The Super Bowl is this Sunday, with the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots vying for the championship. Whether you know nothing about football or you just haven’t kept up this year, we’ve got you covered for socializing with friends during the game or at work on Monday with talking points, betting advice, and more.
First, let’s get the details out of the way:
Super Bowl LI
TV: Fox (Fox Sports Go for streaming)
Time: Coverage starts at 3pm EST, kickoff is at 6:30pm EST
Location: NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas
Teams: New England Patriots (will be in white jerseys) vs Atlanta Falcons (red jerseys)
A Quick Primer on the Basics of Football
You probably have a grasp of the basic rules of football, but if not, the video above explains everything you need to know. Still, every year the NFL goes and tinkers with the rules, and this year is no different.
The biggest change this year is on kickoffs, so you’ll hear about this one on the first play of the game. Touchbacks on kickoffs now come back to the 25 yard line instead of the 20 yard line. The point of this change was to reduce the number of kickoff returns, which in turn would hopefully decrease the number of full-speed collisions, which would then decrease the number of injuries. As it turns out, the rule change had no real effect on injury rates. Kicks were still returned about as much as usual, as touchbacks only increased by around two percent.
Otherwise, this year was uneventful in big rule changes. Chop blocks, which happen when one offensive player blocks a defensive player below the thigh while another offensive player hits them above the waist in what amounts to a two-player move in WWF No Mercy 64, are now more illegal than they used to be. It’s a confusing set of rules, but SBNation covers the details if you’re deeply invested in chop blocks.
Last year’s trial run to move extra point kicks back to the 15 yard line is now a rule. Even though it’s a year old, commentators will likely talk about it during every extra point attempt. There are a few other minor changes to the 2016 rulebook, and you can check them out over at the NFL Ops site.
Learn the Talking Points of This Year’s Game
If you have a passing interest in football, then you probably haven’t bothered digging into many of this year’s stupid controversies, memes, and other nonsense. So, let’s run through a few of the main talking points for this year’s game:
- Deflategate aka Ballghazi: Tom Brady, the Patriots’ quarterback, was suspended for four games at the beginning of the season for his role in tampering with the inflation of footballs in the 2015 AFC Championship game. The whole controversy is a long, stupid plot that better resembles a bored ESPN writer’s attempt at a John le Carre novel than reality, but you can find the whole timeline of events here if you care.
- Falcons Players to Watch: Matt Ryan, aka “Ice” aka “Matty Ice,” is the Falcons’ quarterback. You’re going to hear a lot about him, especially considering he threw 18 TDS with no interceptions in the last six games. Julio Jones is the star receiver on the team, and has been unstoppable all year. Meanwhile, the Falcons use a committee of running backs with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, both of whom will likely be on the field a lot throughout the game.
- Patriots Players to Watch: Tom Brady is the guy you’ll hear the most about. He’s the Patriots’ quarterback, a Donald Trump supporter, and purveyor of unscientific, BS high tech sleepwear that uses natural materials to supposedly help you recover from a workout. Brady is as maligned as he is loved, much like the Patriots coach, Bill Belichick. What might prove shocking to some is the fact the Patriots have more players than Brady on the team, including UGGs-spokesman and occasional wide receiver Julian Edelman, up-and-comer wide receiver Chris Hogan, and Rob Gronkowski-replacement Martellus Bennett. Like the Falcons, the Patriots use a committee of running backs, and you never know who’s going to be on the field.
- Noobs versus Veterans: This is only the second time the Atlanta Falcons have made it to the Super Bowl. The last time was in 1999, when they lost to the Denver Broncos (who won last year, coincidentally). Only three Falcons players have ever been to the Super Bowl, while 23 Patriots have played in at least one Super Bowl. This is the ninth Patriots Super Bowl appearance, the most in NFL history. It’s also head coach Bill Belichick’s seventh trip to the Super Bowl. They have won four so far.
- Score: This might be a high scoring game, as both the Patriots and the Falcons tend to put up a lot of points. In fact, the Falcons come into the Super Bowl as the highest scoring offense in the NFL, averaging an insane 33.8 points per game. Even though the Patriots defense ranked first in points allowed (which counter to how it sounds means they allowed the least points), the Falcons will likely put up some points.
- Stupid Facts to Drop Mid-Game and Impress Your Friends: The Patriots owner, Robert Kraft, got his start as a sports team owner way back in the ‘70s with the crappy tennis team, the Boston Lobsters. The Falcons’ owner, Arthur Blank, was one of the three founders of Home Depot.
It’ll likely be a pretty straight-forward game, and after last year’s defense-oriented game, it should also prove to be a bit more exciting to watch for the casual observer.
Know Who The Stars Are
The entertainment this year will kick off with three original members of Hamilton performing “America the Beautiful.” After that, Luke Bryan, a country singer who has a song called “Drink a Beer,” which might as well be the unofficial anthem of the NFL, will sing the actual national anthem.
Lady Gaga will headline the halftime show, marking her second appearance at the Super Bowl in as many years, since she sang the national anthem last year. As usual, she’s been hush-hush about what’s going to happen or if any special guests will appear, but considering there’s a rumor she wants to perform on the stadium roof, there’s a good chance this one’s going to rival Katy Perry’s insane Super Bowl 49 halftime show, though I’d put money on a more subdued start than Perry’s.
Who to Place Your Bets On
Speaking of putting money on ridiculous parts of the Super Bowl, betting has long been as much of a Super Bowl tradition as the halftime show. Right now, betting site Oddshark puts the Falcons as the winner, 29.3-21.1 with a three point spread.
Now then, with the boring bet out of the way, let’s look at the prop bets, because they’re much more fun. Prop bets are bets on random things that’ll happen during the game, and they get exceedingly weirder every year. Some of these are basic, like who will score the first touchdown or who will the Super Bowl MVP. Others are more bizarre. Here are some weird ones pulled from Bovalda (PDF warning), Oddshark, and Westgate Las Vegas (PDF warning):
- How many times will Trump be mentioned during the broadcast: The over/under is only 1 ½, which seems low considering how likely it is he’ll tweet something during the game.
- Will “Houston, we have a problem” be said on TV during the game: Shockingly, it’s 5/2 yes, 1/4 no. Personally I give it a 100% chance.
- Will there be a Microsoft tablet malfunction: Yes, 6/1. I’d wager that Microsoft knows how important this is, so I’m sure they’re ready for any problems if they do come up.
- Over/Under of the times the phrase “greatest of all time” is said during the broadcast: This seems low at 5.5 to me since I assume the commentator’s will say it about Brady at least 400 times.
- Odds Lady Gaga has a snake on stage during the halftime show: 4/5 because why would Lady Gaga have a snake on stage?
Prop bets are about as random as they get, so have some fun and make a dumb bet. You might also run into a Super Bowl Squares bet at your work or Super Bowl party, which is a 10×10 grid with the numbers zero through nine printed along an x and y axis. Every participant pays an entry fee, then puts their name in a box on the grid. At the end of each quarter, the square that holds the final digit of each team’s score wins. So, which squares are best? According to some students at Harvard, zero, three, and seven are best and avoid two, five, and nine.
With that, you should have everything you need for the game. If nothing else, toss a “that was a ludicrous display” around.
Art by Angelica Alzona. Photo by Steven Depolo.