Unless you live under a rock, or don’t like watching football (why, though?), you witnessed the biggest collapse in Super Bowl history last February. After dominating the first half, the Atlanta Falcons held a 28-3 lead well into the third quarter of what everyone expected to be the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory. Some blame the offensive playcalling, some blame the defense, and some simply blame the “Atlanta curse” for how the game ended. Regardless of why or how it happened, the New England Patriots managed to comeback from a 25 point deficit and win the game in overtime.
The Uncharacteristic 2018 Atlanta Falcons Will Win the Super Bowl
(Insert 28-3 jokes here)
While most fans were angry at Kyle Shanahan for not running the ball late in the fourth quarter, his departure from the team was a massive blow to the offense. Matt Ryan struggled with learning Shanahan’s playbook in 2015 but once the two got on the same page in 2016, it was a beautiful thing. But, alas, the 2018 offense would be handled by a new coordinator, Steve Sarkisian, Matt Ryan’s fourth offensive coordinator in ten years.
The team wanted desperately to get rid of all of the “Super Bowl hangover” chatter as the season got under way. Although they started the season 3-0, it was clear that this offense was struggling under the new playcaller after losing four of their next five games. For most of the season, it seemed that Sarkisian especially couldn’t figure out how to utilize players like Tevin Coleman in the passing game the way Shanahan did in 2016.
A New Persona
The Atlanta Falcons have been known for their offense over the last decade. Especially under Mike Smith, the Falcons touted a high-octane offense and a mediocre-at-best defense. In 2018, however, the offense was uncharacteristically disapointing, to say the least. Matt Ryan went from a 38 touchdown, seven interception MVP season to a 20 touchdown, 12 interception season. To be fair, of those 12 interceptions, the majority were due to the pass bouncing out of a receiver’s hands (or Marshon Lattimore’s buttocks). Regardless, the offense just didn’t live up to expectations.
On the flipside, 2018 showed another uncharacteristic side of the Falcons. This Atlanta Falcons defense quietly had an incredible season. The defense finished eighth in the League in points allowed this season and ninth in yards allowed. The Falcons defense, led by the second-year linebacker Deion Jones is the reason why they’re in the playoffs and the main reason they were able to beat the Los Angeles Rams on the road. The phrase “defense wins championships” was not coined for no reason and the Falcons are here to prove it.
The Road to Super Bowl 52
The Falcons road to the Super Bowl is literally that since the sixth seed prevents the Falcons from playing any playoff games at home. These are no cupcake teams ahead either. The Philadelphia Eagles are still a dangerous team, even without Carson Wentz under center.
The Eagles have arguably the best front seven in the NFL right now and finished fourth in the league in yards allowed and points allowed per game. On offense, the Eagles finished third in rushing yards with LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi. Atlanta was able to go on the road and hold a top 10 Rams offense to just 13 points, however so it’s not far-fetched to believe they can best the Eagles as well. Once the Falcons eliminate the Eagles, it will be on to either Minnesota, or New Orleans.
Atlanta split the series with New Orleans this season, each team winning at home. The defense won the game for the Falcons at home but the most recent matchup, in week 16 at New Orleans, was a disaster. The tandem of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara (R) has been a nightmare for opposing defenses. Add in a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Drew Brees and you’ve got yourself a dangerous offense no one wants to face in the postseason. This would more than likely end up being an offensive shoot-out, as it usually is between these two teams. Atlanta’s defense would have to show up in a big way to take down the rival Saints.
Minnesota’s defense is downright haunting and the reason they are the number one seed. There was only one game the Falcons weren’t able to score a touchdown in this season and, you guessed it, it was against the Vikings. The Vikings came out of that week 13 matchup in Atlanta with a 14-9 victory limiting Matt Ryan to just 173 yards and Julio Jones to two catches for 24 yards. This would, in all likelihood, be a low-scoring, defensive battle. Atlanta’s offense would have to fire on all cylinders to win in Minnesota.
The Big One
Everyone, probably even the Falcons themselves, is hoping for a rematch with the New England Patriots. Realistically (no offense Titans fans) it will be either the Patriots, Steelers, or Jaguars representing the AFC in Super Bowl 52. Either way, this Falcons team knows what to expect and they have learned from last year’s mistakes. The defense looks poised to carry the team to it’s first ever Lombardy trophy and the offense should find their niche just in time to seal the deal. So get excited, Atlanta. It’s our time.