Tom Brady (183946)

It’s amazing how we hunger, wait for and anticipate the start of the NFL season—I’m excluding the preseason—and just like that, 22 weeks have gone by, elapsed.

The 256 regular season games, 10 playoff games and one all-star game have been played, 267 all totaled. It’s time now for the final game of the season, the Super Bowl, the battle of supremacy between the AFC and NFC champions, the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons at NRG Stadium in Houston.

The winner gets the Lombardi Trophy, the ring, the prize money, the bonus money, the accolades, the pomp, the circumstances, the marches, the rallies, the parades. They get the thrill of victory, that one final W. The loser? They become a footnote, an L.

Either New England, who’s won four Super Bowls under their current head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady beginning in the 2001-02 season, or Atlanta, who’s only been to the big game once in their franchise history, will have an L by late night Feb. 5.

New England had the better record during the regular season. They’re the one seed, 14 wins and 2 losses, compared with the 11 and 5 Falcons.

Both teams won their two playoff games in January to get here, the Divisionals and the AFC and NFC Championships. It was the seventh AFC-Lamont Hunt trophy and chip for the Pats, and their seventh Super Bowl appearance for this Belichick-Brady team in 15 years.

“Nothing that has happened in the past is going to help us win this game,” stated Brady in regard to sports’ biggest event Sunday. “It’s a pretty cool thing for our team to be able to accomplish this. A lot of work goes into it.” The quarterback makes stars out of the receivers who Belichick adds to the team’s roster, such as Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan. “I’m just very grateful for the opportunity,” said Brady.

A win for the Patriots will provide the most interesting headline. An Atlanta win is second. Third would be Brady having to shake hands and receive the Lombardi trophy from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who was responsible for suspending Brady for the first four games of this season because of his alleged involvement in Deflategate, the manipulation of game footballs two years ago. The investigation by the NFL commissioner went entirely too far. The importance of footballs to the game and to the integrity of the game brings to question why the NFL, its commissioner and its officials would allow their “game footballs” to be out of their officials’ possession when the balls are not being used, before and during each game, which was customary. This failure makes the league negligent in their responsibility to protect their shield, their game and game balls, no matter what Brady or anyone else was accused of.

Despite his punishment, Brady, 39, threw for more than 3,500 yards during the season, 671 during the playoffs. Atlanta’s QB Matt Ryan, 31, threw for 4,944 yards, 730 in the playoffs.

Although the Patriots have beaten the Houston Texans by 18 and the Pittsburgh Steelers by 19 in their last two playoff games to get them to the Bowl Sunday, it’s interesting to note that their past four Super Bowl wins have only been by three and four points: 20-17 against the St. Louis Rams in 2002, 32-29 against the Carolina Panthers in 2004, 24-21 against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2005 and 28-24 in 2015 against the Seattle Seahawks.