X-Factors that Could Determine Super Bowl LI

Photo Credit: Falcons Wire – USA Today

As the final preparation week of the 2016-2017 NFL season continues, we all know who the biggest and brightest stars are heading towards “Super Sunday.” Players such as Tom Brady (New England Patriots’ quarterback), Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback), Julio Jones (Falcons’ wide receiver) and Dont’a Hightower (Patriots’ linebacker) are all perfect examples of big super star players that are expected to perform really well, but what about players who are under the radar but should really be on everyone’s radar? Well, we call those players “X-factors.” Here are some X-factors that aren’t expected to light up the stats sheet or make a huge difference, but should at least be taken into consideration as we get closer to Super Bowl LI.

  1. i-27 Taylor Gabriel, Atlanta Falcons’ Wide Receiver
    • We know what Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu (Falcons’ wide receiver) can do for Atlanta’s offense, but some fans still seem to forget the small speedster in Taylor Gabriel. The former Cleveland Brown has really made some huge splashes for the Falcons’ offense this season. From receiving a short screen play and taking it all the way for a touchdown to taking the cap off of opposing defenses by running streaks with his speed, if Gabriel is able to get his touches and is able to make the very most of his touches, then don’t be surprised if he ends up being the difference maker for the Falcons.
  2. i-2 Trick Plays, New England Patriots’ Offense
    • When it comes to trick plays, two things come to mind. 1) New England is really good at them, and 2) They are rarely used in big games, especially in the Super Bowl. In the recent AFC Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Patriots’ offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels unleashed an epic flee flicker on the Steelers’ defense in one of the biggest stages in sports. Surely the Atlanta Falcons will be expecting something unusual out of the Patriots’ offense on Sunday, but New England is very good at running them when they know their opponent isn’t expecting them. A successful trick play or two from the Patriots’ offense could turn out to be an incredibly big X-factor.
  3. i-27 Speed and Youth, Atlanta Falcons’ Defense
    • The Falcons’ defense may be young and quite inexperienced, but with youth comes speed and athleticism. Defenders such as Keanu Neal (safety) and Dion Jones (linebacker) have been no strangers to showing flashes and highlight reels with their speed and energy this season. Not only are they just young players, but they are only rookies. This defense may tend to give up big plays here and there, but if these Atlanta defenders are able to use their speed to pursue the ball carriers and create turnovers, then that will give the Falcons a key edge in winning Super Bowl LI.
  4. i-2 Red Zone Control, New England Patriots’ Defense
    • The Patriots’ defense may not be as flashy as Atlanta’s, but what makes them the best scoring defense in the league is the fact that they play smart, don’t commit any dumb penalties, and are a force to be reckoned with when opposing offenses are inside the red zone. There have barely been any doubts that the Falcons have had the best offense in the league this season, but if Patriots’ defensive coordinator Matt Patricia can force Atlanta to settle for field goals at least a couple of times, then that would take tons of pressure off of Tom Brady and his offense as they attempt to score a touchdown on every single drive. If New England’s defense can perform in the red zone like it has been nearly all season, then it would be no surprise if the Patriots end up hoisting the Lombardi Trophy for the fifth time in their franchise history.

-Jake Scanlon