Atlanta Falcons: Flying High in Rankings, but Under the National Radar
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Log onto any major sports website and click on the NFL tab.
What do you see?
Who's talking about the Atlanta Falcons? The answer, generally, is no one.
But why? The Falcons have a 10-2 record, which has landed them in first place in the NFC standings with just four weeks to play. This season, at home, they are undefeated, with home games versus New Orleans and Carolina remaining.
And, their head coach Mike Smith, as well as quarterback Matt Ryan, are putting up outstanding win totals when it comes to their place in Falcons history.
Atlanta is having one of its best seasons (potentially the best) since entering the NFL in 1966. However, their team and individual performances have gone unnoticed.
According to sources, the NFC South is lagging behind when it comes to Pro Bowl voting. The Atlanta Falcons might be lucky to have three Pro Bowlers.
But, if you look closely, this team is stacked with Pro Bowl-caliber athletes who have performed at a Pro Bowl level in 2010.
Future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez and receiver Roddy White are the two players on the roster who appear to be heading to Hawaii.
Voters seem to be less than impressed with the numbers put up by Ryan, tailback Michael Turner, fullback Ovie Mughelli, center Todd McClure, defensive end John Abraham, and linebacker Curtis Lofton.
And then there is the little guy, Eric Weems, who has been a game-changing kick returner who might have done half the work in winning two to three games for the Birds this year.
Tell me, readers, have you ever heard of any of these guys? Mughelli? McClure? Lofton?
If you live outside of the southeastern United States, you likely have not.
Take note. Not only are these players' statistics impressive, but they have led their team to a 10-2 record, which is tied with the perennial powerhouse Patriots for first in the league.
Why is Philip Rivers all of a sudden the number-one subject in cooler talk? According to ESPN's power rankings, Rivers is ahead of Ryan in the MVP race.
So far this year, Rivers has thrown 24 touchdowns and ten interceptions, compared to Ryan's 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Yet Rivers has somehow taken the media by storm, becoming ESPN's darling MVP candidate, while Ryan's statistics seem to be accompanied by some mysteriously unjust asterisk.
I guess nothing puts you in the spotlight more than having a .500 record?
How is Matt Ryan currently an afterthought when it comes to MVP talk? This inexplicable issue serves as a microcosm for the entire Falcons team.
Even with the NFL's best record, analyst after analyst refuses to believe in the second coming of the Dirty Birds.
Also, it appears that pundits have yet to come to terms with the fact neither the Vikings or Cowboys are anywhere near good. In fact, those are two of the most miserable franchises in the NFL this year.
Even an NFL Network analyst claimed the Packers were better than the Falcons after Atlanta beat them.
ESPN First Take personality (for lack of a better word) Skip Bayless, has refused on a weekly basis to believe Atlanta has beaten anybody good, claiming their wins are unimpressive.
If you look at the Falcons' track record, not only do they have quality wins, but their two losses are just as respectable.
Atlanta did lose a 31-17 game in Philadelphia, against "second stringer" Kevin Kolb and the Eagles.
But their only other loss was a 15-9 overtime defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Those two teams' records are a combined 17-7.
Those teams are 9-3, 8-4, 8-4, and 7-5, respectively.
In addition, they say Atlanta can't win away from home. I fail to see how the Falcons can't do that, considering they have a 4-2 record outside of Atlanta.
The Falcons are also 10-0 outside of Pennsylvania, so if you really want to skew statistics back in the Falcons favor, it's fair to say Atlanta will win anywhere, anytime, anyplace, in 49 out of the 50 states.
Looks like some pretty good chances, as well as easy betting.
Plus, Atlanta has been fantastically clutch all year. No matter what, they find a way to win.
Against New Orleans, the Falcons won a boxing match in overtime. The next week Atlanta fell behind 14-0 to the 49ers and shut them out the rest of the way. The Falcons won 16-14 on a last-second field goal (not to mention Roddy's strip of an interception, which saved the game).
They survived a comeback from the Bengals by taking a 39-25 lead, which looks a lot more impressive than that 39-32 win against a "terrible" Bengals team that Atlanta apparently had to pull out of their hat.
Then there is the goal-line stand versus Tampa Bay, the last-second touchdown against Baltimore, and the two comeback wins over Green Bay and Tampa Bay.
And without quarterback Matt Ryan, Falcons fans can be sure half those games would be losses.
Ryan is clearly the most valuable player on the best team in the NFC. If you asked any player in the Falcons' locker room, they would reiterate that exact statement.
Yet, Philip Rivers is our MVP candidate?
What exactly makes the Falcons so unappealing?
They aren't the flashiest team. They don't do a lot of trash talking. Matt Ryan has a "noodle" arm. Michael Turner is too big and runs too slow. Roddy White isn't the most graceful jogger, nor is his name an incorrect use of Spanish numbers.
And the defense is full of young, nameless players.
The fact Atlanta isn't getting respect is baffling, to say the least, but when it comes to the players I don't think they mind.
Maybe it's hard to get attention when you're not sending nude pictures of yourself to former team employees, or losing game after game in your 100,000 seat spaceship stadium, or winning while simultaneously taking care of conflict between you and a teenage pop star.
The Falcons simply do things right. And, if we have learned anything in the past decade, doing things right isn't exciting enough for the national media.
But it's plenty exciting to the fans in Atlanta.
Mike Smith is keeping the team focused and humble. Atlanta players continue to insist they haven't played a full 60-minute game. Players are doing everything to stay out of trouble.
Matt Ryan getting arrested for funding a dog fighting ring seems out of the question.
However, Matt Ryan winning the MVP award seems just as unlikely.
The Falcons may not be earning the national respect they deserve, but the fans of the Dirty Birds are more than excited.
Not only because this team is inching closer to a number-one seed, but because the organization is putting on good behavior. The Falcons take on that blue-collar attitude, which might make them one of the easiest teams to root for.
I'll enter first person here to tell you, as a life-long Falcons fan, it's never been a better time to associate with this franchise.
It might just take a Super Bowl run to finally get people to believe.
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