Even though the Falcons sit at 12-2 on the season and made it through eight games without a loss to start the season, most of the national media pundits didn’t buy into the idea that Atlanta was a Super Bowl-caliber team.
The Falcons are benefiting from a weak schedule.
Atlanta is barely beating teams it should be thumping.
Nothing matters with this team until it wins a playoff game.
Wide receiver Roddy White took to Twitter Sunday after the game and blasted ESPN analysts Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith. White was extremely unhappy with the constant lack of respect from the duo.
…cont) I'm talking bout losers— Roddy White (@roddywhiteTV) December 16, 2012
So tomorrow before u bring up excuses for the giants and throw everybody under the bus you gone give us our respect cause if u don't (cont…— Roddy White (@roddywhiteTV) December 16, 2012
…cont) I'm gone call in— Roddy White (@roddywhiteTV) December 16, 2012
The problem is, Bayless, Smith and every other member of the media that’s attacked the Falcons for a record that far outstretches their ability is right on point.
There’s no arguing the fact that Atlanta’s offense can be potent, even awe-inspiring. White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez make up a trio of targets that’s not matched anywhere on the football planet. Matt Ryan has flirted with MVP-type accuracy and efficiency and developed into an elite leader.
However, this offense still has problems.
Until Sunday’s Week 15 win, the Falcons hadn’t put together a full offensive show of force for everyone to see. Either there were moments of weakness sprinkled among a number of great plays, or there was a lot of subpar play bailed out by Ryan’s fourth-quarter heroics.
After the game, White commented to the media on the fact that Atlanta hadn’t played of full game of great football on offense.
“We’ve been playing 57 plays hard instead of 65,” said White. “Today I feel like we played 65 plays hard.”
In addition to the fact that Atlanta hadn’t strung together a 60-minute show of force, the Falcons have been criticized for barely winning games against weak opponents.
There was a three-point victory over the Oakland Raiders, a two-point miracle finish against the Carolina Panthers and a four-point win over the Arizona Cardinals that hammers home this point. At the time of their respective games, those three teams had a combined record of 6-10 and shouldn't have been able to drive down the same block as the Falcons, much less put themselves in a position to pull off an upset win.
The Falcons won, as sympathizers screamed “good teams find ways to do.” Instead of that tired cliché, numbers show Atlanta was more lucky than good.
An ESPN article citing Football Outsiders research speculates that Atlanta “should have won only about eight” of the 12 games it’s won this year. The difference between the eight estimated wins and Atlanta’s actual 12 wins was “luck in the form of soft scheduling, random turnovers or other factors.”
The article took a look at 11 NFL teams since 1991 that finished with winning records but had three more actual wins than estimated wins.
Seven were bounced from the playoffs without winning a game. If that happens in 2012 to the Falcons, after the same occurrence the last three times Atlanta made the playoffs in the Mike Smith era, there will be hell to pay in Flowery Branch.
Three won just one playoff game and then lost in either the divisional round or the conference championship.
The remaining team—the 2003 Carolina Panthers—lost in the Super Bowl.
There is still time to catch lightning in a bottle and enter the playoffs with strong momentum. If Atlanta wins its final two games like it did its Week 15 matchup against the Giants, it will be in a better position to dispel the logic behind this ESPN article.
Until that happens, though, the Falcons have little right to complain about being treated unfairly by the national media.
Since 2008, Atlanta has won 55 regular-season games but doesn’t have a playoff win. In three trips to the postseason, the Falcons have been bounced without a victory. In two of those trips, Atlanta was a wild-card entrant. In 2010, the Falcons were the No. 1 seed in the NFC and had home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Green Bay Packers embarrassed them in the Georgia Dome.
With so much “just getting by” this season, the Falcons haven’t done much to give the media a reason to back this franchise. Since Smith got to town and since Ryan has been under center, Atlanta has done everything to show it can win in the regular season. That’s old hat.
When it comes to winning a playoff game or making it to a Super Bowl like a team with a 12-2 record should easily have a shot at doing, can anyone be confident—especially after all the close calls this season—backing the Falcons for a deep playoff run?
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.