NFL Championship Sunday Observations


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It probably wasn’t as easy as it looked for the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots on Sunday as both advanced to Super Bowl LI in blowout fashion.  After a record number of close games in the regular season, we saw blowout after blowout in the postseason culminating with the No. 1 seed in the AFC and No. 2 seed in the NFC advancing to the big game, as it should be.

We’re going to look at what happened on Sunday, how each team won and lost and what they could have done better.

Falcons 44, Packers 21

  • I don’t know if Matt Ryan is an elite quarterback, but he’s certainly acting like one on Sundays.  Ryan was brilliant against a decimated Green Bay secondary and he’s playing the best football of his career.
  • The Falcons have great offensive balance with multiple options everywhere.  Julio Jones was a playmaking monster on Sunday and he’s a guy who teams have to dedicate a minimum of two men to try and slow down.  Add in Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel who can both beat man coverage and it’s no wonder why Atlanta led the NFL in scoring.
  • Atlanta’s running game has a north-south style with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.  Both are explosive and will punish a defense if they drop multiple players in coverage.
  • Green Bay just didn’t have the defensive personnel to match up with the Falcons.  They couldn’t get any pass rush which put their weakened secondary on islands.
  • Aaron Rodgers didn’t play his best game, but he was good.  With the way the Falcons offense was playing, he and the rest of the offense had to be absolutely perfect and they weren’t.
  • The Packers need to revisit their strategy of sitting out free agency.  Rodgers is in his 30’s and they’re wasting his career with an insufficient amount of talent around him.
  • “I still feel pretty young. I’ve got a number of years left in me,” Rodgers said. “We need to make sure we’re going all in every year to win, and we can take a big step this offseason.”

The observation was more about the teams in general and less about the game, as anyone who saw the score pretty much knew what happened.  The Falcons put pressure on the Packers from the opening kickoff, scoring a touchdown on their opening drive.  It was never close, and Green Bay was playing uphill the entire time.

Patriots 36, Steelers 17

  • Tom Brady was his usual amazing self.  He was accurate, made virtually no mistakes and the Pats had a brilliant game plan thanks to Josh McDaniels.
  • The Brady and Belichick combo now set a record going to their seventh Super Bowl.  Win or lose, they are the best quarterback-head coach combination ever, and both are the best ever at their respective positions.
  • The Patriots continue to get the job done without elite talent at the receiver position.  New England’s most physically talented receiver, Michael Floyd, was a healthy scratch for the game and it doesn’t matter.  Their offensive scheme simply gets players like Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan wide open and an accurate Brady allows them to make yards after the catch.
  • New England can run it when they need to and they’re great in short yardage.  They’re going to have to run the ball and play ball control offense against the Falcons on a fast track.
  • The Patriots defense forces you to be nearly perfect and also very patient.  Their whole is greater than the sum of their parts.
  • New England played bracket coverage on Antonio Brown and stacked the box on running situations, forcing Pittsburgh to beat them with their second option.  Nobody stepped up.
  • Ben Roethlisberger appears to be declining.  He doesn’t move around nearly as well and he now depends a little more on the talent around him than that talent lifting him up.
  • Pittsburgh was dealt a major blow when Le’Veon Bell went out early with a groin injury.  They needed to control the clock with Bell and they couldn’t do that.
  • The Steelers defense played a lot of zone coverage and Brady picked them apart.  He made it look pretty easy.
  • Pittsburgh had no pass rush whatsoever and James Harrison was a non-factor.  They have a lot of young players on defense and they still need a pass rusher.
  • Pittsburgh was thoroughly outcoached.  The fear of getting beat deep on defense allowed the Pats to systematically move down the field.  The frustration and overaggression allowed the flea-flicker touchdown.

The Steelers hung around a little longer than the Packers did, but at the end of the day, neither team had a chance.  The two best teams are playing in the Super Bowl and it should be a tremendous game.

About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.