HOUSTON (AP) — Projected starters and key players for the Super Bowl at Houston: ATLANTA FALCONS
HOUSTON (AP) — Projected starters and key players for the Super Bowl at Houston:
Matt Ryan, QB (2), 6-4, 217, 9th season, Boston College
Had best season, making All-Pro, leading NFL in passer rating (117.1), with 38 TDs ... First-rounder in 2008, third overall pick ... Has thrown for seven touchdowns and run for one in playoffs ... Popular in New England because of college career, won't be so popular there if he beats Patriots.
Devonta Freeman, RB (24), 5-8, 206, 3rd season, Florida State
Rushed for 1,000-plus yards and 11 TDs for second straight season ... Also can catch the ball ... Fourth-round pick who became starter in second NFL year.
Tevin Coleman, RB (26), 6-1, 210, 2nd season, Indiana
Complement to Freeman, third-round pick who has more speed ... Scored eight rushing TDs in 2016 and three as receiver ... Already has two postseason touchdowns.
Julio Jones, WR (11), 6-2, 220, 6th season, Alabama
All-Pro for second straight season ... Despite toe injury, had nine receptions for 180 yards and two touchdowns in NFC title game ... Uses speed, size and strength ... Can go long or turn short throws into big gains.
Mohamed Sanu, WR (12), 6-2, 210, 5th season, Rutgers
Key free agency pickup from Cincinnati ... Strong complement to Jones, had 59 receptions, four TDs during season, added two TD catches in postseason ... Versatile and athletic.
Taylor Gabriel, WR (18), 5-8, 167, 3rd season, Abilene Christian
Was released by Cleveland — yep, couldn't make Browns and is now in Super Bowl ... Scored six TDs during season after grabbing third WR role ... Undrafted because of size, but has proven dangerous downfield threat.
Austin Hooper, TE (81), 6-4, 248, 1st season, Stanford
Atlanta's third-round pick who didn't catch single pass in four games this season ... Strictly a receiver at the position, must improve blocking ... One of four tight ends on depth chart.
Jake Matthews, LT (70), 6-5, 305, 3rd season, Texas A&M
Son of Hall of Fame OL Bruce Matthews ... First-round pick in 2014 who has had best season ... Will need to be stout against variety of pass rushers for New England ... Houston native.
Andy Levitre, LG (67), 6-2, 303, 8th season, Oregon State
Athletic guard who can do a lot, but also must show he can handle power defenders ... Buffalo's second-rounder in 2009 ... Also played two seasons for Tennessee ... Durable, has never missed a start.
Alex Mack, C (50), 6-4, 311, 8th season, California
His addition from Cleveland solidified line ... One of the game's best centers, plays hard and plays hurt ... Has ankle injury, says it won't affect him in Super Bowl.
Chris Chester, RG (65), 6-3, 303, 11th season, Oklahoma
Has made career out of being good enough to start, though not a star ... A backup early in career, has started every game since 2011 ... Ravens' second-round pick in 2006, also was with Washington.
Ryan Schraeder, RT (73), 6-7, 300, 4th season, Valdosta State
Up-and-coming tackle who had strong season ... Tall, but anchors well and doesn't often let defenders get under him ... Undrafted player who saw action as tight end earlier in career.
Brooks Reed, DE (50), 6-3, 254, 6th season, Arizona
Comes off strong playoff performances ... Gets opportunities because he plays opposite Beasley ... Houston's second-rounder in 2011 ... Has six playoff sacks.
Jonathan Babineaux, DT (95), 6-2, 300, 12th season, Iowa
Veteran run stuffer who was second-round pick in 2005 ... Longest-tenured Falcon, has appeared in 185 games ... Can get to QB on occasion, but not his role.
Grady Jarrett, DT (97), 6-0, 305, 2nd season, Clemson
Came in with Beasley, is somewhat overshadowed by him, as he was at Clemson ... Clogs middle, but can penetrate into backfield ... Fifth-round pick in 2015, became regular this season.
Tyson Jackson, DE (94), 6-4, 296, 8th season, LSU
Third overall selection in 2009 by Kansas City ... Didn't do a lot for Chiefs, then joined Falcons in 2014 as free agent ... Will yield to aging but still dangerous Dwight Freeney (93) on passing downs.
Vic Beasley Jr., LB (44), 6-3, 246, 2nd season, Clemson
After mediocre rookie year as first-rounder, might have been NFL's most improved player this season ... Had 15½ sacks to top NFL — and he's just learning ... All-Pro who has not stood out so much in postseason ... Patriots must control him.
Deion Jones, LB (45), 6-1, 222, 1st season, LSU
Second-rounder was one of NFL's top rookies this season ... Aggressive and agile ... Plays mostly in coverage rather than blitzing, had four INTs (including playoffs), no sacks ... Involved in 106 tackles.
De'Vondre Campbell, LB (59), 6-4, 232, 1st season, Minnesota
Fourth-rounder who missed four games early in schedule (ankle), then came on ... Not real active in passing game, had zero sacks because he rarely rushed ... One of four rookie starters on D.
Robert Alford, CB (23), 5-10, 186, 4th season, SE Louisiana
Veteran of the secondary will be tested by Patriots early and often ... Second-round pick in 2013 just finished third season as regular ... Not a ball-hawk, only nine interceptions in career ... Needs to be aggressive in coverage.
Jalen Collins, CB (32), 6-1, 203, 2nd season, LSU
Second-round choice in 2015 who didn't play much, but came on when healthy this season after top CB Desmond Trufant was injured ... Had key forced fumble and recovery vs. Green Bay ... New England receivers are healthy, unlike Green Bay's, and will test Collins.
Brian Poole, CB (34), 5-10, 211, 1st season, Florida
Undrafted rookie who got bigger role after S Kemal Ishmael had season-ending shoulder injury in December ... Active in postseason with 10 tackles ... Patriots sometimes abuse slot DBs, so he needs to be sharp.
Ricardo Allen, S (37), 5-9, 186, 2nd season, Purdue
Fifth-rounder in 2014, didn't debut for Falcons until next year ... Consistent starter with nose for the ball, has five picks in short career ... Pretty good tackler despite size.
Keanu Neale, S (22), 6-0, 211, 1st season, Florida
Like Jones, one of NFL's most impressive rookies ... Hits hard, sometimes goes beyond limits ... Reminiscent of Seattle's star safeties ... First-round selection who took part in 105 tackles.
Matt Bryant, K (3), 5-9, 203, 15th season, Baylor
Among most dependable kickers in NFL history ... Led league in scoring with 158 points, made 34 of 37 field goals and 56 — yes, 56 — extra points ... Hit 59-yarder this season ... First Super Bowl.
Matt Bosher, P (5), 6-0, 208, 6th season, Miami
Ranked sixth in gross average, but punted only 44 times, fewest among league leaders ... Doesn't always get punts high, leading to some returns ... Rare punter who was drafted, sixth round in 2011.
Eric Weems, KR/PR (14), 5-9, 195, 10th season, Bethune-Cookman
Still doing well as returner after decade in NFL ... Ranked sixth in punt return average ... Not as effective running back kickoffs ... Also played two seasons for Chicago.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Tom Brady, QB (12), 6-4, 225, 17th season, Michigan
Three-time Super Bowl MVP seeking unprecedented for QBs fifth ring ... Is 4-2 in Super Bowls, including victory in 2015 ... Suspended for first four games of season for "Deflategate," then had one of his best years ... Unless Falcons can pressure him, he could tear apart defense.
LeGarrette Blount, RB (29), 6-0, 250, 7th season, Oregon
Power runner who does best work near end zone ... Led NFL with 18 touchdowns rushing ... Had second 1,000-plus yard rushing season ... Also played for Tampa and Pittsburgh, which he basically quit before landing back with New England in 2014.
Julian Edelman, WR (11), 5-10, 200, 8th season, Kent State
College QB who made immediate switch to receiver and has become go-to guy for Brady ... Sure hands, runs excellent routes ... Feisty ... Already has 16 catches, 255 yards in postseason ... Also returns punts.
Chris Hogan, WR (15), 6-1, 210, 4th season, Monmouth
Former lacrosse player at Penn State and small college football guy ... Joined Patriots this season after playing three seasons with Bills ... Starred in AFC title game with nine catches, 180 yards, two TDs ... Adds speed to receiving group.
Malcolm Mitchell, WR (19), 5-11, 200, 1st season, Georgia
Rookie who has earned Brady's confidence ... Made 32 receptions, scored four times during season ... Missed divisional-round game vs Houston ... Fourth-round pick and generally fourth or fifth option for QB.
Martellus Bennett, TE (88), 6-6, 275, 9th season, Texas A&M
With star Rob Gronkowski sidelined, Bennett has become key starter ... Brady likes to target tight ends and Bennett had 55 catches, seven TDs this season ... Entertaining guy who keeps things light on often dour teams.
Nate Solder, LT (77), 6-8, 325, 6th season, Colorado
Unsung left tackle who nailed down starting job in 2012 ... First-round pick in 2011, also played right tackle ... Missed much of 2015 while injured, came back solidly this season.
Joe Thuney, LG (62), 6-4, 305, 1st season, North Carolina State
Patriots unafraid to play rookies and Thuney is latest ... Third-round pick who fits job description perfectly: diligent, unassuming, good student.
David Andrews, C (60), 6-2, 295, 2nd season, Georgia
Another young blocker, Andrew became starter as rookie and performed well ... Undrafted find by scouting department ... Not real big but uses leverage and strength well.
Shaq Mason, RG (69), 6-1, 310, 2nd season, Georgia Tech
One more young blocker who came in as rookie and established himself ... Has played both sides ... Fourth-round pick in 2015, particularly strong in run game.
Marcus Cannon, RT (61), 6-5, 335, 6th season, TCU
Along with Andrews, most underrated O-line member in New England ... Versatile, has seen some duty at center and guard ... Second-team All-Pro this season.
Chris Long, DE (95), 6-2, 270, 9th season, Virginia
First season with Patriots after eight injury-filled years with Rams ... Second overall pick in 2008 draft ... All-around performer who can stop run and rush passer ... Son of Hall of Fame DL Howie Long.
Alan Branch, DT (97), 6-6, 350, 10th season, Michigan
Branch has been around, really found home in Foxborough ... Second-round selection by Arizona in 2007, also played for Seattle and Buffalo ... Space eater who ties up blockers so others can make tackles.
Malcom Brown, DT (90), 6-2, 320, 2nd season, Texas
First-rounder in 2015 who has been solid since joining team ... Like Branch, more clogger than playmaker ... Won't have huge impact versus pass, but has four sacks this season.
Trey Flowers, DE (98), 6-2, 265, 2nd season, Arkansas
Developed quickly into team's best pass rusher ... After trading Chandler Jones, Patriots needed DE to step up and Flowers did after barely seeing field as rookie ... Finished with seven sacks, involved in 45 tackles.
Jabaal Sheard, DE (93),6-3, 265, 6th season, Pittsburgh
Veteran presence who escaped Cleveland and has been steady for New England ... Did best work for Browns in first three seasons after being selected in second round in 2011 ... Has 13 sacks in two seasons for Patriots.
Shea McLellin, LB (58), 6-2, 250, 5th season, Boise State
Another retread, 2012 first-rounder by Chicago who fizzled there ... Can get to the QB, also has nose for ball and has made four fumble recoveries in career ... Mostly situational player.
Dont'a Hightower, LB (54), 6-2, 265, 5th season, Alabama
Top defender and leader on unit ... Learned similar defensive style in school, adapted right away to Patriots ... First-round pick in 2012, pretty much starter when available ... Was part of 65 tackles this season, had 2½ sacks.
Rob Ninkovich, LB (50), 6-2, 260, 11th season, Purdue
Whether he's lined up at end or LB, Ninkovich makes plays ... Fourth Super Bowl ... Joined Patriots in 2009, also was with Saints and Dolphins, but barely played ... 15 fumble recoveries, 52 sacks show his value.
Kyle Van Noy, LB (53), 6-3, 242, 3rd season, BYU
Yet another newcomer to New England who prospered on stingiest scoring defense in league ... Detroit's second-rounder in 2014, had little impact there ... Moves well, active in coverage, finds the ball.
Logan Ryan, CB (26), 5-11, 195, 4th season, Rutgers
Third-round choice in 2013, became regular in 2015 ... Has had excellent postseason, will be tested by Julio Jones and Sanu ... Has 14 picks ... Involved in 92 tackles this season.
Malcolm Butler, CB (21), 5-11, 190, 3rd season, West Alabama
Undrafted free agent who became Super Bowl hero with interception of Russell Wilson to clinch title two years ago ... Aggressive, good hands, reads routes well ... Figures to see plenty of Julio Jones ... Made 2015 Pro Bowl.
Eric Rowe, CB (25), 6-1, 205, 2nd season, Utah
Third cornerback who also came from elsewhere, was Philadelphia's second-round selection in 2015 ... Could see a lot of Gabriel ... Had interception of Ben Roethlisberger in AFC championship game.
Devin McCourty, S (32), 5-10, 195, 7th season, Rutgers
Most reliable DB on team ... Former cornerback who found home at safety, is leader of secondary ... Good tackler, reads offensive tendencies well ... Hits hard ... In third Super Bowl ... Twin Jason plays for Titans.
Patrick Chung, S (23), 5-11, 215, 8th season, Oregon
Second-round pick in 2009 who had many ups and downs ... Went to Eagles in 2013 and pretty much flopped ... Then returned to New England and has been solid ... Hard-hitting tackler with better ball skills and recognition than in first term with Patriots.
Stephen Gostkowski, K (3), 6-1, 215, 11th season, Memphis
Replacing success like Adam Vinatieri could have been thankless, but Gostkowski is team's all-time scoring leader ... Very strong leg, makes the critical kicks, though he missed PAT in 2015 AFC title match ... Made 27 of 32 field goals, scored 127 points.
Ryan Allen, P (6), 6-2, 220, 4th season, Louisiana Tech
Punters tend to come and go in New England. Allen has lasted four years, which says something ... Consistent kicker not bothered by weather. Of course, that won't matter in Houston.
Dion Lewis, KR (33), 5-8, 195, 5th season, Pittsburgh
Spent two inconsequential seasons with Eagles, then joined Patriots ... Dynamic player in 2015 until he tore up knee, had four touchdowns in seven games ... Returned late this season and has been key contributor as runner and receiver ... Had 98-yard TD return vs. Houston ... Could match up well vs. Atlanta secondary.
Danny Amendola, PR (80), 5-11, 190, 8th season, Texas Tech
Regularly a wideout, Amendola also is sure-handed returner ... Spent first four seasons with Rams, then became reliable target for Brady ... Had big 2015 returning punts with 12.0 average. That sank to 6.0 this season ... Can surprise coverage teams with his burst.