Matt Ryan Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan and head coach Dan Quinn celebrate after defeating the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome on Jan. 22, 2017. Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons are one step away from winning their first championship in franchise history. All that stands in their way is the New England Patriots, who are on the verge of winning their fifth Super Bowl in 15 years.

New England has been named the early favorite in Super Bowl LI, and it isn’t difficult to see why. Led by arguably the greatest quarterback ever in Tom Brady, as well as the best coach of all time in Bill Belichick, the Patriots’ track record speaks for itself. New England has made the Super Bowl seven times since 2002, and their 14-2 record was the league’s best in the regular season.

Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan will play in the Super Bowl for the first time in his nine-year career, and Dan Quinn is making his first trip to the game as a head coach. Despite their lack of experience, the Falcons will be extremely tough to beat if they can maintain their current level of play.

Since starting the regular season at 8-5, the Falcons have looked unbeatable. Atlanta has been dominant during their six-game winning streak, winning five times by 16 points or more. Even with Aaron Rodgers playing at the top of his game, the Green Bay Packers didn’t stand a chance in the NFC Championship Game against the Falcons.

Winning the NFC South behind a historically good offense, the Falcons continue to move the ball with ease. Scoring 33.8 points per game, they rank eighth all time, and they’ve scored at least 33 points in every game of their winning streak. Ryan is likely to win the MVP award, and he’s even raised his game in recent weeks.

Ryan has thrown 18 touchdown passes and no interceptions in the last six games, posting a passer rating of at least 121.8 in each contest. He was arguably at his best against Green Bay, throwing for four scores and 392 yards. The question remains whether or not he’ll be able to have a similar level of success against New England.

Brady continues to be terrific, but New England’s defense has also been outstanding all year. They allowed a league-best 15.6 points per game in the regular season, and the Patriots have surrendered just 33 total points in two playoff wins. The AFC Championship Game was New England’s toughest test of the year, and the Pittsburgh Steelers only managed to score 17 points with Antonio Brown being limited to 77 receiving yards.

Roethlisberger was the best quarterback New England has faced. He finished 11th in passer rating, well behind Ryan, who led all quarterbacks with a 117.1 rating. The Patriots also didn’t have to deal with Le’Veon Bell for three quarters after the running back suffered a groin injury.

The teams are different, but Super Bowl LI features an almost identical matchup to Super Bowl 50. The Carolina Panthers had the NFL’s top scoring offense and the league MVP at quarterback, but Cam Newton came up short when facing the Denver Broncos’ No. 1 ranked defense. A year later, the Falcons and their likely MVP signal caller are hoping for a different outcome against New England’s top-ranked scoring defense.

Some of the statistics might be comparable, but New England’s defense isn’t in the same class as Denver’s. The Broncos had a dominant pass rush and an outstanding secondary that shut down some of the NFL’s best passing attacks. The Patriots’ are tied in the middle of the pack in sacks, and they won’t be able to contain Ryan if they can’t put him under constant pressure.

That would put the onus on Brady and New England’s offense to keep the Patriots in the game, something they’re more than capable of doing. As good as Ryan was in the regular season, Brady was arguably better, and he only might not win the MVP award because he missed the first four weeks with a suspension. Brady’s 14:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio was an NFL record, and he threw for three more scores in the AFC Championship Game.

Atlanta’s defense has played well during the team’s winning streak, but it probably won’t be any match for Brady and Co. The Falcons were 28th against the pass in the regular season, and they’ll struggle against the best quarterback ever. It’s why the 2017 Super Bowl has the highest over/under in the game’s 51-year history.

As good as the Patriots have been during the Brady-Belichick era, they never have an easy time in the Super Bowl. Their first two titles were the result of last-second field goals, and they won their next two Super Bowls by a combined seven points.

Matt Ryan will never be Tom Brady, but there’s no denying how good he’s been this year. With Julio Jones at his disposal and other talented weapons, Ryan and the Falcons might very well be unstoppable heading into the season’s final game.

Prediction: Atlanta over New England, 34-30