This year’s Super Bowl will feature very common faces going up against a possible new NFC powerhouse. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will appear in their seventh Super Bowl together, their second in the last three years. The Patriots have 18 players on this team that were on the team that won Super Bowl XLIX, including key players such as Brady, Julian Edelman, Nate Solder, Dont’a Hightower, Devin McCourty, and the hero, Malcolm Butler. On the other side, the Atlanta Falcons only have three players who have been played in a Super Bowl: Dwight Freeney, Dashon Goldson, and Philip Wheeler.
The game will of course come down to execution by Brady and Matt Ryan, but if history serves us correctly, there is always a player or two that steps up to the occasion, makes big plays, and is a huge factor in the outcome of the game. Here are three X-Factors from each team that can tilt the game on his team’s favor.
New England Patriots:
After saying he wanted to check Julio Jones in a tweet from 2012, Malcolm Butler will finally get his wish. However, the consequences are never going to be higher. Being the Patriots primary cornerback, it will be Butler’s duty to ensure that the Falcons primary wide receiver does not do what he does best, dominate football games. Butler has done a good job in coverage this postseason, as he is coming off an excellent performance covering Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, limiting him to just seven catches and 77 yards in the Patriots AFC Championship win. If Butler can do a good job containing Julio Jones, the Patriots will be in great shape.
One of the unknown talents on the Patriots roster, the play of wide receiver Chris Hogan will be critical to the team’s success. After going from an undrafted player to hauling in nine catches and 180 yards in the AFC Championship game, Hogan alongside fellow receiver Julian Edelman, will need to make a lot of successful runs if the Patriots hope to match the Falcons’ explosive offense. Overall, after being a second option for much his career, Chris Hogan offensive prowess will play a significant role in the Patriots final game of the season mainly because the Patriots are missing star tight end Rob Gronkowski.
The heart of the Patriots defense, Devin McCourty has been a huge part of why the Patriots are entering the Super Bowl with the number one ranked defense. McCourty not only provides solid defense for the team as a safety, but his versatility allows coach Bill Belichick to play him around as either a linebacker or slot cornerback. The Patriots will need much of this versatility and a solid performance from McCourty if they hope to prevent the Atlanta offense from exploding as it has done for much of this postseason.
Although his impact wasn’t as large as it could have been in the NFC Championship Game, Freeman’s rushing ability at running back is a fundamental component of what makes the Falcon’s offense so deadly. Finishing ninth in the league with 1,079 rushing yards during the regular season, a big part of the Falcons offense finding their groove against the Patriots will rely on Freeman’s excellent rushing ability.
One of the cornerstones of the Falcons unprecedented success this season, wide receiver Julio Jones has provided the Falcons with stellar performances throughout the playoffs. Not only does Jones provide the Falcons with solid offensive presence,like when he torched the Green Bay Packers in the NFC title game with two touchdowns and 180 yards, but more importantly he provides the other Falcon receivers the ability to score by drawing attention from the defense. Jones having a good running game is critical for the Falcons getting their first title in franchise history.
A year removed from having his job at jeopardy, Beasley stepped up when it mattered most. As an outside linebacker, Beasley led the NFL with 15.5 sacks, ahead of last year’s Super Bowl MVP Von Miller. Being the best defensive player on his team, Beasley will need to lead by example and limit the Patriots Tom Brady as best as he can.