It has been pointed out, primarily by folks who believe the Falcons will crash and burn in the postseason, that their only three losses this season came to teams that they could meet in the playoffs: New Orleans, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh.
It’s a worthy stat, but I thought I would take it a little further. I computed the records of all the playoff teams against the playoff field and discovered something interesting. The Falcons and New England were the most tested teams during the season, based on the fact they played the most playoff teams: seven.
Here are the results: New England, as you would’ve guessed, is by far the cream of this postseason field. The Patriots’ 14-2 record included a 6-1 record against playoff teams. They are followed by the Falcons at 4-3; New Orleans (3-2); Green Bay, Chicago and Baltimore (3-3); Philadelphia (2-2); Kansas City (1-1); Pittsburgh and the New York Jets (2-4); Indianapolis (1-2) and Seattle (1-3).
It’s just one more reason why I believe the Falcons can make it to the Super Bowl. Here’s how I rank the field:
1. New England: The Patriots lost to the New York Jets in Week 2 and went 13-1 the rest of the season. (Trivia answer: They lost to the Browns.) How can you argue against a team with a plus-28 turnover differential and a quarterback, Tom Brady, who in the last 11 games has 26 touchdowns and zero interceptions? If they don’t win it all, it’s an upset.
2. Pittsburgh: Would it be sacrilegious for me to suggest that coach Mike Tomlin is just as good as Bill Cowher (or better)? He’s 43-21 (.667) in four seasons, has won a Super Bowl and this season kept the Steelers focused through the Ben Roethlisberger saga. The defense is as good as ever: No. 1 in points allowed and against the run.
3. Falcons: They didn’t blow a lot of teams away but this is a league generally devoid of blowouts. They’re not fazed by pressure moments. They have the passing combination of Matt Ryan-to-Roddy White (although Michael Turner needs to be better running). Their defense is significantly improved, particularly in the secondary. Also, they’ve committed an NFC-low 16 turnovers.
4. New Orleans: Don’t pay attention to that last game against Tampa Bay. The Saints got healthier and better as the season went on, and their only other loss in the last two months came at Baltimore. But the team’s strength is also its weakness: Drew Brees was No. 2 in the league in both touchdown passes (33) and interceptions (22). He had 11 interceptions last year.
5. Philadelphia: I know. You fear Michael Vick coming back to Atlanta and taking your lunch money. It could happen. But Vick got beat up down the stretch. He went from zero interceptions in his first seven games to six interceptions (and 16 sacks) in his last five. He’s the playoffs’ biggest “X factor, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Eagles lose to Green Bay.
6. Green Bay: With Aaron Rodgers healthy, the Packers are a better team than the Eagles right now, but because they’re a wild card team they’ll be on the road, away from Lambeau Field. Their strength is Rodgers (two interceptions in his last eight starts) and the league’s No. 5 defense. Their weakness: The running game.
7. Baltimore: Their defense isn’t as great as in past years but it’s still pretty good and quarterback Joe Flacco has shown he can win playoff games. Throwing out the early season loss to Cincinnati, Baltimore’s only other defeats came at New England in overtime, at Atlanta (26-21) and to Pittsburgh (13-10).
8. Chicago: I realize the Bears got hot down the stretch and had impressive wins over the Eagles and Jets. But I still look at the team and see Jay Cutler. He threw six interceptions in the last four games. He also has been sacked 52 times, more than any quarterback in the league.
9. N.Y. Jets: The best thing about the Jets making the playoffs is we’ll get to see Rex Ryan spontaneously combust on the sideline when they lose. They won at Pittsburgh late in the season, which was impressive, but quarterback Mark Sanchez was shaky down the stretch: two touchdowns, six interceptions, 10 sacks in his last five starts.
10. Indianapolis: Without Peyton Manning, this is a last place team in the AFC South. With him, they’re always a threat. But not much of one. The Colts have no running game.
11. Kansas City: Coach Todd Haley must be the most miserable person on earth for even Charlie Weis to want to leave for Florida. The Chiefs are building a nice team but there’s too much going on off the field to expect a playoff run.
12. Seattle: Roger Goodell has no problem fining players for hits that he deems dangerous to the health of a quarterback. Shouldn’t he get fined for subjecting us to a 7-9 team making the playoffs?