Patriots vs. Falcons: Super Bowl 51 is Boring

The New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons could offer a great game Feb. 5, but Super Bowl 51 is boring nonetheless.

Super Bowl 51 between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons could be an all-time classic. Tom Brady vs. Matt Ryan should make for a tremendous quarterback duel, and both defenses feature game-changers who could become sleeper picks to win Super Bowl MVP by the time the fourth quarter of Sunday’s contest comes to an end.

You’re not alone, however, if you’re struggling with finding feelings of excitement and anticipation heading into Super Bowl weekend. As Erin Flynn of Sports Illustrated wrote earlier this week, Super Bowl Opening Night generated few interesting headlines. There’s no rivalry between the two clubs. Football fans around the nation will watch the Super Bowl because it’s the Super Bowl. But doing so almost feels like a chore this time around.

It’s nobody fault Super Bowl 51 is about as exciting as the nine hours of pregame coverage that will air across multiple channels leading up to the big game. A variety of factors all made the prelude for Super Bowl 51 the dullest the league has experienced in recent memory.

There’s no Peyton Manning likely riding off into the sunset following the Super Bowl. This isn’t a case of the top defense in the NFL facing off against the league’s best defense. It’s not a Super Bowl rematch, nor is it a contest featuring brothers on opposing sidelines. Super Bowl 51 is, for lack of a better description, a game.

Gone are the days when the Patriots were the villains and a representation everything wrong with the current state of the NFL. The Deflategate scandal that commissioner Roger Goodell kept alive for longer than a year turned Tom Brady babyface in the eyes of some casual viewers, so much so that those who vehemently cheered against Brady during previous Super Bowl contests wouldn’t mind if he hoisted the Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 5.

The legacies belonging to Brady and to New England head coach Bill Belichick are already set. One more title or one more Super Bowl loss won’t drastically change either man’s resume. Player and coach will both be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame before the end of next decade, and both will go down as all-time greats of the Super Bowl era. For all we know, we may once again see Brady and Belichick competing for a Super Bowl title next February.

Opposite the Patriots are the Falcons, the most boring conference championship team in recent memory. Yes, the Atlanta offense is seemingly taken from a video game, but that video game is more10-Yard Fight than Tecmo Super Bowl, more Quarterback Club than NFL 2K5 or even NFL Blitz.

Matt Ryan is playing in his first Super Bowl, but the 31-year-old is hardly a fresh face. Fans have watched Ryan for nearly a decade. So winning a Super Bowl, even one that includes Brady and the Patriots as opponents, won’t put him on the map. Four quarters of stellar play on football’s biggest stage alone won’t put Ryan ahead of Brady, Aaron Rodgers or even Eli Manning in any list of Super Bowl champions.

Julio Jones may be the best wide receiver in the NFL, but he’s more of a football superstar than a famous superstar known to casual fans. Jones isn’t Odell Beckham Jr., Dez Bryant or Antonio Brown. He isn’t known for his celebratory dances or for starring in national commercials. How many out there who have no ties or affiliations to the Falcons would recognize Jones if he knocked on their doors on Super Bowl night?

Atlanta’s defense is the modern equivalent of a “no-name” unit. Knowledgeable fans who subscribe to NFL RedZone realize the Falcons need linebacker Vic Beasley to harass Brady early and often, but Beasley isn’t yet widely established as one of the league’s defensive players. This is a byproduct of Atlanta’s high-powered offense overshadowing what became an underrated defense.

There’s no interesting storyline for Super Bowl 51. Desperate media members looking to generate buzz and clicks hoped Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan temporarily losing his playbook would evolve into something massive, perhaps a tale that involved a New England spy somehow infiltrating the Falcons. That, of course, wasn’t the case. And the playbook was quickly returned to Shanahan before some out there realized he ever misplaced his backpack.

Super Bowl 51 is a fitting end for one of the worst NFL seasons in decades, a season dominated by lousy primetime games and one made less important by a unique, bizarre and historic presidential election. Here’s hoping the actual game is better than the hype, because these last two midweeks were downright excruciating.

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