FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One of the common links between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons as they enter Sunday night’s Super Bowl LI rematch is that they both remain in pursuit of their first complete game. Neither team has shown a decisive finishing kick.
The Patriots have been outscored 74-61 in the second halves of games. The fourth quarter, in particular, has been a trouble spot (outscored 54-31).
The Falcons have been outscored 72-40 in second halves.
That was a theme for Patriots players this week, with running back James White saying, “Play for four quarters, we haven’t done that yet. It will be pretty scary to see if we can actually put that together.”
Likewise for the Falcons, with quarterback Matt Ryan noting, “Penalties and just getting behind the chains on multiple drives in the second half of games has hurt us. We need to play more consistently.”
The focus on the second half leads off this week’s “final walk-through,” which highlights some under-the-radar storylines that might have been overlooked leading up to kickoff.
Burkhead set for return: Patriots running back Rex Burkhead was removed from the injury report late Friday and should be available for the first time since injuring his ribs in a win over the Saints on Sept. 17. That could create a four-headed approach at running back: Dion Lewis, Mike Gillislee, White and Burkhead.
A chance to re-establish home-field edge: The Patriots are 1-2 at Gillette Stadium this year, which doesn’t sit well with them. “We have to start playing better at home,” wide receiver Chris Hogan noted.
Roberts limited at linebacker: Elandon Roberts, who plays behind Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy at the Patriots' off-the-line linebacker spot, didn’t participate in significant team-based portions of practice Wednesday and Thursday, and then was limited Friday. He has shown toughness to play through injuries in the past, but if he can’t go, it would presumably bump Marquis Flowers and David Harris up the depth chart.
Second roster addition coming? Patriots coach Bill Belichick noted late last week the stability of the 53-man roster since the start of the season. Geneo Grissom's promotion from the practice squad, filling the spot opened when defensive lineman Vincent Valentine landed on injured reserve, has been the only change after the Sept. 7 opener. That could change this week because the Patriots have ruled out two of their top three cornerbacks, Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe. Cornerback Ryan Lewis is a top candidate if the Patriots make a practice-squad promotion. Update 4:14 p.m. ET -- The Patriots did not make a roster move before the deadline to do so.
Steratore gets the call: Gene Steratore has been assigned as referee for the game. He has been a referee in the NFL since 2006.
Good weather at Gillette: Temperatures are expected to be in the high 50s/low 60s at kickoff, with relatively no wind and 80 percent humidity, according to Weather.com. There is a 5 percent chance of precipitation. Overall, it should be a pleasant night for football.
Quote of the week: “He says I've got twinkle toes, so I’ll take twinkle toes. I like when I have twinkle toes -- that means I’m feeling good. I’m feeling it.” – Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski, on Belichick highlighting how Gronkowski high-stepped into the end zone for a TD catch against the Jets on Sunday
Stat of the week: The Patriots are the only team in NFL history to allow a player to throw for 300 yards in six straight games at any point in a season.
Prediction: This is the eighth time in NFL history that the two Super Bowl teams will meet the following regular season, and the Super Bowl winner has been victorious in five of the previous seven matchups. The key will be turnovers, as the Falcons are a surprising minus-4 this season while the Patriots -- who are allowing 325 passing yards per game, the fourth-most through six games by any team in NFL history -- are plus-3. Falcons coach Dan Quinn mentioned that stat, saying, "Being plus-3 in the turnover margin gives you a helluva chance to play at your best." Patriots 41, Falcons 27