The Falcons weren’t supposed to be this good this year. Though, I’m not sure if it was that the Falcons weren’t supposed to be this good, or that all the brainiacs that make predictions (myself included) had the other teams in the NFC North just plain better. When one of your divisional rivals went to last year’s Super Bowl, you would think that there would be quite a mountain to climb. Well, the Panthers turned out to be little more than a molehill, and the Falcons capitalized on that. I will say that at the beginning of the year, I said that the ceiling for this team would be the Super Bowl…I just never expected them to get there.
After an opening day loss to the Buccaneers (who were better this year than most people expected) the Bucs ripped off four straight wins, including beating both the Panthers and Broncos in back to back weeks. Was this Falcons team legit? Losing the next two to the Seahawks and Chargers definitely didn’t do anything to alleviate the fears that this Falcons team would collapse like other Falcons teams of the recent past were known for. Beating the Packers (before they became the PACKERS to end the season, and avenging the opening day loss to the Bucs was nice, but losing to the “couple years away” Eagles before their bye had everyone on the outside looking in concerned that the post-bye falcons wouldn’t win again.
They alleviated those fears by trouncing the disappointment of the year Arizona Cardinals coming out of their bye, then dropped a one point game to the Chiefs. Atlanta finished the season with three straight wins against inferior competition (the Rams, 49ers and already on the golf course Panthers) to wind up and 11-5 campaign and a first round bye, all without the services of Julio Jones for a good portion of the end of their season.
After sitting out the wildcard round, the Falcons steamrolled their next two opponents at the Georgia Dome on their way to Houston for Superbowl LI.
The Falcons came into the year with a good offense that just got better. Matt Ryan is probably going to (rightfully) win the MVP this year, and his weapons on offense showed that they are massive headaches for anyone on the defensive side of the ball. Not only does Atlanta have the best 1-2 punch at running back, but the emergence of Mohammed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel showed that there are literally not enough defenders on the field to cover all that Atlanta has to offer (as we saw against both the Seahawks and Packers). The defense played better than expected as well, with Vic Beasley coming into his own as a force at linebacker in his second year. Beasley, a possibility for defensive player of the year, led the NFL in sacks this year and looks to be the guy on that Atlanta defense for years to come.
Atlanta was able to prove to themselves, and their fans, that they were a complete team, able to take hold of the NFC South this year and run up the score on all their opponents with the number one offense in the league. The Falcons got some big steps forward from a very young defense and the addition of Mohammed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel helped compliment Julio Jones in the receiving game better than Roddy White at the end of his career could. There’s no reason to believe that they won’t be able to continue that success with the same formula in the Superbowl as well.