Kevin C. Cox
Is this the year that Atlanta finally breaks through... by winning at least one game? Here are a few reasons why it might be.
The combination of Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Michael Turner, and head coach Mike Smith has been really successful, right? I mean, two 13-win seasons, four trips to the playoffs in five years, no losing seasons, and dominance in the Georgia Dome. Those should all be good things.
So just what in the world is making them so successful in the regular season and 0-3 in the postseason? Since most Falcons' fans have been saying that they are "really hungry for a win this year" I'm going to assume that over the last three trips, they were full. They were thinking to themselves, "Playoffs? We're talking about playoffs? Playoffs?!? No seriously, what are playoffs?"
In truthiness and in my honest opinion, despite all the regular season wins, the Falcons just haven't put together a dominant team. Always good, but they're still looking for whatever magic formula is going to make them dominant. In five years, they haven't finished in the top five of total offense or total defense once. In fact, they've only finished in the top ten of either of those categories twice under Mike Smith. Atlanta has been good, they clearly have some elite talent, but when are they going to be dominant?
It might just happen over the next few weeks, and with homefield advantage in the NFC, a Super Bowl run might actually not be that Ludicris. Here's why:
Why the Falcons Win the Super Bowl
Matt Ryan, What's your fantasy?
His fantasy is probably a reality because the Falcons have a ridiculous amount of receiving talent. Perhaps as much as any other team in the NFL. Roddy White has led the team in receiving for six straight seasons, which is even more impressive considering that Julio Jones is amazing. White had 1,351 yards this season on 92 catches and Jones added 1,198 yards and 10 touchdowns. I'm not sure how Tony Gonzalez, the greatest tight end in history, managed to fit in 93 catches for 930 yards of his own.
The Falcons brought in Dirk Koetter in the offseason to be the offensive coordinator and he managed to move away from an aging Michael Turner at running back and instead threw a career-high 615 times. I want to say that Koetter is a genius, but why the hell wouldn't you throw it that many times when you've got White, Jones, and Gonzalez? What took so long?
Turner is still capable of some good games here and there, and Jacquizz Rodgers even managed 53 catches for 402 yards. Any team facing Atlanta is going to have their hands full on defense. The Falcons throwing it more? Gee, I guess that sounds okay.
The Georgia Dome has no Southern Hospitality
And for the Falcons, that's obviously a good thing. Especially since they won't have to get on any planes in the playoffs unless they make the Super Bowl, and then even that's just a short jaunt that won't even be long enough to get a drink order in.
Atlanta was 7-1 at home and will welcome the Seahawks questionable road record to the Dome on Sunday. Even their one loss came in a meaningless Week 17 game against the Bucs.
In the tough NFC, it's important to stay in your own area codes. Area codes.
The Falcons will be moving on as long as the defense manages to Stand Up
I wrote this on Field Gulls the other day, but the Falcons have an interesting formula that seems to have worked for some of the previous Super Bowl champions, even if those teams weren't all that dominant in the regular season. I don't think Atlanta is dominant, at all, but that doesn't mean that they don't have the pieces to win it all. They have a very good quarterback, elite receivers, and finished fifth in turnovers forced.
The 2011 Giants had a very good quarterback, elite receivers, and finished fifth in turnovers forced.
The 2010 Packers had a great quarterback, elite receivers, and finished sixth in turnovers forced.
The 2009 Saints had a great quarterback, elite receivers, and finished second in turnovers forced.
Atlanta can't run the football. Neither could the Giants or Packers. The Falcons have a terrible run defense. So did all of those other teams.
They might not look like what you expect a championship team to look like, but the evidence shows that it's exactly what they look like. At least for what's worked in the last three seasons. They aren't dominant, but they could be on their way to their first win in the playoffs under Mike Smith and possibly even more.
But then again...
Why the Falcons Won't Win the Super Bowl
Word of Mouf is that Atlanta is overrated
I'd actually say that they're perfectly rated. Who is actually picking the Falcons to win the Super Bowl despite their 13-3 record? Everyone is well aware that they didn't have many dominating statistics. And that they lost to the Panthers once, and nearly lost to them twice. And lost to the Saints. And that they barely beat the Raiders at home.
It's probably why advanced stats site Football Outsiders only ranks the Falcons as the leagues 10th best team by DVOA. Well behind the Seahawks, Packers and 49ers. And Broncos. And Patriots. There pretty much isn't a team left that Atlanta had a better season than (besides by W-L record) that the Falcons won't have to beat to advance.
Imagine the Ravens offense with the Patriots defense. That's about how they rank by DVOA on both sides of the ball. Not very exciting. They might have the true talent of a 9 or 10-win team, depending on the schedule they face.
Oh yeah, about that...
That was a pretty favorable schedule Rollout
Football Outsiders also thought that the Falcons played the 27th-hardest schedule in the NFL, which is amazing because they play in the NFC. In fact, Pro-Football-Reference thought it was a rather easy path to 13-3 as well; the Falcons are the only team in the NFC that had a favorable schedule according to them.
They got to play the Bucs, Panthers and Saints twice. (And only went 3-3 in those games.) They got to play the Chiefs, Raiders and Chargers. They did have to play the Broncos and did beat them, but that was a long time ago. They also played the Eagles, Lions, Cowboys, Giants, and Redskins early, and the Cardinals.
How are they going to respond to the three great teams that they'll need to beat to win it all? And are they even prepared for that?
Can this team finally Splash Waterfalls in the playoffs?
Of course this is the thing that people keep talking about with the Falcons. I'm not going to break any ground by delving into it even further. It is quite true that the Falcons haven't been successful in the playoffs recently, and also in the years before recently. They are 0-1 in the Super Bowl.
Does any of that have an effect on their 2013 chances? Does it matter how "hungry" they are? I'm fairly certain that Seattle is rather hungry. And the 49ers. And Manning and Brady. And it's not like I think Rodgers is trying to avoid his second championship in three seasons.
Are they hungry? Probably. Will it matter? Probably not. They still need to get it done, however they can, over the next few weeks. If they do that, they can feed that hunger with Chicken-N-Beer all offseason long as champions.