Looking ahead: Do the Patriots or Falcons provide a better blueprint for success?

Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles should break out a pen and paper during Super Bowl LI, because the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons will showcase two different but equally effective approaches to running a franchise capable of winning it all. Both teams have some things in common (stability at quarterback being the biggest one), but there are also some key differences in both execution and philosophy that the Jets could learn a thing or two from.

Let’s take a look at what made these teams great this season:

Potent offense

The Falcons were an offensive juggernaut all season long, scoring a league-best 33.8 points per contest, while the Patriots finished third at 27.6. Both teams also complemented their stellar quarterback play with running games that kept drives alive and kept opposing quarterbacks holding their clipboards on the sidelines.

LeGarrette Blount set the Patriots’ single-season rushing touchdown record with 18 while adding over 1,100 yards on the ground. Atlanta’s dynamic duo of Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman combined for 19 touchdowns and nearly 1,600 yards rushing this season. The Patriots and Falcons are not franchises known for a stellar ground game, but this season they were able to add another dimension to their offensive gameplan and further separate themselves from the pack.

Keep an eye on: Falcons

The Jets simply won’t have the pieces in place to replicate what the Patriots do week in and week out with their offensive weapons. Should Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker remain in green and white next season, the Jets can attempt to replicate Atlanta’s style with Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu going deep. The running attack of Matt Forte and Bilal Powell, who looked capable of being an every-down back towards the end of the last year, would look like Freeman and Coleman in an ideal world. Furthermore, the Patriots’ gameplan involves too many shifty slot players and usage of the tight end position for the Jets to take a page out of their playbook.

Hold on to the rock

The Falcons (+11 turnover ratio) and the Patriots (+12) played smart football this season. The Jets (-20) did not. Aside from the cringeworthy blowout losses at the end of the season, the Jets were contenders in most games they played in 2016. Their inability to hold onto the ball in key situations and score in the red zone cost them at least a couple of games. The Falcons wound up scoring 12 more touchdowns than the Patriots (63 to 51), but their time of possession averages were nearly identical, at just over 31:00 and 30:00 minutes, respectively. The combination of Matt Ryan to Julio Jones produced a lot of big plays for the Falcons, while the Patriots made their mark with their patented dink-and-dunk approach. Both teams, though, were able to capitalize on their ability to hold on to the football and produce successful scoring drives all season long.

Keep an eye on: Falcons

The Falcons get the edge here as well. Although we don’t know who will line up under center for the Jets next year, we do know they’ll have a better arm than Ryan Fitzpatrick (and hopefully will throw far fewer INTs.) Marshall, despite being on the wrong side of 30, can still get down the field and can use his height advantage to go up and get balls in the air a la Jones for Atlanta. Fitzpatrick posted an abysmal 6.7 yards/attempt last season and that number needs to increase substantially for the Jets to have success next season.

Locker room stability

This component to a successful franchise does not come with measurable statistics, but it is an equally important piece as any other. The Falcons under Dan Quinn and the Patriots under Bill Belichick both were able to stay out of the headlines this season, even with Tom Brady serving a four-game suspension to begin the season. The collected Matt Ryan and the fiery Brady also serve as perfect leaders for a franchise, despite their leadership styles being polar opposites.

The Jets, on the other hand, were a mess from the jump. Their season began with the controversy over bringing back Fitzpatrick and ended with Sheldon Richardson and Marshall reportedly dividing the locker room. If a team cannot maintain its unity and focus throughout the season, there simply is no hope.

Keep an eye on: Patriots

As much potential as Quinn has shown this season, Belichick remains the gold standard for coaching in the NFL. The Patriots have been a well-oiled machine for 15 years—a machine the Jets have looked up at in the AFC East standings for almost that entire period.

Todd Bowles needs to corral the team from the start of training camp this season and set a standard of professionalism and patience that was utterly lost in 2016. Bowles and Belichick also present a similar quiet demeanor to the media that, when applied correctly, can lead to great success.

Conclusion

Both the Falcons and Patriots were tremendously successful in all three phases of the game this season, as well as on the sidelines and in the coaching box from above. Both team’s defenses surprised the league and were able to complement two of the best offenses in the league all season long. The Falcons appear poised to remain relevant for a long time to come (just don’t tell that to the Carolina Panthers), and the Patriots will almost certainly keep stride next season too.

The Jets should keep a vigilant eye on both how these teams execute their gameplans and how their coaching staffs keep the ship sailing smoothly throughout the most pressure-packed sporting event of the year.

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