The New England Patriots just won their fifth Super Bowl after an epic comeback against the Atlanta Falcons. Can the Los Angeles Chargers figure out a way to get their first title?
The Patriots did it again, but how? We’ve seen more talented Patriots rosters in the past. Quarterback Tom Brady is a superstar, but who else on the team is up there with the five-time Super Bowl champion?
Every year is different, but after going by the Patriots’ blueprint, here’s what the Chargers need in order to reach the Super Bowl.
1. A great head coach
It’s hard to argue against Bill Belichick being the greatest coach of all time. He’s the first head coach to win five Super Bowls. The man is a genius. He’s a hard-nosed guy who’s all business (if you don’t believe me, check out this quote).
A team could have all the talent in the world, but if they don’t have a great leader, they will go nowhere. Belichick and Co. have the incredible ability to develop talent and use players to their strengths. Look at the head coaches who won the Super Bowl the past five years (Belichick, Gary Kubiak, Pete Carroll and John Harbaugh). Each coach had a talented roster at their disposal, but those coaches are the driving force behind that talent.
Give credit where credit is do: Belichick’s Patriots had one heck of a comeback. But fortunately for the Patriots, Dan Quinn’s Falcons outsmarted themselves late in the game (and by outsmarted I mean they had a blind monkey choosing their offensive plays; it was more confusing than a Family Guy episode).
2. A franchise quarterback
It’s hard to argue against Tom Brady being the greatest quarterback of all time. Not only has he put up incredible numbers (fourth all-time in passing yards and passing touchdowns and third all-time in passer rating), but he comes up big in the clutch (second all-time in fourth-quarter comebacks, which excludes his recent come-from-behind win against the Falcons in overtime in SBLI). He also doesn’t turn the ball over (just two interceptions in 2016 and a 456-152 TD-to-INT ratio overall).
Above all that is his smarts, leadership and passion for the game. He gets on players for not doing their job just as much as Belichick does. Hate on Brady all you want, but he has that edge you want in a starting quarterback. He’s a winner, and his 183-52 QB record (regular season) supports that statement.
And looking back, the last time there wasn’t a “franchise” quarterback leading their team to a Super Bowl victory was back in 2002-03, when Brad Johnson led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers past the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII. Brad Johnson? Meh.
3. An above-average offensive line
This is as clear as it gets; if you can’t keep your quarterback upright or create holes for your running backs, then you’re not going to win. Examples? Look at Matt Ryan in the first half and Brady in the second half of Super Bowl LI.
And going into the playoffs, the Falcons and Patriots finished with the sixth-best and 10th-best offensive lines, respectively, per Pro Football Focus. A clean pocket equals success.
4. Healthy players
Aside from the Patriots playing without All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski and the Falcons playing without No. 1 cornerback Desmond Trufant, both teams stayed relatively healthy throughout the season.
“The Falcons were the ONLY team to start the same five offensive linemen in every game this season. In a game where injuries happen at such a high rate, having all of your best linemen for every game is impressive.” – Derrick Browne, Bolt Beat contributor
Injuries are part of the game, but they will take a toll on your team if majority of key players are on the sideline in street clothes.
5. A solid defense
This goes below healthy players only because you need your stars on the field. It doesn’t exactly need to be elite like the Seahawks’ D back in Super Bowl XLVIII, but a solid defense is a must.
The Patriots came into the big game ranked No. 8 in total defense, including the No. 1-ranked scoring defense (15.6 points per game). Meanwhile, the Falcons ranked No. 25 in total defense, but they did have the 2016 sack leader, second-year pro Vic Beasley Jr.. The Patriots’ secondary finished No. 3 overall, per PFF, but it has been argued that they didn’t face top competition at the quarterback position in 2016. In comparison, the Falcons finished No. 6 in that category. *(Oddly enough, each team’s pass defense finished in the bottom half of the league in DVOA, according to Football Outsiders).
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) February 1, 2017
But in the Super Bowl, it was the Falcons’ D that started off strong, pressuring Brady and coming up with a pick-six. The tides turned in the second half, though, with the Patriots’ D coming up with big stops, including a forced fumble by linebacker Dont’a Hightower, which essentially started the comeback, and a sack by Trey Flowers that pushed the Falcons out of field-goal range with less than four minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Again, there aren’t a lot of stars on either defense (if you’ve heard of the name Grady Jarrett before this game, I’ll buy you tickets to Super Bowl LII), but the combination of young impact players and solid role players (and depth) will get the job done.
6. A weak division
In order to get to the Super Bowl, you have to make the playoffs. In order to make the playoffs, you’re likely going to need to win your division (or be one of two wild-card teams). The Patriots have finished first in the AFC East in 14 of the last 16 years. Their competition in that division (the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets) has been underwhelming over the years.
The NFC South isn’t that much better. The Falcons, who finished first with an 11-5 record in 2016, finished second with an 8-8 record in 2015. My point: That division has been all over the place throughout the years, and you don’t necessarily need a great season to finish in first place. Also, when in comes to the playoffs, the Patriots had an easy road to reach their goal. Of the five other quarterbacks who represented the AFC in the playoffs, only Ben Roethlisberger was a threat–and the Steelers couldn’t do much against the Pats.
*An elite No. 1 receiver and No. 1 running back is optional
The Falcons reached the Super Bowl largely because of the play of Ryan, Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman/Tevin Coleman. Their defensive isn’t spectacular, but they’ve built a solid foundation with the likes of DT Jarrett, OLB Beasley Jr., LB Deion Jones, CB Trufant and S Keanu Neal, all young guns.
Despite the comeback, the spectacular throw-and-catch by Ryan and Jones should have sealed the game for the Falcons. Like we mentioned before, the play-calling after said catch ruined their chances. That said, Brady, Super Bowl 51’s MVP, did his thing without a true No. 1 wideout and running back.