The 51st Super Bowl matchup is set: the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots will face off in this year's Super Bowl. The Patriots are going for their fifth title, while the Falcons will play for their first.
And then there were two teams left. After 256 regular season games with 32 teams and 10 postseason matchups with 12 teams, Super Bowl LI will feature the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots.
The Atlanta Falcons won the National Football Conference (NFC) championship on home turf without breaking much of a sweat, dominating the Green Bay Packers 44-21. In the final Falcons game at the Georgia Dome, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan blew apart the Packers defense with 392 passing yards and four touchdowns. Ryan's favorite receiver, Julio Jones, caught nine passes for 180 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
The Falcons led 24-0 after the first half, with the Falcons being forced to punt just once through the first 30 minutes. Ryan contributed to all three Falcons touchdowns, throwing for two and rushing for one. The Packers shot themselves in the foot when they entered Falcons territory: kicker Mason Crosby missed a 41 yard field goal, snapping his NFL playoff record consecutive field goals made at 23, and two turnovers in the second quarter left the Packers in a hole they could not recover from.
This is the first Super Bowl appearance for the Falcons in 18 years. The Falcons will be playing for their first Lombardi Trophy.
"We'll be ready to go for sure," said Ryan. "I'm just proud of the way that we competed and just really excited for two weeks from now."
Patriots to play for number five
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (second from right) waves to the fans after the Patriots' victory Sunday.
The American Football Conference (AFC) Championship pitted two teams used to going deep into the playoffs. The Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots both won eight AFC titles before meeting Sunday night in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady proved his living legend status once again, being the driving force behind an easy 36-17 victory.
Brady threw for a franchise playoff-best 384 yards and three touchdowns en route to his seventh Super Bowl appearance. Chris Hogan proved to be Brady's big target, catching nine passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns.
The Patriots never trailed, taking a 17-9 lead into halftime before rattling off 16 unanswered points in the third quarter to put the game out of reach for the visiting Steelers. Two second half turnovers by the Steelers sealed their fate.
"We'll see if we can write the perfect ending in a couple of weeks. It's going to take a big effort. We're playing a great team, but it's going to be a hell of a game," said Brady.
This is a record ninth conference championship for the Patriots. They will play for their fifth Super Bowl title in two weeks, which would also be their second championship in three years should they win.
Oddsmakers have already picked the Patriots to win Super Bowl LI with a three point margin of victory. They believe it will be a high-scoring affair with two top tier quarterbacks playing under center.
"You've got the Patriots and then have have this scoring machine in Atlanta," said Las Vegas oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro. "There should be a lot of points on the board."
Super Bowl LI will take place in Houston on February 5.
kbd/kl (AP, dpa, AFP, Reuters)