Scott Fowler

4 thoughts on what we saw Sunday – and my early Super Bowl prediction

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady beat the Panthers in a Super Bowl 13 years ago in Houston. Brady will try to do the same thing to the Atlanta Falcons Feb. 5, also in Houston.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady beat the Panthers in a Super Bowl 13 years ago in Houston. Brady will try to do the same thing to the Atlanta Falcons Feb. 5, also in Houston. AP

Some quick hits on what we learned Sunday, as well as my Super Bowl pick:

1) I really believed the NFC and AFC Championship Games would be closer -- especially given the quality of the four quarterbacks. Instead, they were both blowouts. Atlanta and New England both blasted the opposition on their home fields, leaving no doubt that they are the best two teams in football right now.

It should be a dynamite Super Bowl in Houston. Plan your party now: Kickoff is 6:30 p.m on Sunday, Feb. 5. It will be the first Super Bowl in Houston since Tom Brady led New England over Carolina in a 32-29 thriller 13 years ago.

2) You'd expect Julio Jones to go for nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns on a Sunday like this, because to me he's the best receiver in football. But New England's Chris Hogan matched those numbers exactly. It was just another example of how Brady can push a good receiver to greatness.

3) It was a nasty day for four former Panthers trying to get to the biggest game. Former Carolina head coach Dom Capers ran the Green Bay defense that allowed Atlanta to do whatever it wanted in a 44-21 win. Packers defensive end Julius Peppers was a non-factor and will again go without a Super Bowl ring. Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell, who started for Carolina in the 2013 playoff season, gave up a touchdown when he bit on a flea-flicker fake in New England’s 36-17 win.

Backup running back DeAngelo Williams played the best of that losing quartet, scoring the Steelers' first touchdown after subbing in for the injured Le'Veon Bell. Williams also had a late two-point conversion on a reception, but he rushed 14 times for only 34 yards.

4) Congrats to tight end Greg Olsen, who was named on Sunday as one of the three finalists for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award (along with Eli Manning and Larry Fitzgerald). The winner will be announced Feb. 4. Olsen was picked for his outstanding community service, exemplified by what he has done for families like the Registers.

OK, prediction time.

Matt Ryan was every bit as good as Brady on Sunday. But I think the Patriots' defense is one level better than Green Bay's, and it's just so hard to go against a guy with four Super Bowl rings and perhaps the best NFL coach of all time in Bill Belichick. My pick: New England 30, Atlanta 27.

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