THE best offense in the NFL looks like it will take a healthy roster into Super Bowl 51 as key wide receiver Falcons Julio Jones and centre Alex Mack returned to training one week out from the ultimate decider.
Atlanta, which is the +125 outsider at Bovada.lv, elected to give All-Pro receiver Jones time off to recover from a toe injury which kept the former Alabama product out for two games in December to have him fully fit heading into Houston.
The injury did not inhibit Jones in the conference final against Green Bay as the 27-year-old shredded the Packers, caught nine passes for 180 yards scoring two touchdowns, but the coaching staff are keen to have the superstar at peak fitness for the most important game of the year.
The move seems to have paid off after Jones admitted he feels ‘great’ after returning to limited participation over the weekend, but Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said the team will take a cautious approach heading into the Falcons’ first Super Bowl since 1998.
“Julio Jones participated some today,” Quinn said on the weekend.
“He was limited. And we held Alex Mack, like the plan. We’ll get both those guys back into action for next week.”
For the -145 favourite Patriots, the defensive end is the biggest query heading into the February 6 match up.
All-Pro and New England defensive captain Dont’a Hightower is under an injury cloud after being in and out of his side’s shutout conference finals victory over Pittsburgh after damaging his shoulder.
Hightower, who played three years alongside Julio Jones at Alabama, had a different assessment of his health heading into the Super Bowl than his former teammate.
“I feel like I’ve been playing football for a year,” Hightower said.
The Super Bowl XLIX champion believes the ability of the Patriots defense to switch maintain pressure, which has been a hallmark of New England, has been a big factor in making them the stingiest team in the league.
“(The coaches) are going to do the best job that they can as far as putting the right guys out there and calling the right calls,” the All-Pro line backer said.
“If rotating, however we’re doing it, if that’s the call, if that’s the play, I’m not here to argue as long as we get that dub at the end.”