It’s the FALCONS. Yes, ladies and gentlemen. What you have seen on TV is not just another case of FAKE NEWs. The Atlanta Falcons really are in the Super Bowl. Could this be the end (or at least a pause) in the Georgia Curse? It is possible. If you are not familiar with the Georgia Curse, let me lay it out for you. Atlanta has been home to professional sports teams in all four of the major sports. In fairness, hockey has been an on again, off again affair here. Atlanta has fielded teams in the NFL since 1965, MLB since 1966, the NBA since 1968 and a couple of NHL teams for short stretches. During that time Atlanta has ONE World Championship. The Atlanta Braves won it all in 1995. The Falcons have been to one Super Bowl and lost decisively to Denver. The Hawks have never even been to the NBA Finals since moving to Atlanta. I won’t even go into the nearby college football teams. Atlanta is now the most futile professional sports city in the country.
That would change if the Falcons win the Super Bowl. The NFL is the pinnacle of American sports no matter what they call the national pastime. Winning the Super Bowl raises Atlanta out of the basement of professional sports. But, can they finish the deal? Atlanta fans are deservedly skittish this week. These fans have played the role of Charlie Brown too many times only to have the ball snatched away at the last possible second. They are trying to be cautiously optimistic about this Super Bowl. And there is reason for optimism.
The Falcons fielded the top scoring offense in the NFL this season four points a game better than second place New Orleans. Matt Ryan should win the MVP. Nobody had a better season than Ryan. The offense boasts an array of weapons with receivers Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Justin Hardy and Taylor Gabriel as well as star running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Matt Ryan has spread the ball around well keeping all of his offensive weapons involved. Teams almost have to double-team Julio Jones who is probably the best wide receiver in the NFL which leaves the rest of the receivers, tight ends and running backs to find mismatches in the coverage. Atlanta has done a spectacular job of finding and taking advantage of those mismatches.
One thing that has helped the Falcons offense take off this season is an improved (and healthy) offensive line. After adding Alex Mack to solidify the center position, the offensive line became a strength rather than a liability for Atlanta. it also helped that the Falcons were the ONLY team in the NFL to start the same five o-linemen in every game this season.
With as fantastic as the Atlanta offense has been, the Falcons are NOT in the Super Bowl if the defense was still playing as it did early in the season. The defense which plays a lot of rookie and second year guys was hovering around the bottom of the NFL statistically for most of the season. Then the young players got up to speed and the defense gelled. All of a sudden the Falcons entered the playoffs with a formidable defense. The Falcons have given up 21 points or less in five of their last six games. The other game was a blowout against the Saints where the Atlanta allowed three late touchdowns in garbage time to New Orleans. Over that same six game period, the Falcons have averaged 39 points a game on offense.
Over their last six games the New England Patriots have given up an average of just under 13 points a game and have scored an average of 32 points a game. New England had the best scoring defense in the NFL in 2016. The Patriots are going to make some plays on offense. Brady and Belichick have shown they will find a way to score points throughout their history together. The New England formula of just filling a spot on offense with the next guy in line has yet to fail them. The question is whether their defense can shut down a Falcons offense that appears to be in Madden Football video game mode right now. Belichick will come in with a good game plan. That said, if they are not able to get pressure on Matt Ryan on a regular basis it will be difficult to slow down the Atlanta scoring machine.
This should be a great Super Bowl from a spectator standpoint. There should be a lot of scoring by both teams. Los Vegas has the over and under set at an almost unbelievable 59 points and I would still take the over if I were a gambling man. I know I am expected to make a prediction here and I will. But, I want to quantify it by saying that I would in no way bet on this particular game. It is too hard to predict. Being a Falcons fans for nearly forty years now, this might be my heart speaking, but I like Atlanta to win this Super Bowl in a close one. I hope I’m right. No curse lasts forever.