At approximately 5 p.m. ET tomorrow afternoon, there will be an excess of either doom or gloom in Atlanta. A Falcons victory will be the first under the leadership of head coach Mike Smith and the arm of quarterback Matt Ryan, as well as a first for Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez.
A loss will mean an 0-4 playoff record under Smith. Despite the Falcons reaching new heights as a respected and well-run organization, such a continuation of playoff failure will not only leave all the fans scratching their heads, but may force owner Arthur Blank to make a heartbreaking decision and break up this team, starting possibly with the head coach.
Some have felt the gloom settling in already, thanks to the media, which has undoubtedly found ways to discount Atlanta's success all season and is convinced the red-hot Seattle Seahawks will beat the Falcons in the Georgia Dome tomorrow.
In one corner, you have the team described above, while in the other you have a darling dark horse bursting at the seams with headliners. Russell Wilson has had a great rookie campaign. Cornerback Richard Sherman, for good and bad, has been a media leach. And Seattle's secondary, a.k.a the "Legion of Boom," has earned its nickname.
Funny thing is, some fans in the area have resurrected the "Dirty Birds" identity to describe how magnificent Atlanta's defensive secondary has been to this point.
Anyone outside of Atlanta, however, will cite the Falcons' 23rd-ranked pass defense and leave it at that. It's true that Seattle's defensive numbers are miles better than Atlanta's. And, yes, it's true that Atlanta doesn't have a good track record to this point in playoff games.
Not only is it a new year, but the Falcons have looked like a Super Bowl team on paper. They also have the numbers to prove it.
The difference is, nobody has looked hard enough to see it.
Playoff history aside, what if the Falcons were called the "Giants" or "Patriots?" What if Ryan's first name was "Tom" and his last "Brady?"
Again, before you spew and stop reading, let's forget playoff history for a minute.
Take a look at some defensive statistics:
376.4 yards allowed per game. 411.1 yards allowed per game. 357.8 yards allowed per game.
Not too impressive, right?
Those defensive totals were good enough to rank 27th, 31st, and 25th, respectively, in the league. Those defensive totals are the numbers earned by the defense of the 2011 New York Giants, 2011 New England Patriots and 2009 New Orleans Saints.
Just as a reminder, the Giants and Patriots faced off in the Super Bowl last year. The Saints won it two years ago.
This season the Falcons allowed 365.6 yards per contest. They finished 24th in the NFL, which is better than the three teams mentioned above.
So, how did these Super Bowl-caliber teams make it to the big dance?
Did they run the ball well? Surely, they did better than Atlanta, which was 29th in the league in rushing this season.
Last season the Giants owned the worst rushing attack in football. They gained 89.2 yards per game, just 1.9 yards a game better than this year's Falcons.
In all seriousness, the Giants and Patriots did field wonderful passing attacks last season. New York, led by Eli Manning, finished fifth best in the NFL. New England, led by Brady, finished second best.
This season, the Falcons finished with the sixth-best passing attack in the league. Matt Ryan threw for 4,719 yards and 32 touchdowns. He flirted with MVP consideration and earned a trip to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl.
So, how has Atlanta won 13 games and earned a No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs? It hasn't done it with smoke and mirrors. These aren't the 2008 Falcons.
They've done it by playing football a lot like how last year's Super Bowl representatives played football.
Getting back to numbers, Atlanta was actually fifth best in the league in points allowed, surrendering just 18.7 per game. Last year's Giants and Patriots gave up 25 and 21.4 per game, respectively.
Those teams made up for yardage allowed by forcing turnovers when it mattered. New York finished +24 (second best in the NFC), while New England finished +17 (first in the AFC).
This season, Atlanta was fifth best in the league in turnover ratio.
Oddly similar, huh? So, if numbers don't lie, why have the Falcons been voted off the island by pundits?
Maybe it was because they lost 22-17 to the Buccaneers in Week 17? With John Abraham and Dunta Robinson getting dinged in that contest, the national story was that Atlanta played its starters, lost two players and lost the game.
What the story didn't tell you was that defensive coordinator Mike Nolan obviously went with vanilla game plans in the final two weeks of the regular season to leave more of his magic off tape. Atlanta offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter called a simpleton's game himself.
Koetter is the same coordinator who helped Julio Jones and Roddy White account for more than 1,000 receiving yards apiece, while Ryan had a season in which he set franchise records for passing yards and touchdowns.
Also, the Falcons' starters were not expected to play the entire game. Surely, that won't be their mindset on Sunday.
So, why is Atlanta not getting credit?
The answer is simple: They don't own the right nickname. They're not wearing red and blue.
Atlanta's playoff failures in the past are the trend to note. It's what needs to be said in the papers in the week heading into the game. Sure.
But, anyone who thinks this team, with a quarterback like Ryan and a defensive scrappy enough to resurrect the nickname "Dirty Birds,",isn't a Super Bowl team needs to look harder.
If numbers don't lie, why did Thomas DeCoud not make the Pro Bowl? Why did the Giants' Victor Cruz beat out White for a berth in the Pro Bowl?
And how, in the name of all things holy, did the Falcons beat the snot out of the Super Bowl champion Giants, 34-0, and get ignored?
No one has paid attention to this team all year, citing the Falcons' history as a reason to ignore everything they've done.
They've even discarded Atlanta's numbers.
At the end of the day, the problem is the Falcons are the Falcons. Because of that, nobody outside of this city is taking them seriously.
That could change on Sunday against Seattle.
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