I remember back 13 or 14 years ago, when I first wrote about the Super Bowl, thinking how the media coverage of the Super Bowl was out of control. How naive I was. The coverage back then was basically non-existent compared to what it is now thanks to social media, easily-made video content, everyone having a podcast, and everything else that overwhelms us from every direction leading up to the biggest of games.
The problem, of course, is that so much of that coverage is just noise. Every year there are factors that don't really mean too much in terms of the outcome of the game that get far too much coverage, and there are other factors that are crucially important that basically get ignored. What we will try to accomplish here is to uncover two of the most overrated betting factors leading up to Super Bowl LI and one that is very underrated.
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Ryan's recent dominance: We have heard a whole lot of stories lately about how great Matt Ryan has been all year, and in particular how good he has been lately. While that's true, it is also completely meaningless in this game.
We only have to look back one round for an argument as to why. Heading into Atlanta's NFC Championship massacre of the Packers, one of the prevailing storylines was how great Aaron Rodgers had been lately. I often heard that he was the best he had ever been down the stretch. Yet in the game that mattered most he was far from his best. He wasn't terrible, but he was clearly subpar and it hurt his team. What had happened before didn't matter.
On the flipside, the biggest narrative heading into the Super Bowl last year was how lousy Peyton Manning had been all year and how much his performance that year compared to the MVP performance of Cam Newton. And we know which one of those two currently has a ring on his finger.
Ryan's play up to this point does little to determine his play in this game, and we can't allow ourselves to be blinded by it. That is especially significant because it's not exactly like the quarterback opposing Ryan comes in off a string of poor performances, either.
New England's schedule weakness: Yes, the Patriots played a lot of weak teams, and they haven't faced a lot of very good quarterbacks this year. So what? It's not like they make their own schedule, and it's not like they are the first team to face a weak schedule. The NFL, even at its deepest and most competitive, isn't a particularly deep league, so there are more weak teams than good ones any year.
What is more relevant is that, despite being easily the most public team in the league right now, the Patriots were 13-3 ATS in the regular season and have followed that up by going 2-0 ATS in the postseason. The public sees the schedule and will, if anything, overestimate the edge a strong team has in a game, yet this team has consistently exceeded expectations and covered spreads. That means that they have been doing far more than just feasting on weaklings.
And besides, it's not like the Falcons dominated when facing the better quarterbacks on their schedule, either - in the regular season they didn't cover against Brees, Rivers, Rodgers, Winston, and Smith.
Atlanta's health: Atlanta is mostly healthy, but two players are not practicing in the first week of practice leading up to the Super Bowl, and both situations are seriously concerning.
Center Alex Mack has a badly-sprained ankle. Big men who have to hold off other big, angry men need a strong base of support, so a bad ankle is a real problem. It seems to me that it is no fluke that Ryan had the best season of his career the year that one of the best centers in the league joined his team. Their chemistry is strong, and he would be significantly missed if he can't play, or if he is limited.
Julio Jones has a ligament injury in one of his toes, and by all reports it's a bad one. He has been dealing with it for a while now, and he has shown he can deal with it - he had 180 yards and two scores in the NFC Championship after missing two practices that week. If it were to be a bigger problem here, though, then the team would be a huge issue. Either Jones will be a big impact himself in this one, or he will be the focus of the New England defense, allowing more room for other receivers to operate. Either way, if he's not at his best it's a major blow.
At this point at least the Jones absence seems precautionary, and the team remains optimistic that both will play. This must be monitored closely, though, because the absence of one or both changes this game dramatically.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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