JOSH DUBOW, AP Sports Writer
From Tom Brady looking to become the first quarterback to win five Super Bowl titles to Matt Ryan seeking to give Atlanta its first, there are plenty of numbers that will get a lot of attention leading up to the Big Game.
Here’s a look at some others that fans might not be as familiar with:
BEST VS. BEST: This marks the sixth Super Bowl matching the NFL’s highest-scoring team (Atlanta) against the team that allowed the fewest points (New England) during the regular season. The top defense won four of those previous five matchups, including Seattle over Denver three years ago. The only time the top offense came out on top was in the 1989 season when San Francisco topped Denver.
FAST STARTERS: The Falcons have set an NFL record by scoring a touchdown on eight straight opening drives. That figures to be tougher against a Patriots team that was second best in the league this year, allowing just 16 points on opening drives with the only TD coming for Buffalo on Oct. 2. The Patriots have allowed an average of just 19 yards on those drives with half of their opponents failing to generate even a single first down.
FRONT RUNNERS: The Patriots haven’t trailed in a game since Nov. 27 against the Jets. Brady threw a game-winning TD pass to Malcolm Mitchell with 1:56 remaining in a 22-17 victory that day and New England has gone 421:56 without being behind in a game. New England trailed by 10 points at one point in that game, their largest deficit of the season with Brady active. If it’s hard to take a lead against the Patriots, it’s even harder to come back. New England has won 57 of the past 58 games when leading after three quarters with the lone loss coming last season to Brock Osweiler and Denver.
THIRD TO NONE: Forcing an offense into third down is usually a good step for a defense. Doing it against Brady or Ryan isn’t much help. Including the playoffs, Brady leads the NFL with a 132.8 rating on third down, with Ryan next among starters at 120.6. Brady has converted on 51.8 percent of his third-down passes and Ryan is at 49.7 percent. Ryan has been even better of late, with a 141 rating and first downs on 59.3 percent of his throws the past six games.
BETWEEN THE HASHES: Ryan has been nearly unstoppable when targeting the middle of the field in the regular season and playoffs, according to Sportradar. He has completed 86 of 117 passes between the hashes for 1,230 yards, nine TDs and no interceptions and a 132.8 passer rating. Ryan is 13 for 14 for 138 yards throwing down the middle in the playoffs.
GO DEEP: Ryan also was the most efficient deep thrower in the NFL in the regular season and playoffs, according to Sportradar, going 30 for 63 for 1,122 yards, 10 TDs, no interceptions and a league-best 133.4 rating on throws at least 21 yards downfield. The Patriots were the second-best defense against the deep pass, allowing just 28.2 percent to be completed with only three TDs, five interceptions and a 47.5 rating that was the second lowest.
BEAT THE HEAT: Teams blitzing the Patriots and Falcons have had little success this season, with Brady leading the NFL with a 124.3 rating against the blitz, according to Sportradar, and Ryan ranking second at 122.0. The Steelers tried to combat that by rushing three on 19 of Brady’s pass attempts last week, but he completed 13 of those for 137 yards.
WATCH THE FAKE: No team ran play-action as much as Atlanta this season, doing it on 26 percent of offensive plays in the regular season, according to game-charting data from Football Outsiders. The Falcons averaged 10.4 yards per play on play-action, compared to 7.8 on other plays. New England faced the second-lowest percentage of play-action plays at 13 percent, allowing 8 yards per play, compared to 6.1 yards on other plays.
COMEBACK KIDS: Brady has led the Patriots on a game-winning, fourth-quarter drive in all four of his Super Bowl wins, rallying from 10 points down to beat Seattle two years ago, overcoming a one-point deficit against Carolina in 2004 and leading tiebreaking drives against St. Louis (2001) and Philadelphia (2005). Brady came up short in two last-minute desperation drives in both losses to the Giants, but still has a 50-37 career record in game-winning and comeback attempts, according to Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders. Brady has the best winning percentage among active players with at least 10 attempts, with Ryan not far behind in fourth place with a 34-37 mark.
SNEAKY TOM: Brady has been one of the best QBs at converting sneaks in his career, getting first downs on 98 of 108 (90.7 percent) runs on third or fourth-and-1 in his career, compared to a league-wide rate of 69.8 percent in that span. After being nearly perfect (66 for 67) from 2004-12, Brady has been more ordinary of late at 21 for 28 the past four years.
BIG-PLAY THREATS: It’s no surprise that Julio Jones is the NFL’s most dangerous big-play receiver. His 31 catches this season of at least 20 yards lead the NFL. But he hasn’t been able to match the far less heralded Chris Hogan in the postseason. Hogan has eight catches of at least 20 yards in New England’s two playoff wins and needs just one more in the Super Bowl to tie Larry Fitzgerald (2008) and Greg Jennings (2010) for the most in a single postseason since 2000.
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