It feels like only yesterday Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset after leading the Denver Broncos to a victory in Super Bowl 50. Yet, in reality, a lot has happened since then. We experienced the ups and downs of free agency; we dealt with the hectic process surrounding the NFL draft; and last but not least, we suffered through another long and arduous preseason.
But all that is in the past now. The 2016 regular season came and went, and football has never looked so good. While the Broncos came into the 2016 season as the defending Super Bowl champs, and started the year off 4-0, unfortunately for Denver fans, they failed to make it into the postseason.
With that in mind, now that the stage is officially set for the biggest game of the year, here’s a look at the remaining teams’ odds of winning Super Bowl LI.
2. Atlanta Falcons
Led by quarterback Matt Ryan, the Atlanta Falcons closed out the year with an 11-5 record, winning the NFC South and clinching a first-round bye as the conference’s No. 2 seed. If you’re from the ATL, there’s definitely reason to be optimistic.
The Falcons finished the season with the highest-scoring offense in the NFL, averaging 33.8 points per game. And thanks to a four-game winning streak to close out the regular season, they entered playoffs as one of the hottest and most confident teams in all of football — just as the Seattle Seahawks.
Despite being the more experienced team, the Seahawks had no answer for Atlanta’s high-powered offense. Ryan threw for 338 yards and three touchdowns, and the Falcons generated 422 yards of total offense. This divisional-round showdown proved to be more lopsided than anyone could’ve predicted, as the AFC South champs won convincingly 36-20.
Playoff success isn’t something that one usually associates with the Atlanta Falcons and their All-Pro quarterback. However, as we’ve seen throughout the majority of the 2016 season, these Birds are a completely different animal. The Green Bay Packers found this out the hard way in the NFC championship game.
The Falcons jumped on the Packers early, and never let up. Behind Ryan’s 392 yards passing and five scores (four passing, one rushing), Atlanta’s high-powered offense torched Green Bay for a whopping 493 total yards and 44 points. Even with Rodgers at the helm, the NFC North champs were simply no match for the motivated Falcons.
Thanks to an impressive 44-21 victory, the Falcons advance to the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history. This group might not be the favorites heading into the big game, but that’s hardly a reason to count out Atlanta. With the way this rolling, the Falcons are poised to give the AFC champs a runs for their money.
1. New England Patriots
In the four weeks Tom Brady served his suspension, the New England Patriots showed the discipline, focus, and experience of a champion team. Using two different quarterbacks, including a rookie, the Pats did their jobs, handled their business, and went 3-1. Then Brady returned to the fold and the rest of the NFL got to see what New England looked like at full strength. In a word: lethal.
The Patriots finished the regular season as the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a 14-2 record. They are overwhelming the opposition on both sides of the ball, and they have a fired-up quarterback poised to add more individual hardware to his already stocked trophy case. On top of that, even when the Pats don’t play their best game, they still find a way to trounce an opponent 18 points. So much for postseason competition.
If any team in the AFC had a legit shot at toppling the Pats at Gillette Stadium, it was the Pittsburgh Steelers. But as we quickly realized, just because a team can do it, doesn’t mean it actually will do it. The Patriots are a force to be reckoned with, and they emphatically showcased their brilliance in the AFC title game against the Steelers.
Brady made a formidable Steelers group look amateurish. The future Hall of Famer lit them up for 384 yards and three touchdown passes, and the Pats rolled to a convincing 36-17 win. As expected, New England is the favorite going into Super Bowl LI. And while the Falcons have the top offense in the National Football League, at this point, it’s hard to imagine anyone stopping these Patriots.