I don't know if any team has gone 12-2 quieter than the Atlanta Falcons—if you didn't follow the league closely you may not even know they are the best team in the NFC. If you watch the mass sports-media, like ESPN for example, you'd probably be led to believe it is the Philadelphia Eagles.
Nonetheless, the Falcons are tops in the NFC still and with a win tomorrow night, could be tied for tops in the league record-wise. So, how much does tomorrow's game really mean—is it more than just another check mark in the win column?
Simply: yes, it means a lot more. You might think I'm simply referring to the possibility of clinching home-field advantage, and alluding to how well they play in the dome (great, by the way). While that is partially the reason it is more than just a win, the real reason I'm talking about is: RESPECT. This is something the Falcons and Matt Ryan are not getting enough of.
Maybe the Falcons aren't that flashy: So what if they don't have an obnoxious head coach or scandals surrounding the team? So what if they don't run up big scores on teams and dominate their competition on the scoreboard? However they do it, their style of play and their coaching staff produces more wins than everyone else—they just don't seem to receive the same level of credit as the other teams.
I have a hypothesis as to why: their role in prime-time, or lack thereof really.
How many times have Peyton Manning, Mike Vick, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees been on SNF and MNF football this year? At least twice, and as many as four times. Matt Ryan? A big round zero in that category. Look at Twitter: Vick/Brady have had a high correlation with the word MVP after big games on Sunday and Monday night. Is it possible that Ryan isn't given the same attention because he hasn't been scheduled this spotlight? Could that be true for the entire team as well?
I think so.
That all could all change on Monday Night Football, when the Falcons will finally be tossed into a prime-time game against a divisional rival and defending Super Bowl Champs, the New Orleans Saints. There they can showcase to America what they're really made of. They can finally earn some of that respect they deserve.
That said, don't think they're going to come out and light up the field—they are playing the Saints who remain one of the leagues best teams, and that is not their style.
Expect Ryan to be judicious and efficient with his throws. Expect Turner to grind out yards up the middle. Expect White to make what look like routine catches, over and over again. And, finally, expect them to stop the Saints offensive onslaught with a well balanced, smart defense. Not flash, just good, plain football.
Is that sexy like Tom Brady throwing bombs all night and getting four touchdowns? Is it sexy like Vick scrambling all over the field and launching rockets at DeSean Jackson? No, it's not, but that shouldn't matter.
They do it the Falcons way, and after tomorrow night's game, hopefully more people will show the Falcons the respect they've earned and put Ryan in the MVP conversation where he certainly deserves to be.