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January 24, 2017

Will Goodell obsession make the Patriots vulnerable to Falcons in Super Bowl LI?

The Atlanta Falcons are about to enter a bizarre twilight zone in which their biggest advantage preparing for the Super Bowl is also a curse.

As much as it is possible, the Falcons will head toward for next week’s Super Bowl hype sessions as an invisible team. Despite all they accomplished this past season, and despite a quarterback who is likely the league’s MVP, the Falcons will arrive in Houston as the other team.

In many ways, the Atlanta Falcons will not even be viewed as the opponent, and if they play this correctly they can use this snub to ambush the Patriots and steal away with the trophy.

The Falcons are being viewed as a prop for the sexy storyline of this Super Bowl. It’s not Patriots vs. Falcons, Brady vs. Ryan or even Quinn vs. Belichick.

Instead, the story line is the New England Patriots – specifically Tom Brady – vs. Roger Goodell.

The drumbeat was sounded loud and clear last weekend in Foxborough where Pats fans were howling “Where is Roger?” as New England pulled away. Patriots owner Robert Kraft tripped his way through a postgame speech in which he acknowledged that this Super Bowl was especially important “for a number of reasons.”

No hiding the fact that the No.-1 reason is the sanctions imposed on Brady and the Patriots for their involvement in the Deflategate scandal. The never-ending comedy of incompetence finally led to significant fines and penalties to the club in terms of money and draft picks, and, most famously, a four-game suspension levied against Brady at the start of this season.

Here in Philadelphia, there was no sympathy for the monolithic franchise in New England. After all, it was the Patriots – under the guidance of Brady and the direction of hooded master thief Bill Belichick – that stole a Super Bowl from the Eagles in what came to be known as Spygate.

Fans in and around New England reacted to the penalties with predictable defiance, rallying around a simple “They Hate us Because They Ain’t Us” mantra, but the rest of the football world was thrilled to see the Patriots finally get put in their place.

And then Goodell and the NFL proceeded to make so many mistakes, it became difficult to place anybody or any team on a lower rung than the league – and its buffoonish commissioner – itself.

From the Ray Rice case to the never-ending concussion issue and everything in between, Goodell has seemingly gone out of his way to make both he and the league look ridiculous, almost overnight transforming himself into football’s public enemy No. 1 – which is very hard to do when Belichick has a mug and a disposition made for any football fan’s Most Wanted list.

As a result, the talk and discussions before this Super Bowl will be split between the actual matchup between the Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons and the other matches that feature the Patriots against Goodell, Brady against Goodell, Belichick against Goodell and the Patriots against the NFL.

It is an intriguing confrontation that even goes beyond the football field to people who have tried to battle authority and found themselves leveled on the floor.

The Patriots might be the most despised and envied franchise in the NFL, but a part of many fans wants to see the money shot of Goodell handing the Lombardi Trophy to Kraft, Brady, Belichick, et al.

The irony here is that this all works in favor of the Atlanta Falcons.

This is a football team that has already dismantled the Green Bay Packers and star quarterback Aaron Rodgers. This is a football team with its own quarterback, Ryan, who was already a star in New England at Boston College, and he won’t be fazed by any Patriot mystique.

The Falcons will arrive with many people suggesting they will have a tougher time adjusting because they are not used to all the hype that goes with the Super Bowl. However, in reality, it will be the Patriots who will be facing something new at a Super Bowl.

This is Brady after the suspension, and this is Belichick who will have to use every bit of coaching expertise to keep the focus on nothing more than the Atlanta Falcons and especially Julio Jones.

The ultimate irony here is that the Patriots could very well lose this Super Bowl because the attention on beating Goodell might wind up the best block the commissioner has ever thrown against the Patriots.

The Falcons are in a pretty good spot, and it should only get better when the real hype starts next week with the media deluge in Houston.