The Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots both walked away from Sunday with their respective conference championships in hand and a ticket to face each other in Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5. Both teams were victorious by substantial margins, the Falcons defeated the Green Bay Packers 44-21, and the Patriots beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 36-17. The games were never really in doubt and may not have been that entertaining to the average NFL fan, but were impressive feats nonetheless. The question is, whose blowout was better?
Matt Barresi: I personally feel the Patriots’ victory was more impressive. New England’s offense put up 36 points with ease on a Steelers defense that just held two previous playoff teams under 20 points each. The way they were moving the ball, they could have broken 40 if they wanted to but chose to let up towards the end. All three facets of the Patriots game looked crisp and dynamic, against one of the most well rounded teams in the league. On defense, cornerback standout Malcolm Butler kept Antonio Brown quiet all game. Brown led the Steelers’ receiving corps, but it was in inconsistent moments and never for big plays. Ben Roethlisberger was flustered all game and finished with a quarterback rating of 57.2 for the game. His counterpart Tom Brady picked apart the Steelers for three touchdowns and a QBR of 90.4. The entire game was just a thorough outclassing. While there is always room for improvement, save for Stephen Gostowski’s missed extra point attempt, the Patriots played a nearly flawless game. It was so bad it might have put Big Ben into retirement (reportedly).
Shahan Kamal: While the Patriots win was a thorough and relatively flawless beat down, it’s hard not to be impressed with the way the Falcons manhandled the Packers. In the rematch of a shootout win in week eight, the Falcons came out firing on all cylinders. Aaron Rodgers looked uncomfortable throughout, and halfway through the game people were wondering if Rodgers was even there. He had been on an absolute tear of late and nobody could’ve predicted a 24-point deficit at the half. Some, myself included, were heralding Rodgers as the greatest quarterback ever as recently as last week after a masterful performance in Dallas. Atlanta, not known in any way for their defense, dominated him throughout. Not to mention the other worldly play of the best receiver in the NFL, Julio Jones. Jones was untouchable by the Packers secondary, all the while still dealing with a number of nagging injuries. The Falcons came to play, and the Packers had no idea what hit them.
Barresi: While the Falcons’ win was spectacular no doubt, I think it is fair to say they were facing an inferior opponent to the Patriots. Yes the Packers were playing well as of late but they were nothing to sneeze at during the regular season, in fact there were points where they looked undeserving of a playoff spot. After two very strong performances in beating New York and Dallas, this might just have been the Falcons benefitting from their regression to the mean. Julio Jones may have looked incredible doing it, but do you realize New England’s Chris Hogan put up the exact same stat line, nine receptions for 180 yards and two touchdowns? The Patriots were able to spread the ball around as Julian Edelman and Martellus Bennett also put up numbers. The Falcons’ offense fumbled the ball twice while the Patriots forced the Steelers to fumble and recovered it. I’ll definitely grant you the Falcons had more flair in winning, but I found the Patriots methodical dominance to be more impressive ultimately.
Kamal: Although the Patriots were methodically dominant, they were dealing with a Steelers team that lost their star running back early on. The Packers were as healthy as in their previous two playoff wins, so the Falcons had their work cut out for them. Rodgers is consistently incredible in the playoffs and they made him look human. Sure the Packers didn’t look like a real contender during the regular season, but the same could’ve been said last year when they were battered by the Cardinals. Come the playoffs, Rodgers has been sharp and had the fourth highest career playoff quarterback rating entering the NFC Championship Game. The Falcons didn’t seem to care, and played with a ruthless efficiency. It was similar to last year, when the Panthers absolutely tore apart the Cardinals. The Falcons had an opportunity to make a statement, and boy did they make a statement.
The fact of the matter is both team’s made statements, big ones. While for viewing purposes, the games being closer might have been better, the fact both teams rolled over a quality opponent shows that we could be headed for a exciting Super Bowl. They each took on one of the NFL’s best and embarrassed them. Regardless of who had the more impressive win, both organizations have already put it behind them and are on to preparing for each other.