By Jason Keidel
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So if you’re a betting man or football fan and comb through the odds for Super Bowl LI, you may have noticed how oddly inert the numbers seem to be. It feels like the New England Patriots have been a three-point favorite since the summer. And it hasn’t budged or nudged a half-point since.
Perhaps it speaks to a larger matter.
Does anyone really think the Atlanta Falcons will win this game?
This is not meant to disrespect the Falcons, who’ve had a sublime season and lovely playoff run, smashing the playoff-hardened Seahawks and then whipping the hottest quarterback in NFL history in the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers. Not only did they lead the NFL in scoring by a laughably large margin, they clearly have way more firepower than the Patriots.
Even still, there’s a clear chasm between the Falcons and Patriots, as wide as the distance between their respective hometowns, between the baking climes and sizzling nightlife of Atlanta and the snow-coated, low-key suburban mores of Massachusetts. The disconnect between the people and the point spread is remarkable.
If it’s not a disparity in talent, then call it culture or perception or symbolism. Clearly the Pats are the elites, in the stratosphere, in the thin air of the aristocracy, an orbit well above the NFL plebeians, who crank their envious necks up at the Brady, Belichick, & Co.
Robert Kraft, though a relative neophyte compared to the old money of Mara and Rooney, feels like a founding member of pro football, as though his were the first bust you’d see when strolling into Canton.
Winning does that.
The difference between the haves and have-nots. Atlanta has been to a single Super Bowl in 51 years, which it lost. The Dirty Birds were roadkill on John Elway’s road to retirement. New England, of course, has its mail forwarded to January. The Pats just set the record for most consecutive trips to the AFC title game (six), sneaking past John Madden’s Raiders machine of the 1970s. The Autumn Wind is no longer a Pirate, but a Patriot.
This is Brady and Belichick’s (or B&B) seventh trip to the Super Bowl just since Y2K. The Patriots have already entered the pantheon. Now it’s just a matter of position. Names that were otherwise blasphemous — Montana, Bradshaw, Noll, and Lombardi — are now key words in any historical search that includes New England’s QB and HC.
Three points. A field goal. On paper it feels like a coin flip. Heads. Tails. Pats. Falcons.
But it’s not really three points, is it?
Not under the surface, between the words, the fine print. Not in the implicit jam sessions we have and hear around the nation. Ask an honest man (or woman) about whom they like to win this game. Some will pick the Falcons just to sound cool, avant-garde, and slick. Like that guy who once declared that the Reds would sweep the A’s in the 1990 World Series. (Can’t recall his name.)
But really it feels like the Falcons are trying to crash a coronation. It’s entirely unfair. But the Super Bowl motif is all Patriots, the game wrapped in red, white, and blue (with a dash of pewter). This week is little more than a slow-mo preamble to that delicious moment the world is waiting for. Even if you despise the Patriots, some slice of your soul is dying to see Roger Goodell amble up the dais, do a grip-and-grin with Kraft, all while a smirking Brady and Belichick muse profoundly over the whole thing.
It’s hard to deny the magnetic theater of that moment, that the Pats could fully recover so quickly from the cuts caused by Goodell’s guillotine. But the Patriots just have some way of doing this, of keeping their noses well above .500 waters no matter who’s playing, future personnel, or opponent.
The Falcons deserve way more attention, credit, and respect than they will get this week. The best way they can pay us back is to win the game, make Goodell bust a U-turn on his way to Brady and Belichick’s coronation.
Better teams than the Patriots lost this game. (Like the Patriots, circa 2007.) And worse teams than the Falcons have won this game. Shame on us for not knowing, or remembering, or caring.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel