The Atlanta Falcons have officially clinched the NFC South and their place in the playoffs. They did this without even playing a down Sunday. The Falcons beat the New Orleans Saints Thursday night in large part to William Moore and the Falcons defense, improving to an NFL-best 11-1.
Sunday, the Falcons needed only a Buccaneers loss to secure their second division title in the last three seasons. Ironically, this is the same division that Drew Brees claimed belonged to the Saints prior to Thursday's contest.
Peyton Manning obliged the Falcons Sunday, dismantling the Tampa Bay defense. He continued his MVP campaign, throwing for 242 yards and three touchdowns.
No one has been shocked by the Falcons regular season success. This is a team that has gone 54-22 over the last five seasons. This is their third consecutive season in the playoffs, a first for this franchise. Where they've faltered has been in the playoffs.
Their inability to win in the playoffs under Matt Ryan has been the theme of the team's criticism this season. Atlanta, with the best start in franchise history, has had more headlines regarding the lack of respect it receives than about its winning ways.
Atlanta hasn't blown teams out, yet it's arguable that they've actually played down to its competition. Seven of its games have been decided by a touchdown or less. Six of its wins have required game winning drives by Ryan. They win close but they win.
Since being drafted, Ryan has had one of the best winning percentages in NFL history. His .710 winning percentage puts him with names like Brady, Montana and Staubach. This is overshadowed by the Falcons three one-and-done appearances in the playoffs.
This criticism has been parroted by commentators week-in and week-out. The one thing that is consistently ignored is that the Falcons cannot do anything about the playoffs--until the playoffs. The only thing the Falcons can do until January is secure a playoff berth, secure home-field advantage and put themselves in the best position to win a Super Bowl.
Through 13 weeks, the Falcons have been one of the best teams in the NFL at achieving that goal. They have now guaranteed that they will be playing football in January, and they're well on their way to guaranteeing that they will be playing at home throughout the playoffs.