Before you read this, if you are not an Atlanta Falcons fan, click off the page. This is not an unbiased look at this weekend’s Super Bowl. This is a rant. A rant of a fan whose team is finally poised to win their first Super Bowl in franchise history.
If it is not already obvious, there is just something different about this year. I feel like the Falcons are the actual favorites in this game. NFL analysts and fans alike cannot get the image of Atlanta shredding Seattle’s defense out of their minds and shutting out Aaron Rodgers in the first half of on their way to a Super Bowl. It was a thing of beauty, and has allowed me to go to sleep at peace at night knowing this Atlanta team is going to put on a show come Sunday. Matt Ryan is going to play great, and it is going to be up to Bill Belichek to come up with a tremendous gameplan to slow down one of the best offenses in NFL history.
I already know what you are thinking. “Knock on wood right now” or “Don’t say that Chase, you are going to jinx us.” But that is the thing, there is not a jinx. Throw out the Matt Ryan and Falcons’ previous playoff struggles. Throw out the fact that this is Dan Quinn’s first ever playoff experience as a head coach. This Atlanta team is not affected by jinxes or outsider’s opinion, and that is what has me so giddy heading into this Super Bowl game matchup. Quinn and the Falcons have taken the same laser focus approach since the offseason with one goal in mind, and that was not winning the Super Bowl. Well, until now… At that time they were focusing on going 1-0 every week and that has been good enough to earn Atlanta their first Super Bowl appearance since 1999.
It all starts with the quarterback, Matt Ryan, who had perhaps the worst season of his career last season under first year coach with the team, Kyle Shanahan. Ryan turned the ball over at an alarming rate, throwing 16 interceptions to just 21 touchdowns. The relationship between Ryan and Shanahan seemed to be bent to the public, but behind the scenes this offseason, magic began to happen. Ryan dedicated the offseason to limiting turnovers and abandoning old habits learned under OC Dirk Koetter. Both have resulted in the Falcons offense reaching heights few could have ever imagined. Ryan only threw 7 interceptions compared to his 38 touchdowns this season, and the Falcon’s offense has scored the 8th most points of any team in NFL history.
Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ offense has not slowed down in the playoffs either. The Falcons have averaged a mind-boggling 40 points in their two playoff games and have yet to be challenged. Julio Jones has caught for 247 yards and 3 TDs and has made defenders look silly in the process, even Richard Sherman. The Patriots have allowed the least amount of points in the NFL, but it seems foolish to think they are going to have a lot of success stopping the Atlanta offense.
A high-powered offense will not get you to the Super Bowl alone, however. Atlanta finished the season with the 25th ranked total defense and the 27th ranked scoring defense in the NFL this season. Rarely can teams overcome that kind of defense and win a Super Bowl, but there is something unique about this Atlanta defense. Dan Quinn has hand-picked over half of the players that will be starting on defense in the last two drafts. And in those young guys, Dan Quinn has placed his full trust. He has played these guys early and often, and nearly every one of these young defenders has responded well and improved over the course of the season. After 18 games, Quinn has this inexperienced defense believing they are the best defense remaining in these playoffs.
They shocked Russell Wilson and Seattle with their speed across the board. Green Bay was supposed to be another beast, but they were not even a match for Atlanta’s defense. The Falcons pressured Rodgers early and often, and their young athletic front did not allow Rodgers to make plays outside of the pocket with his feet. These first and second-year players have begun to play like veterans and at the right time nonetheless. Tom Brady rarely makes mistakes, but he is going to have to take some risks against an athletic Falcons defense in order to keep up with Atlanta’s scoring.
There is absolutely no doubt the Patriot way is a thing, and that Tom Brady is probably hungrier for a championship now than any other time in his career. Those two things alone are enough to make this matchup interesting, because on paper, the Atlanta Falcons are a superior team. They have no flaws on offense. The line has been perfect since the bye week, their wide receiving core is filled with playmakers, Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman is the best running back tandem in the NFL, and Matt Ryan has been a surgeon delivering the ball.
It is going to be up to the Patriots offense to help their defense out. They will have to control the clock with their run-game and intermediate passing game to keep Matt Ryan off the field. But this Atlanta defense has been more than up to the task in these playoffs. They have played fast and physical, just like Dan Quinn envisioned when he came to Atlanta. They are not the most talented bunch, but they are more than capable of slowing down a Patriots offense that is not even as talented as the one they faced in the NFC championship games. Atlanta has the edge in this game, and it is up to them to play like it and deliver this city the Super Bowl it has been starving for since 1965.