Patriots head coach Bill Belichick forbade his players to talk about the last time New England and the Atlanta Falcons saw each other.
Like that might sway the Falcons to forget.
Just in case you forgot, Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons blew a 25-point lead in Super Bowl LI earlier this year, helping the New England Patriots to their fifth Lombardi Trophy in team history.
As far as washing bad tastes away go, this isn’t quite like the Red Sox swarming the Yankees with their four-game comeback in the 2004 ALCS. If Atlanta leaves Gillette Stadium with a win Sunday night, it will be a satisfying regular season win, more than likely spinning Patriot fans into a tizzy over when they might be able to witness a viable secondary.
But “28-3” isn’t going anywhere.
This week’s picks
Jeff Schultz, Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “I was all prepared to follow the, ‘Falcons get crushed’ narrative because of what happened the last time they played the Patriots — Google, but only with some calming chamomile tea and Yanni playing softly in the background — and their past two games. But you know what? New England’s defense is really bad, and the Falcons are really ticked. That may help. You know what else? I’m kind of crazy. That may not help. I’m banking on the Falcons team that played for most of the Super Bowl. I’m banking on improvement. Hey, watch this! (Famous last words.) Take the three points. But Falcons win in a straight upset.”
Greg Cote, Miami Herald: Patriots 31, Falcons 26. “Easy GOTW call because Sunday prime-timer is a rematch of last season’s Super Bowl, which saw (depending on one’s perspective) either the greatest comeback in SB history or the most embarrassing collapse. Can’t it be both? Falcons led 28-3 in third quarter but somehow watched as Patriots raised The Vince yet again. Oddly, the rematch finds neither team especially dominant thus far in 2017. Atlanta just lost at home to the Dolphins (!), and Matt Ryan has been a long way from great, while New England might be 3-3 right now if not for the good fortune of an officiating boner that really hurt the Jets last week. Figure the Dirty Birds’ advantage in revenge motivation will be offset by Pats’ home-field edge. I don’t believe I will ever pick against Tom Brady at home except when a lack of sobriety might be my only excuse.”
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Falcons 33, Patriots 30. “This is a rematch of the Super Bowl last February when the Patriots rallied from 28-3 down to win it. They did so behind the arm of Tom Brady and I expect that to be the game plan here. Atlanta hasn’t been the same on offense this season, but the Patriots defense is the perfect tonic for any ailing offense. Just ask Cam Newton from a few weeks ago. The Falcons score a bunch here and pull of the upset.”
CBS Sports staff: Eight writers split (-3.5 New England). Five out of eight take the Pats straight-up.
David Steele, Sporting News: Patriots 34, Falcons 28. “For the record, the ideal way to prep for a rematch with the team that chased down you and your 25-point lead is not to blow a 17-0 halftime lead at home to a team led by Jay Cutler. The entire combination of the way the Falcons lost and the Patriots won (an aforementioned questionable negation of a Jets touchdown) really bodes poorly for the Falcons. So does the way the Patriots keep surviving having the worst defense in the NFL.”
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 34, Falcons 27. “The Falcons are feeling more of the fallout of Kyle Shanahan’s departure than they are from the collapse against the Patriots in Super Bowl LI. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones should play better facing a Patriots defense struggling, but in this matchup, the Patriots have a healthy Rob Gronkowski, and the Falcons will be without Mohamed Sanu. There’s no big comeback needed here, as New England takes control early and forces Atlanta into desperate catch-up mode.”
Chris Simms, Bleacher Report: Patriots 28, Falcons 24. “ • The Falcons have put five games’ worth of tape together on Steve Sarkisian’s offense. Now it seems opposing teams are adjusting. Belichick will be able to adjust as well. Atlanta still has the offensive talent, but it doesn’t have an offensive game plan to counter-adjust. Expect the Falcons to move the ball on New England but to settle for field goals in the red zone. New England, meanwhile, has Tom Brady leading an offense that will score touchdowns and won’t let up. The Falcons have struggled to keep their foot on the gas for four full quarters. We saw it in the Super Bowl, and we saw it in last week’s loss to Miami.”
Jimmy Kempski, Philly Voice: Patriots. “The Patriots no longer look invincible at home, but I still can’t get myself to pick against them there. The Falcons will obviously be looking for revenge for the Super Bowl, and they won’t get it. Word of advice to the Falcons’ staff if they find themselves up eight with around four minutes to go just outside the red zone – just run it three times and kick the field goal.
Michael Hurley, CBS Boston: Atlanta (+3.5).
Five Thirty Eight: New England with a 68 percent chance of winning.
ESPN.com: Ten out of 11 pick the Pats.
Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 30, Falcons 23. “Hair of the dog that bit you never actually cures a hangover.”
Michael David Smith, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 30, Falcons 20. “The Super Bowl rematch sees both teams looking unimpressive. The Patriots’ defense is a mess, but Tom Brady is still playing well, and he should have a big game in a New England win.”
Elliot Harrison, NFL.com: Patriots 30, Falcons 27. “The Sunday night crew over at NBC will sell this as a rematch of Super Bowl LI, with plenty of 28-3hyperbole to make you wish you heard more stories about Jerome Bettis being from Detroit before Super Bowl XL. Ah, can’t really blame them. On paper, this was a fantastic matchup … but these are NOT the same two teams we saw last February. The Falcons’ offense flat sucked versus the Bills and Dolphins when it mattered. New England owned the No. 1 scoring defense last year. Does that stat even compute right now? The D ranks 30th in 2017. While the Pats showed improvement on that side of the ball over the last two weeks, they played a Bucs team that can’t buy a field goal and the Jets (don’t really need to add anything colorful to that). Definitely not improved? The reigning NFL MVP. Matt Ryan’s passer rating has dropped 29.8 points from last year — the biggest plunge among the 24 QBs who qualify in both seasons.”
It says here: Falcons 32, Patriots 29. The Falcons have been so bad lately that you wonder if they’ve instead been focused on playing the Patriots these last few weeks. “Revenge” angles are cute. In Week 7. Let Atlanta have this one.