Don’t try to tell me that the 8-1 Atlanta Falcons are the best team in the NFC.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff has done a spectacular job building the team. Head coach Mike Smith has won nearly 70 percent of his games (51-22 in the regular season). Quarterback Matt Ryan is a legitimate MVP candidate.
Fact is, the Falcons have become one of the NFL’s model franchises since Dimitroff, Smith and Ryan came aboard in 2008.
But, don’t try and tell me that means the Atlanta Falcons, one-and-done playoff losers three times in the past four seasons, are capable of winning games in January after what transpired on Sunday at the Superdome in New Orleans.
On Sunday, the Falcons had an opportunity to make a real statement: prove to the world that you really are the best team in the NFC, worthy of being 9-0. It was the perfect time for Atlanta to step on the Saints' proverbial throat, to end the season of their biggest rival and catapult their own to the next level.
Instead, Drew Brees and company prevailed yet again, and it was a Falcons short-yardage failure that contributed mightily to their defeat.
Don’t try to tell me that Atlanta is the best team in the NFC. In fact, there are four teams that would beat the Falcons in January, whether the game were played in the Georgia Dome or not.
Of course, this assumes the health of quarterback Jay Cutler, concussed in Sunday night’s loss to the Houston Texans. For the sake of this hypothetical situation, Cutler will play when the Bears meet the Falcons in January.
In last year’s season opener at Soldier Field, the Bears, still a year away from acquiring wide receiver Brandon Marshall, beat down the Falcons by a 30-12 score.
It’s easy to say that, in 2011, the Falcons went on to make the postseason and the Bears did not. Had Cutler managed to stay healthy, or if the Bears had a semi-competent backup (read: not Caleb Hanie), they’d have made the playoffs as well, and would have beaten Atlanta if their paths crossed.
Chicago has the corners to match up against Atlanta’s stud receivers, Roddy White and Julio Jones. Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman are Defensive Player of the Year candidates, and it wouldn’t be a stretch for Chicago to boast both starting cornerbacks on the All-Pro team.
Couple Jennings and Tillman with fellow defensive studs Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers, and the Falcons wouldn’t be able to get their high-octane offense on track.
Plus, many of these Bears have experienced playoff success. Chicago is only two years removed from a trip to the NFC title game. If the Falcons had made it to the NFC title game in 2010, I believe Chicago would be two years removed from a Super Bowl berth.
The Chicago Bears would beat the Atlanta Falcons in January, 2013.
The last time the Packers and Falcons hooked up in the postseason, you remember what happened: Aaron Rodgers had one of the greatest performances in the history of the game, as the Packers eviscerated the 13-3, top-seeded Falcons, 48-21, en route to a Super Bowl championship in February, 2011.
Green Bay is on the up-and-up this year. Since the replacement referee debacle in Seattle, the Packers have reeled off four wins in a row. They seem to have regained the confidence and swagger that eluded them as they lost three of their first five games.
Would the Falcons defense, ranked 18th against the pass, be able to stop a motivated Aaron Rodgers in January?
Think about it. No quarterback in recent memory has taken slights and used them as motivation quite like Rodgers has.
With all the chatter surrounding Matt Ryan for league MVP, you just know that Rodgers is itching for another opportunity to beat him in the postseason.
When it comes down to it in January, who do you trust? Is it Mike McCarthy, Aaron Rodgers and a battle-tested Packers defense? Or, is it Mike Smith, Matt Ryan and an unproven Falcons defense?
It’s an easy one. The Packers would absolutely beat the Falcons this upcoming January.
It wasn’t just that the Falcons lost to the Giants in the first round of the 2011 playoffs by an embarrassing 24-2 margin. It was how they lost.
Atlanta was twice unable to convert short fourth-down attempts, both times failing to move the chains with Matt Ryan sneaks. Those calls were easy first guesses, and contributed mightily to the Falcons defeat. The Falcons weren’t competitive, and it was an extremely disappointing end to their season.
Simply put, when the tournament starts, Manning and the Giants elevate their game. They’ve proven that with two Super Bowl championships in the past five seasons.
Conversely, the Falcons have proven otherwise, with their three consecutive playoff defeats.
Before last year’s wild-card loss at MetLife Stadium, talk around the league was that it was Atlanta’s time to win a playoff game.
Manning and the Giants showed that wasn’t the case.
With everything we’ve seen in the past few years from both of these teams, are you telling me that you’d really pick the Falcons to beat the Giants, even (especially) if the game was played at the Georgia Dome?
This is one of those contests where statistics don’t even matter; you just go by what you see and what you know.
Give me Eli Manning and the Giants, playoff virtuosos, to down a Falcons team without playoff mojo, come this January.
That’s right, Falcons fans.
I don’t believe that, if push came to shove, the Falcons could beat the hated New Orleans Saints in January.
I also don’t believe that the Falcons will beat the Saints on November 29th when the Saints visit the Georgia Dome.
I know New Orleans is only 4-5, and currently on the outside of the postseason looking in. Nevertheless, take a gander at the Saints remaining schedule: They’re definitely capable of going five and two down the stretch, which could put them in the postseason at 9-7.
Their defense, which had been historically bad early in the season, is finally starting to play better under coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
You cannot deny that the Saints hold the psychological edge over the Falcons. Drew Brees and the Saints have owned Atlanta since 2008 when Dimitroff/Smith/Ryan came to town, winning seven of nine contests against their NFC South rivals.
Sunday’s loss at the Superdome proved to me that the Falcons still haven’t developed a true killer instinct. Matt Ryan had the Falcons on the doorstep of 9-0, with his team on the Saints' 1-yard line and two minutes remaining on the clock.
In familiar fashion, the Falcons couldn’t punch it in when it mattered most, failing to convert against a defense that was on pace to be the worst in the history of the NFL.
I ask you: Would the best team in the NFC have put the nail in the coffin of its biggest rival in that situation?
Yes, it would have.
The 2012 Atlanta Falcons aren’t the best team in the NFC.
Nick Kostos is the executive producer of the "SiriusXM Blitz", hosted by Rich Gannon and Adam Schein, on SiriusXM NFL Radio. You can follow Nick on Twitter: @TheKostos.