It’s what we’ve all been waiting for: the playoffs. Falcons players, fans, and everyone associated with the organization have heard it all the way back to last January when they were embarrassed for the second year in a row in the playoffs, losing three out of four. The chorus from the media elite and talking heads has only grown louder every time the Birds won another game. There are literally almost no articles that have been written this season regarding the Falcons, in any capacity, that have not mentioned the “can’t win in the playoffs,” or “0-3 in the playoffs,” meme. Even articles that have been favorable or complimentary always have that backhand tucked in there somewhere. Yes, it’s true the Falcons have fallen short the past three tries in the playoffs under Coach Smith, but the incessant and ridiculous inclusion of that attack line has been preposterous. How could the Falcons change anything about past or the postseason in week 4?
The time has come for this head coach, this quarterback, and this organization to put this garbage to rest. For some, it will never be enough until the Falcons win the Super Bowl outright, and even then some will rationalize it away. However, getting over that hump will do wonders for all associated with the Falcons and blow up that assault once and for all. Fans likely can’t even go to what it will be like if they don’t win this one.
This is a sequel to last weeks post regarding planning and preparation on the part of the coaching staff, specifically Head Coach Mike Smith. An article by the AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter discussed how different this year’s preparation will be both during the bye week and after. It appears that Smith has learned his lessons, because the details of how truly soft their bye week preparation that was done, is shocking. The idea of a team earning a bye week is just like the bye week during the season, teams can get their team as healthy as possible, working on fundamentals that have been slipping, and fix problems that cropped up.
Smith evidently felt it was a time have cookies and punch. He gave them 3 days off during the bye week, had them report on Thursday, and then gave them the rest of the weekend off. Yes, that’s no joke. It’s actually a wonder the Falcons didn’t get beat worse than 48-21 in the Debacle in the Dome by the Packers. It’s understandable that you don’t want to do Oklahoma drills all day and treat it like training camp battles, but for goodness sake, you’ve got to find a way to keep somewhat of an edge. Smith has said all the right things and it seems he got the message loud and clear after his initial approach. Smith was quoted as saying something along the lines of “we’re going to do do everything completely different than the last time.” That’s surely music to fans ears.
Most talking head media elites are ready to crown the Seahawks and the Redskins as NFC champions because they are on a winning streak going into the playoffs. Many writers and so-called experts are all about the recent trends, don’t really do research, and just go with what’s popular. It’s very true that the past two years, the wild card teams have squeaked into the playoffs and gone on to win the Super Bowl, the Packers in 2010 and the Giants in 2011. Both teams were 6th seeds and that has become a very popular theme because that’s what’s in vogue. The Giants were a wild card in 2007 and went on to beat the mighty undefeated Patriots. The Steelers were a wild card in 2005 and they beat a stacked AFC that year.
ESPN even went as far as to develop a stat that read “of the 36 most recent playoff teams, 11 that have been on a 5+ game winning streak have gone to the Super Bowl. 5 of those have won the Super Bowl. The Broncos, Redskins, and Seahawks are on a 5+ game winning streak.” What kind of stat is that? And furthermore, that comes to a whopping 30% of success on getting to the Super Bowl and 14% winning it. They might as well done a statistic on cleat colors and playoff success. Talk about curtailing statistics to fit your biased opinion.
Yes, the past two years and 3 out of 4 have favored the team that has momentum, a fairly mythical construction all on it’s own, but statistics are past numbers for a reason. If the same researchers go back a little further (most statisticians averse to determine a “trend” less than decade), they would see a fairly inconclusive analysis. A list of the past 10 seasons:
Season — Super Bowl Winner — Seed
2011 – Giants – #4 Division Champ
2010 – Packers – #6 Wild Card
2009 – Saints – #1 Bye
2008 – Steelers – #2 Bye
2007 – Giants – #5 Wild Card
2006 – Colts – #3 Division Champ
2005 – Steelers – #6 Wild Card
2004 – Patriots – #2 Bye
2003 – Patriots – #1 Bye
2002 – Bucs – #2 Bye
So there you have the list of the past 10 Super Bowl winners. Even though recent history says that getting hot at the right time, barely getting in the playoffs as a wildcard, or being on a winning streak guarantees you a Super Bowl or playoff success, the fact is that it’s a fairly insignificant probability over the last 10 years, despite what’s “popular” among the media elite. The last 10 years have seen 50% of teams with a bye win the Super Bowl, 30% Wild Cards, and 20% as Division Champs. The point is not to say that momentum can’t play a part in playing well in the playoffs and ultimately winning the Super Bowl, but it’s simply meant to bust all the media elite’s strict adherence to “playing well close to the playoffs guarantees playoff success” and thereby denigrating or outright ignoring the Falcons. After all, the Saints actually lost 3 games in a row before winning the whole thing.
The Falcons and everyone associated with their organization won’t lack for any motivation when they tee it up next Sunday at 1 pm. To be fair, the Falcons losing all 3 of their playoff games, with the last two being embarrassing blowouts, have given most “media elite experts” every reason to doubt the Falcons. Unfortunately for Falcons fans, that is the painful truth. However, the experts have taken that meme and ran away with it, all the way back since April and continuing on to mini-camp until now. It seems that it’s a “anyone but the Falcons” in the NFC mantra for most that know everything there is to know about football and the NFL (too bad we can’t use these experts to solve world hunger, eh?).
The Seahawks and the Redskins are everyone’s darlings because A) they’re not the Falcons and B) they’re the wild cards who are on a winning streak (see point above). The Packers and Niners are the traditional teams who have been their favorites all year, even if they’re not the flavor-of-the-week wild cards, but of course they’re always the backups. Maybe the only other team close to the Falcons are the Vikings, but they have MVP, All-World running back Adrian Peterson and that’s definitely a feel-good storyline better than those terrible Falcons.
Of course this will come across as whiny to any non-Falcon fans, and it might be a little bit, but Falcons fans are sick and tired of hearing it and it’s impossible to imagine how much the players are. Truth be told, the Falcons, particularly Mike Smith, haven’t helped themselves at all. Todd McClure said something to the effect of flying under the radar all the way to February. Looks like he’s going to get his wish. They say that bulletin board material can only go so far and doesn’t win games in the end, but it surely can’t help to add in a little extra fire when the game kicks off or when things get tough.
The Falcons jekyll and hyde offense surely has some fans worried about next Sunday. To be fair, the Falcons have done a much better job overall with consistency than year’s past, including some really nice offensive explosions like the Chiefs, Eagles, and Giants game. However, they’ve also put up some big clunkers as well. It’s hard to imagine the Birds coming out as flat as they did the previous two years in the playoffs, but some bad offensive outputs may have fans a little nervous. While looking dominant at times, they’ve also looked downright anemic as well, such as they did vs. the Raiders, Cardinals, the Saints second game, and the Panthers second game, not to mention the most recent game vs. the Bucs. Something that may ease fans concerns a bit is the fact that their very best offensive game came against the defending Super Bowl Champion Giants and a darn good one came a week later vs. Detroit that saw them go up 21-3 before they started sitting on their lead. The players keep saying it’s a different attitude and feeling than year’s past and here’s hoping that the clunker offense is gone for good.
Although being a touch more consistent than the offense, the defense has had it’s ups and downs as well. They came to be known as the elite QB killing defense that saw them intercept the Manning brothers and Drew Brees 10 times, not to mention shutting down Phillip Rivers, Michael Vick, and Tony Romo. But they’ve also had their own fair share of issues at times, especially in the run game. Cam Newton had his way both times with the Falcons defense, especially the second time in Charlotte which was arguably one of the best games of his career. Josh Freeman looked like Superman in the last game and Drew Brees put up plenty of points the first time in New Orleans.
They’ve generally done pretty good against the pass, but they’ve had major issues at stopping the run at times. They stopped Doug Martin the first time, only to get shredded the second. Alfred Morris ran for over 100 yards, even though he was held to to no TDs. Cam Newton and the Panthers running backs racked up yards like it was going out of style and they even had major problems with Saints running backs, namely Chris Ivory. Although they’ve done light years better in the takeaway department, they’ve only marginally better in the pass rush. The Falcons defense will have their hands full which ever team they play first, be it Russell Wilson / Marshawn Lynch, Robert Griffin III / Alfred Morris, or Christian Ponder / Adrian Peterson. Birds fans are hoping that the Magician Mike Nolan has saved his best for last.
1) Playoff Push — Has the time finally come to bust the playoff hump once and for all?
2) What things are you looking for as the Falcons come out next Sunday?
3) Do you genuinely feel that lessons have been learned by Mike Smith?
4) What to make of momentum: reality or myth?
5) Nervous, anxious, or confident for playoff game?
6) Are Falcons biggest underdogs in all of playoffs?
7) Which offense do you think will show up: stellar or clunker?
8.) Will the defense be ready to stop the run?
9) Preference of who to play on Sunday?