Many of you were blissfully unaware of the coming event. That is, until you received a text or Facebook invite to a viewing party from that one guy always complaining about his fantasy football team and some guy named Jay Ajayi ruining his weekend.

That’s right. It’s time for the Super Bowl — America’s game.

Last February, approximately 11 million people tuned in to watch Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos beat Cam Newton’s Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50. And the other 100.9 million viewers were glued to the television during halftime for Beyoncé’s performance. Or for the commercial breaks, which cost a total of $376.8 million. Or both.

Well, another year has passed and it’s time for Super Bowl LI.

Yes, the NFL uses roman numerals for its championship game.

Why? To avoid confusion with numbers and years. Apparently, playing Super Bowl 51 in 2017 would cause the American people to lose all understanding of time.

Except for the number 50. Last year was an aberration because “Super Bowl L” didn’t have the same awe-inspiring power of, say, Super Bowl XLVIII (for those not well-versed in ancient numerology, that’s
Super Bowl 48).

For the likely 10 million people following the NFL this season, Super Bowl LI will feature a pair of intriguing teams. But for the other 100 million viewers, here’s what to look out for while waiting for ads or Lady Gaga’s show at halftime this Sunday afternoon.

AFC Champions: New England Patriots

For the casual fan, the Patriots are a pretty familiar team. Their quarterback, Tom Brady, is relevant for marrying Gisele Bündchen and for playing in a lot of Super Bowls. This year will mark the seventh title game appearance for the
This season was supposed to be tough for the Patriots. Brady was suspended for the first four games of the season after the well-chronicled saga of “Deflategate.” For those who don’t know what that is, just understand footballs that were slightly under-inflated in a game two years ago led to a scandal that has its own Wikipedia page with including 148 references. To put that in perspective, that’s exactly double the number for Cal Poly’s Wikipedia page.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and the team survived Brady’s absence, winning 16 of their 18 games this season. Their team is loaded with cast-offs from other teams: defensive end Chris Long, linebacker Kyle Van Noy and wide receiver Chris Hogan all played prominent roles this season.

Offensively, Brady distributes the ball to an assortment of players and generally gets the points and yards needed to win. The defense is pretty stout, holding teams to a league-best 15.6 points per game. They may bend but rarely break.

The Patriots win by causing the opponent’s best player on either side of the ball to have as small an impact on the game as possible. The offense then uses a variety of options in the running or passing game to wear down the opposing defense. New England’s defense stifles the opponent’s best player and forces others to play harder than they have before.

To beat the Patriots, a team has to get to Brady with sacks without sending lots of players on a blitz at him. It also needs to have an offense that can exploit any mismatch, a type of offense employed by the…

NFC Champions: Atlanta Falcons

f you can’t name a player from the Atlanta Falcons, that’s understandable. Few expected the Falcons to be in the Super Bowl with a suspect defense and their second-year head coach, Dan Quinn.

However, with the incredible performance by MVP quarterback Matt Ryan this season, the Falcons have played an entertainingly high-scoring offense en route to their second Super Bowl
appearance ever.

The Falcons have a historically good offense. Ryan has one of the best wide receivers in the league, Julio Jones, carving up defenses on a regular basis. His other receivers, Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel, can take advantage when defenses focus on Jones. He also has two running backs, Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman, that are capable runners and pass catchers. This team scores a lot. An average of 33.8 points per game is the best in the league this season.

Their defense, in contrast, is generally inexperienced. Improved play over the last two months of the season give hope, but often this side of the team does just barely enough to get a win.
The Falcons win by overwhelming opposing defenses with well-planned schemes executed by Ryan and company. The defense makes enough plays to keep them ahead and on
to victory.

To beat the Falcons, a team has to find a way to combat the arsenal of skilled players Ryan can hand the ball off to or throw to. In turn, it has to also have an offense capable of scoring enough in case Atlanta breaks free.

The bottom line

For football nerds, myself included, this game is fascinating.

It could be a shootout with Brady and Ryan leading their respective teams to score 30-plus points. The Patriots could suppress the Falcons’ proficient offense to the tune of a lopsided victory. The Falcons’ defense, led by breakout star linebacker Vic Beasley, could harass Brady and give the offense a shot at a blowout victory. Or both teams could have an off day in a low-scoring affair. It’s hard to predict
the outcome.

What is expected is a slew of commercials totaling a cost approaching $400 million and the crowd in Houston waiting with anticipation for Lady Gaga. America got a warm-up with her performance of the national anthem last February; now it’s time for the real deal.

My pick: For the game, as much as a win would be the best sports moment in Atlanta history, my pick is the New England Patriots. Hard to go against four-time champions Brady and Belichick.

For everything else, I pick Gaga to wear at least four outfits, perform “Bad Romance” for those needing a dose of 2009 nostalgia, serenade viewers with “Perfect Illusion” to promote her latest album and suffer the unnecessary criticism entailed in performing the year after Beyoncé. But she will be a colorful escape from the commercials that will try too hard to connect to millennials and be uninteresting more often than not.

Except for the Budweiser Clydesdales. They’re a national treasure.

Video by Nate Edelman

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