Last year, 112 million people watched the Super Bowl, and about as many are expected to tune in to the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots on Sunday. You’re probably one of them. You’ll probably watch with a group of friends or relatives or associates, and those friends or relatives or associates will probably ask you who you’re rooting for. If you’re in New England or Georgia, you have a ready answer; if not, you’ll need one. We’re here to help.
We’ve put together an easy-to-follow guide for choosing your Super Bowl allegiance. Simply go to the section or sections that speak to your priorities—whether it’s politics, style of play, or underdog status—and heed the advice therein.
The easiest and most reliable way to forge a short-term Super Bowl loyalty is by rooting against the rival of your local team. Are you a fan of the Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers, or either New York club? Throw your weight behind the Falcons. You can react to every Tom Brady sack as if it’s the dispensation of some long-awaited justice. Is your team the Carolina Panthers or New Orleans Saints? Pull for the Pats. One more New England win would be easier to bear than another southern team getting where you couldn’t.
Back in 2015, Tom Brady’s locker featured a new addition: a Make America Great Again cap. Though he has since done his best to change the subject when it’s come up, he calls President Trump “a good friend.” The Patriots coach Bill Belichick sent Trump a letter at the tail end of the campaign, writing, “You have dealt with an unbelievable slanted and negative media and have come out beautifully. You’ve proved to be the ultimate competitor and fighter. Your leadership is amazing.” At a dinner the night before the inauguration, Trump wished good luck to the Patriots owner Robert Kraft in the AFC Championship game. Though Massachusetts went blue on election day, the Patriots’ key figures are likely happy with the outcome.
The Falcons, meanwhile, have been quiet on the political front. The allegiances of quarterback Matt Ryan and the head coach Dan Quinn are unknown, and even owner Arthur Blank is connected to the election only by way of his Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus, who endorsed Trump. But for what it’s worth, Atlanta as a city mostly voted blue (though Georgia as a whole went red).
If you were celebrating on November 8, you may prefer to double-down with the “winners” and “great champions,” as the president refers to them, from New England. Otherwise, go with the Falcons.
STYLE OF PLAY
Maybe you’re a purist who believes the true joy of the Super Bowl lies in watching two great teams compete at the highest level of the sport, and everything else—the commercials, the halftime show, the backstories—is just noise. New England is a study in football nuance, with intricate receiving patterns, a defense that allowed the fewest points all season, and a well-drilled special teams unit. Brady moves the Patriots down the field in eight-yard increments, putting dozens of short throws in inch-perfect locations. The Falcons, on the other hand, are a fireworks show made entirely of the grand finale. They scored more points than any other team and filleted the Green Bay defense in the NFC title game. Ryan will likely win MVP, and his favorite target, Julio Jones, is faster and stronger than every other receiver alive.
So what’s your flavor: tuned expertise (Patriots) or eye-popping athleticism (Falcons)? Choose accordingly.
Brady was born in 1977, putting him at the tail end of Generation X; Ryan was born in 1985, making him a millennial through and through. Delightfully, the two quarterbacks adhere to generational stereotypes: Brady was a sixth-round pick and a backup before finding stardom, while Ryan was the third overall selection in his draft and started from day one.
If you’ve had it with these whippersnappers, Brady’s your guy. If you’re watching the game on your phone, go with Ryan.
Brady, of course, is married to the supermodel Gisele Bündchen, who stoked minor controversy after New England lost the 2012 Super Bowl, saying, “My husband cannot fucking throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time.” These days, she’s asking Brady to refrain from discussing politics, which left-leaning Patriots fans might take as a favor. Ben Affleck and Mark Wahlberg also number among the Pats faithful.
The Falcons are relatively celeb-light, but Atlanta hip-hop superstar Future did stand on their sideline during the divisional-round game against the Seattle Seahawks. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson is now married to Future’s ex-girlfriend Ciara, so the appearance was likely a one-off piece of awkward gamesmanship. The Falcons also count Samuel L. Jackson and Usher among their supporters, but the Patriots’ A-listers tend to be more vocal.
If you’re a screaming-at-the-TV type, join in with the famous New Englanders. If you keep it cooler, stick with Atlanta.
UNIFORMS AND MASCOTS
The Patriots’ uniform is a bland bit of star-spangled-and-silver, with a somber militiaman slapped onto the helmet. Were it not worn by one of the 21st century’s best teams, it would largely be forgotten. The Falcons, meanwhile, use a red, black, and white color scheme that benefits to no small degree from one of the better helmets in football. When Jones streaks down the sideline, the Atlanta logo—a bird of prey with wings pumping and talons outstretched—will be coming along with him.
The mascots are a different story. Atlanta employs something called “Freddie Falcon,” with feathery wings and a frozen, grinning beak. Freddie has the classic mascot drawbacks; designed to be able to pump up a drunken crowd and pose for photos with kids, he comes off as neither menacing nor playful. The less you think about him, the better.
The Patriots, in comparison, have the End Zone Militia, a group of war reenactors who look the Revolutionary part. At New England home games, they stand behind the end zone and fire muskets in celebration after touchdowns. They are the rare mascot group that doesn’t seem like a pure branding device.
So what riles you up more: The Falcons’ better duds, or the Pats’ superior cheering section?
FAVORITE OR UNDERDOG?
No rooting rationale is as foolproof as this one: “I’m pulling for the underdog.” And though Ryan has put up historic passing numbers and the Falcons have sailed through the playoffs to this point, the Patriots are favored. Vegas has New England as three-point favorites, making official the sense of inevitable success that surrounds Belichick and Brady a decade and a half into their partnership.
If you’re the front-running type, go with the tried-and-true four-time champs. But if you like upsets, pull for Ryan and Jones and the rest of the all-out Atlanta attack to deal a blow to the Patriots’ supremacy. If the Falcons win, you get to crow about it. If New England wins, well, that’s old news; your temporary allegiance will be forgotten by Monday morning.