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Super Bowl 2017 picks and predictions: Experts think Falcons will win 1st ever Lombardi Trophy

Atlanta is SB Nation’s experts’ pick by a 5-4 margin over the Patriots.

The Atlanta Falcons are going to win Super Bowl LI. That is, of course, according to SB Nation’s NFL experts.

Matt Ryan’s MVP-level breakthrough campaign has instilled all sorts of confidence in the NFC champions, even as they’re set to face the four-time Super Bowl-winning New England Patriots. The Falcons are a 5-4 pick to take home their first ever Super Bowl crown, earning the trust of former player Stephen White, NFL writers Jeanna Thomas, and Louis Bien, and even the OddsShark computer simulation.

It’s easy to see why they’re a popular choice. Atlanta has crushed its opposition in the postseason so far, outscoring Seattle and Green Bay — two of the league’s hottest teams in their own right — by a combined score of 80-41. Ryan has been a monster in that span, throwing for 730 yards and seven touchdowns with no interceptions.

It helps he’s got the equivalent of a video game cheat code at wideout. Julio Jones became the first player in league history to have two playoff games with 150-plus receiving yards and at least two touchdowns. He needed just five postseason opportunities to get there, thanks to man-among-boys plays like this 73-yard score.

More than half the panel picking Atlanta didn’t expect the Patriots to make it this far. White, Bien, and David Fucillo were the only three panelists to pick a Pittsburgh upset last Sunday in Foxborough. If there’s any comfort for New England fans in their prognostication, it’s that they were extremely wrong — the Pats never trailed in a 36-17 stomping of the Steelers.

Tom Brady (and his enormous coat) capitalized on his history of strong performances against Pittsburgh to punch a ticket to his seventh Super Bowl. Brady threw for 384 yards and three touchdowns to up his playoff passer rating against the Steelers to a sterling 118.3.

Brady has been similarly impressive against the Falcons. He’s 4-0 all-time against Atlanta with a 9:1 touchdown:interception ratio and an average 10-point margin of victory.

But none of those four wins came against a Dan Quinn defense, or with potential NFL Defensive Player of the Year Vic Beasley bearing down on him. Brady has struggled against ferocious pass rushes, and if there’s any coach who can find a way to make him uncomfortable, it’s Quinn, who previously bullied Brady as the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator.

The Patriots’ defense will offer Atlanta a challenge as well. The Falcons’ recent surge came against two conference foes with patchwork secondaries. The Seahawks were much worse against the pass after losing All-Pro safety Earl Thomas to a broken leg late in the season. The Packers had been ravaged by injury all season, poking Swiss-cheese sized holes in an already weak unit. On Sunday, Ryan and Jones will stare down a dynamic defense that held opponents to fewer points than anyone else in the league. All-Pros Devin McCourty and Malcolm Butler will do everything in their power to slow down one of the NFL’s most explosive aerial attacks.

Super Bowl LI will come down to which superstar quarterback can make the biggest plays against an all-star defense. According to SB Nation’s top minds, Matt Ryan and the Falcons have the edge.

2016 NFL weekly panel picks

Game RVB Stephen White Thomas George Jeanna Thomas Adam Stites Louis Bien Joel Thorman Fooch OddsShark Computer
Game RVB Stephen White Thomas George Jeanna Thomas Adam Stites Louis Bien Joel Thorman Fooch OddsShark Computer
NE vs ATL NE ATL NE ATL NE ATL NE ATL ATL
Last week 1-1 1-1 1-1 2-0 1-1 1-1 1-1 1-1 2-0
Playoffs 7-3 7-3 7-3 8-2 8-2 8-2 7-3 7-3 8-2
Regular season 156-98-2 161-93-2 160-94-2 158-96-2 154-100-2 147-107-2 161-93-2 150-104-2 167-87-2

Why can't you call it the Super Bowl?