It would seem hard to fathom that any team that is outside of the NFC West would have a shot at making the Super Bowl. Between the star studded San Francisco 49ers and the resurgent Seattle Seahawks who have established themselves as a dominant defensive power house, it seems incomprehensible to assume that any other team can compete with a these organizations. While both the 49ers and Seahawks have earned the right to be considered Super Bowl favorites, there is one team that has slipped under the radar and has missed out on the attention it justly deserves. The Atlanta Falcons, a team that has lacked post-season swagger as of recently, is on the verge of making a comeback of epic proportions.
Ever since Matt Ryan was inaugurated into the NFL the Falcons have always been a team that has been a pass first and ask questions later franchise. While this one-dimensional style of play may seem risky and even ill advised, it ultimately resulted in the Falcons being division and conference juggernauts. Behind Matt Ryan’s uncanny ability to throw the ball consistently and accurately (completed 68.6% of his passes, second only to Alex Smith), the Falcons were a competitive albeit predictable team that could win close games. During the regular season, more than half of the Falcons victories were won by a touchdown or less, making them one of the most clutch teams in the league. Despite the fact that the Falcons had an abysmal running game (29th in the league) and a questionable defense at best (23rd against the pass and 21st against the rush), the Falcons still managed to maintain the best record in the NFC.
However, while the Falcons regular season efficiency was nothing less than stellar, their post-season performances were a display of underwhelming inadequacies and debilitating inconsistency. Since 2008, the Falcons have only had a single playoff victory. In their playoff losses, the Falcons have never held their opponent to less than 24 points per game. All of the sudden, the Falcons defensive woes and predictable tactics came back to haunt them in devastating fashion. Even when Matt Ryan was at his absolute best, the Falcons couldn’t hold back the offensive onslaught of worthy opponents who were more balanced and better prepared.
Yet, their one-playoff victory seemed to spark something deep within the Falcons psyche. Even when they eventually lost to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game, the Falcons knew that they would be back. At the time, such notions seemed outlandish and foolish given the Falcons current track record in the playoffs. However, their offseason acquisitions have suggested that the Falcons are looking to be a team that is not solely predicated on passing. As a result, the Falcons have addressed their lingering issues on the field and have built a sensationally well-balanced team that is poised to do what the Falcons haven’t been able to do before; to be consistently competitive.
During free agency, the Falcons immediately fixed their most glaring issue in their franchise; their inconsistent running game. Two weeks after releasing their former running back Michael Turner, the Falcons found a suitable back that had both experience and an impressive resume. Acquiring Steven Jackson was a sign to fans and football aficionados everywhere that the Falcons were serious in their pursuits of picking up where they had left off. This was further proven when the Falcons drafted several highly touted defensive prospects, particularly when it came to their secondary. With their first two picks, the Falcons selected cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. In the later round of the draft the Falcons selected Kemal Ishmael at the defensive back position and Zeke Motta at the strong safety position with their 6th and 7th pick respectively.
On top of all these promising recruits, the Falcons still managed to retain Tony Gonzalez, arguably one of the most prolific tight ends in the NFL. The Falcons also have one of the better receiving cores in the league with Julio Jones and Roddy White leading the charge offensively. Keeping these sensational offensive weapons will allow Matt Ryan to not only remain familiar and comfortable with his current squad, it will allow him to fluidly build upon his recent passing successes which will help him improve to becoming an elite quarterback in his own right.
When all is said and done, the Falcons have done an excellent job in overhauling the aspects of their franchise that were severely lacking while keeping the components of their team that made them competitive in the first place. If the Falcons can fully utilize their young draft picks and acclimate them to their style of play, then it’s not out of the question to assume that the Falcons will be at the top of the NFC once again and better than ever.