It is the time of year where every football expert to bandwagon fan is spouting out who they believe will take home the Lombardi Trophy in 2019. A month ago, USA Today’s Nate Davis, released his yearly article predicting the entire season. He has the Falcons defeating the Chargers to capture their first Super Bowl in franchise history. As recently as yesterday, Colin Cowherd has made known on his show ‘The Herd’ that he has Atlanta playing in their own house for Super Bowl 53. And on top of that, Andy Benoit of Sports Illustrated predicts the Falcons will topple the Steelers in a rematch of their regular season matchup and redeem their 2016 woes.
Contrary to many previous seasons where the Falcons have played the underdog role, the media seems to be falling in love with what is happening in Atlanta. But why now?
Scoring thirty points in nearly every single game in 2016 did not have the media on board. They were counted out by more people each week as they faced the Seahawks, Packers and finally the Patriots in the playoffs. Even after coming just a hair short of their first Super Bowl title, it was commonplace to predict Atlanta to miss the playoffs let alone win a Super Bowl in 2017. And when they finally did reach the playoffs, a criminal amount of people pegged the Rams to run wild over Atlanta in the Wild Card round, a team the Falcons beat 42-14 the previous season.
So why now?
The Most Talented Roster in the NFL
You can split hairs on who actually has the most talent, but the Falcons are somewhere very close to the top. Led by a former MVP, the offense is the best-looking one on paper. Julio Jones highlights a receiving core full of studs. Mohamed Sanu has turned out to be a bargain, and Calvin Ridley joins the group as a first-round pick. Outside of maybe the Saints, there is not a more feared two-headed monster in the backfield than Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, one of which is playing in a contract year (Coleman). And most importantly, Atlanta features an elite offensive line.
Defensively, the Falcons have come leaps and bounds since Dan Quinn became head coach. Quinn has solidified the secondary and locked them all up for the significant future. The team finally found some stability at linebacker by drafting two studs in the 2016 draft. Deion Jones is exploding into the top tier of middle linebackers, reaching his first pro-bowl last season in his second year. Atlanta’s greatest weakness might lie on the defensive line, but even that has been upgraded over the past few seasons. Vic Beasley Jr. and Grady Jarrett have each made their mark on the league, and Takkarist McKinley will be looking to take his sophomore year by storm.
Atlanta was not so far off from winning the Super Bowl in 2017. They were really the only team to threaten the Eagles in the playoffs and did so on the road after Philadelphia had a week off to prepare. The thorn in their side being an underachieving offense.
Atlanta’s offense went through a major struggle in their first season under Steve Sarkisian. That is normal in the NFL. It’s also normal for things to get much better in the second year, à la Kyle Shanahan’s two seasons with the Falcons. This is an offense that has been together for years now, brings in some valuable new talent and is now familiar with the offensive coordinator. There is no reason they should not return to being a force in the league.
On the flip side, the only reason Atlanta was able to push Philadelphia to the brink was their stifling defense. That is not something the Falcons have been known for in the past, but the continuity of this group is starting to pay off. The secondary is entering their third season starting together. The same can be said for Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell, who enter their third season together as the starting linebackers. Dontari Poe and Adrian Clayborn may have left the defensive line, but the cornerstones of that unit remain intact.
Most of these guys went through that crushing Super Bowl collapse. They know what it feels like to have a target on their back for an entire regular season and have proven they can go into opposing stadiums and win critical games, even playoff games. They know what it feels like to be on top of the world together and in a pit of despair. It is a brotherhood, and the rookies will find out quickly, it is a resilient one.
A Formidable Head Coach
You can have all the talent in the world, but without the right coaching staff, you’re not going to make it very far. These media members that are now infatuated with Atlanta have taken notice of what Quinn has brought to this franchise.
Throw out the fact that he is not the best at in-game adjustments, or maybe does not know the right time to take a timeout. Those things will come, after all. He has championship pedigree and is one of the brightest defensive minds in the game. Both were prevalent when he was the defensive coordinator in Seattle, and he has brought them to Atlanta.
The team is more than just fast and physical, something Quinn promised they would be when he was hired as the head coach. There is a sense of togetherness in the locker room that is uncommon in the NFL, and you can get a whiff of determination and focus from just walking around Flowery Branch. Quinn has made his fair share of mistakes but has a team that will run through a wall for him. When you combine that with the amount of talent on this roster, it is easy to see why the Falcons are becoming a sexy pick to take home Super Bowl 53.