Brady was in any way playing like your typical 40-year-old QB. Manning's performance fell off a cliff last year at about the same age, but Brady looks like he could play for another decade.
Big-game experience: The gap here could barely be more massive. Ryan has played in seven career playoff games, going 3-4. Brady is about to start his seventh Super Bowl, going 4-2 so far. Brady has played in six straight AFC Championship Games. It wasn't until the NFC Championship Game that Ryan earned more playoff wins (four) than Brady has Super Bowl MVP trophies (three). Brady has 35 career playoff starts, with a 26-9 record. It's up to you to decide how important experience is to Super Bowl performance, but if you think it matters then this is a major mismatch.
College: After redshirting his first year at Boston College, Ryan saw limited action as a redshirt freshman. He started his sophomore year as the backup, but by the end of the year he had claimed the starting job and he never let it go. He went 9-3 as a junior and even played through a broken foot, missing only one game. He went into his senior year with Heisman hopes, but after a red-hot start to the season his campaign was derailed against Florida State. He broke Doug Flutie's BC record for passing touchdowns but also was second in the country in interceptions. He was named the nation's top senior QB. All in all it was a very strong career.
Brady spent his first two years backing up Brian Griese, who led the Wolverines to a national title when Brady was a sophomore. Brady made just 20 combined pass attempts in those two seasons. In both 1998 and 1999 he won intense QB battles with Drew Henson to claim the starting job. As a junior Brady won a share of the Big Ten Title and beat Arkansas in the Citrus Bowl. The next year he was heroic in beating major rival Ohio State, and then he beat Alabama in the Orange Bowl. The body of work wasn't as impressive overall for Brady, but given who he played for he was able to accomplish more for the program.
Draft: There is a massive discrepancy here and a clear edge for Ryan. He was the third overall pick in 2008 draft behind OT Jake Long and DE Chris Long, who he will face in this game. He was easily the first QB off the board, going 15 spots ahead of Joe Flacco. Brady famously was a sixth rounder in the 2000 Draft and the seventh QB picked. He went behind such luminaries as Giovanni Carmazzi and Spergon Wynn. Chad Pennington was the first QB selected that year.
Chemistry: Ryan has obvious chemistry with Julio Jones - the receiver averaged more than 100 yards per game this year. What is striking, though, is that Ryan doesn't rely on Jones to score. The QB had 38 passing TDs this year, but just six went to Jones. That was tied for the team lead with Taylor Gabriel. Ryan found 13 different receivers in the endzone, and seven scored three or more times. He has done a good job of spreading the load and building chemistry widely.
So has Brady, and he always has. He has 28 touchdowns in 12 games. Six went to Martellus Bennett, and he threw to nine different receivers - with six catching three or more. Brady has always had his reliable outlets, but he has also shifted from receiver to receiver as it suits the game plan - like last game when Chris Hogan suddenly was the center of everything.
Both guys have very strong chemistry deep into their receiving corps this year. No edge here.
Relationship with coach: Obvious mismatch here. Few partnerships in sports have been as productive as the Brady-Belichick marriage. Jackson-Jordan, and maybe a couple of others. They have dominated everything for nearly two decades. And Josh McDaniels has been around on the offensive side of the ball in one role or another for all four Super Bowl wins.
Things are obviously different for Ryan. Though this staff obviously works for him, this is just his second year under Dan Quinn, and this is almost certainly his last game under Kyle Shanahan. Again, it is up to you to decide how much this matters.
ATS performance: Both teams have gone 2-0 ATS in the playoffs. Ryan was a nicely-profitable 10-6 ATS on the season, but the 3-5 ATS mark at home was a frustration for bettors. Brady was a stellar 10-2 ATS on the season - particularly impressive if you consider how publicly popular his team is, how badly the majority of their opponents were mismatched, and the added attention Brady had this year because of his suspension.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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