The Falcons are the class of the NFC, but a familiar face looms

Matt Ryan, feeling frankly fearless in Seattle. (AP photo)

Feeling fearless in Seattle: Another three-touchdown game for Matt Ryan. (AP photo)

They’re in the playoffs, and they’re as close to having the No. 1 seed throughout the NFC bracket as you can get without clinching. They’ve got two games to go, both of them here. Win once more — here we note that the Falcons meet the NFL’s worst team, Carolina, in the regular-season finale Jan. 2 — and they won’t play anywhere but here until February.

And that’s the way it ought to be. If you’re looking for the NFL’s best overall team, it’s Atlanta. (And if you’re wondering when last we could say that about the Falcons with any conviction, the answer would be, “Um … never.”)

The Patriots have a fabulous offense, but their defense entered the weekend as the league’s fifth-worst. Maybe Tom Brady is good enough to override that failing, but at some point a championship team has to stop somebody. (Doesn’t it?) The Ravens are stout, but the Falcons have beaten them. The Falcons lost to the Steelers, but that was before the local team figured out how good it could be.The Jets are more a TV show than a Super Bowl winner. Those are the only AFC teams worth mentioning.

As for the NFC: The Giants just blew a 21-point lead in a prove-it game, meaning they proved they don’t belong among the elite. The Saints lost in Baltimore on Sunday, solidifying the season-long belief that the reigning champs are indeed last year’s team. The Bears lead the NFC North but don’t seem a threat. But there’s one team that does.

Given the Falcons’ run of last-gasp victories and their absence of serious injuries, this has been a charmed season for the franchise that, 45 years on, hasn’t known many. These Falcons don’t dazzle you with footwork; they just hammer you with basics. They’re not rattled by an opponent’s quick start. They’re not rattled by anything. That said …

The Philadelphia Eagles are coming fast. (Emphasis on “fast.” Those guys can really run.) They weren’t supposed to lead the NFC East with two games to go — back in September, Dallas and the Giants were the touted teams — and however the Eagles fared was supposed to hinge on new quarterback Kevin Kolb.

Two weeks into the season, the Eagles had a new new quarterback. Andy Reid, the low-key coach, chose to elevate Michael Vick to No. 1 after saying repeatedly he would not. (Kolb had gotten hurt in the opener.) The Eagles made the announcement via a mass text message at 6 p.m. on a Tuesday night. At a Wednesday briefing Reid faced an enraged Philly media, which demanded to know why it should ever trust him again.

Today the Eagles are at worst the NFC’s second-best team, and they’ve already beaten the Falcons on a day when Vick didn’t play. (Question for a rainy afternoon: Are the Eagles deeper at quarterback than the Phillies are in starting pitching?) The Eagles are having a season kissed by the angels, same as the Falcons. You know something strange is happening when, as happened Sunday, a Vick-fueled Philly rally enables his former team to clinch a playoff berth.

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So now we ask: Is it possible to have two teams of destiny? If so, which one wins?

Speaking last week, the former Falcon great Jessie Tuggle said: “I’m a little biased, but I think [the Falcons are] the best team in the NFC.”

Then, after a pause: “But Philadelphia could push them.”

Think about it. Jan. 23, 2011: The Georgia Dome stages its first conference championship game, and who should be the opposing quarterback? Only the guy who used to pack the place.

Me, I’m thinking that would be the toughest ticket in the history of Atlanta sports, above even Muhammad Ali’s comeback fight against Jerry Quarry in October 1970. And I’m also hoping it doesn’t happen for a selfish reason: The profession I’ve chosen would be rendered null and void, at least for that week.

If ever a story could write itself, it’d be this: Michael Vick returns to Atlanta, a Super Bowl on the line. Nuff said.

837 comments Add your comment

Bourbon Dawgwalker

December 19th, 2010
8:22 pm

Burn in Hell MV7! Go Falcons!

Not Don Waddell

December 19th, 2010
8:23 pm

It’s been inevitable all year. Falcons vs. Vick for a trip to the Super Bowl. Atlanta will be on fire that night. Get ready, folks, lock up your dogs, hide your weed and leave your #7 jerseys at home!

Westcobbstinger

December 19th, 2010
8:25 pm

It would be exciting. First?

falcone=s

December 19th, 2010
8:25 pm

Falcons will smash the Eag=les, if they did meet =in NFC Ch=ampion=ship= game=====

Hobnail Dawg

December 19th, 2010
8:26 pm

Yessir! Way to go, Birds!!

Mark Bradley

December 19th, 2010
8:28 pm

Close, Westcobbstinger. Very close.

Mora less Petrino

December 19th, 2010
8:28 pm

Let the doubters doubt. 12-2 and a playoff spot is in the bag! The Falcons are good enough to win against any team, especially at home.

BDK

December 19th, 2010
8:29 pm

Maybe the Falcons will get some respect now. Congratulations to the NFC south division winners.

Headley Lamar

December 19th, 2010
8:32 pm

Wow Packers get an onside kick on opening kick,

Never seen that before.

STL Falcon

December 19th, 2010
8:32 pm

I know this is off subject, but why isn’t Smith getting more attention for coach of the year? The talking heads are starting to mention names and his is never one of them – can someone explain that to me?

All I'm Saying Is...

December 19th, 2010
8:32 pm

“…a Super Bowl APPEARANCE on the line”. We’ve been to the Super Bowl, Bradley, so what you project is not as huge as everyone will make it out to be.

By the way, when you get the chance, research the last time the #1 and #2 seeds faced each other in the NFC Championship game, would you because I don’t think it happens that often and I suspect that it won’t happen in 2011 either….because someone will upset the Eagles but not the Falcons as long as we run for 100+ yards which allows Ryan to do his best, play mistake-free minimizing turnovers, and get opportunistic on defense!

Now, we just need to stay injury free and beat the Saints or the Panthers.

LET’S GO FALCONS!

Headley Lamar

December 19th, 2010
8:33 pm

Maybe Vick vs Atlanta is what the city needs to finally get over it.

Patsfaninatlanta

December 19th, 2010
8:33 pm

Jeff,
Once again you do not have facts to back up your statements. Your comment about the Pats not stopping anyone is, not surprsingly,inaccurate. Jets scored 3 points, Chicago scored 1 garbage time TD, Pittsburgh couldn’t move the ball until the game was already in doubt. I could go on. The Pats will overwhelm the Falcons if they get the chance to play us in the Super Bowl.

Joe

December 19th, 2010
8:34 pm

Lollll look at all u dumb falcon fans. If eagles crushed u guys with kolb imagine what Vick could do to u.. Eagles would win handedly if they faced fatlanta

UGABugKiller

December 19th, 2010
8:34 pm

I don’t know, Heddy Lamar… I think I’ve seen it before. ;-)

Headley Lamar

December 19th, 2010
8:34 pm

Next road game for the Falcons would be in Dallas.

atlantafanatic

December 19th, 2010
8:36 pm

if that game were to happen. What would the ratio of falcons fans to eagles fans be? I’m thinking higher than I want it to be.

Panarican

December 19th, 2010
8:37 pm

I do not want to see Vick in the Dome in the conference championship. The fans in Atlanta are funny. There would be too many Vick fans cheering for the Eagles and lose that homefield advantage we earned all year. Only one team beat Atlanta sound through and through and that is the Eagles. They did it with their back up quarterback. I’m more nervous about Desaun Jackson than Vick though…

juice sourcer

December 19th, 2010
8:37 pm

It’s going to happen and Vick ends the Falcons season in the NFC championship game in ATL….mark it down.

Fromunda Cheese Head - Go Packers!

December 19th, 2010
8:38 pm

The Puckers rule! We gone to kills the Pateriots tonite. No teem beater than GB. We make playofs and you will awl be loosers. Puckers aer best teem and GB fanes is the mose intalegint. Reed it an weepz.

Patsfaninatlanta

December 19th, 2010
8:39 pm

My apologies to Jeff Schultz. I meant to address Mark Bradley’s inaccurate statements.

Panarican

December 19th, 2010
8:40 pm

Mark Bradley

December 19th, 2010
8:40 pm

They’ve haven’t clinched the South yet, BDK. They could still lose the division. But they’d have to lose the next two games and the Saints would have to win out.

This Gets Old!

December 19th, 2010
8:41 pm

And let the race baiting begin! AJC never fails does it? How many other players on NFC rosters played in Atlanta? Give it up, Vick is an Eagle.

Ekim

December 19th, 2010
8:43 pm

As a Falcon’s fan, appreciating Vick is like being nice to the girl that lied to you, treated you bad and dumped you the night before the prom.
Yeah, it can happen. But only by people better than me.
A first or second-round compensation pick from the Eagles’ organization would do much to console me.
Other than that, I hope he rots wherever he lies.

todd grantham

December 19th, 2010
8:46 pm

Mark, the game today was pretty much the Falcons’ season in a nutshell: superior talent, superior coaching, and about every break went their way. Good is one thing, but lucky is three.

Nx

December 19th, 2010
8:46 pm

What race-baiting, “this gets old?” Who mentioned race? ‘Twas you, I think.

Fromunda Cheese Head - Go Packers!

December 19th, 2010
8:47 pm

Looks at my Puckers stawpin the Pateriots allreedy! GB rewls, all utherrs is loosers. 3-0 leed alreedy. Yeah sur babee.

FalconsFanSince1991

December 19th, 2010
8:47 pm

I know no one is reporting this, but it seems to me that Atlanta has clinched the NFC South. The key tiebreaker is that Atlanta has a better record against common opponents than New Orleans, and the Saints loss to the Ravens cements that. So, even if Atlanta loses the next two, they will still win that tiebreaker against the Saints.

Rabbit's Foot

December 19th, 2010
8:47 pm

I’m about to run out on the Falcons.

Come on guys, the Falcons have been out scored by the Eagles 92-38 and they have all been blowouts, in the last three meetings (2 played in the dome).

5150 P.O.A.D

December 19th, 2010
8:49 pm

I don’t know about the fan splits at the game, but I am sure MV7 will have Police escorts and around the clock security while he is in Atlanta.

todd grantham

December 19th, 2010
8:51 pm

I understand that things are going so well for Michael Vick in his rehabilitation that the Seiler family is considering letting him baby sit UGA for a weekend. (Unsupervised)

Atl Native

December 19th, 2010
8:52 pm

Being that I am a native, and go all the way back to Bartowski and Andrews days, I have been ecstatic with the direction of the Falcons since coach Smith came to town. I feel the team from top to bottom has become a real class act, and for the first time ever feel the team will always compete, game to game, year to year.
That being said…
Also as a lifelong falcon (and Atl sports fan in general), it scares the hell out of me to have Vick and the Eagles come to the dome. If it ends up playing out that way…. well, not saying same old Atlanta sports team or anything, but wouldnt you just expect Vick to come in here and beat us, in this building?
It just sounds so….. Atlanta.

Brian

December 19th, 2010
8:52 pm

Jeff,
You are most certainly getting at the point. I love our Falcons and always have, but as a fan and watching them this past decade, Andy Reid OWNS atlanta, then adding Vick and Desean Jackson who tore up our defense before his concussion in the game earlier in the season highlights the fact that specifically our defense isn’t quite at the level to hold a dynamic offense, in my own humble poi ion I would think we would be underdogs in our own building for an NFC championship game.

todd grantham

December 19th, 2010
8:53 pm

things are going so well for Vick that he has become Zack Mettinburger’s personal analyst.

cheshire

December 19th, 2010
8:54 pm

I really don’t want to see the Falcons and Eagles play in the playoffs. It’s not that i’m scared of the Eagles, but i just don’t like all the tangential things surrounding that game. I think there would be way too many distractions that the media would cover this game with, and i’d hate the way it would be spun if the Eagles did win, as if Vick somehow got “revenge” (despite the fact that he was the douchebag who caused everything). I also don’t like the ammo that all these idiot Vick supporters in Atlanta would get, as if Atlanta should have held on to Vick or something.

There are some things more important than winning a football game, but the sports media quickly forgets that. Regardless of how a Falcons/Eagles would turn out, i’d rather not have a convicted felon who kills animals as my QB. But the media would spin it in a really twisted direction, and that’s what I don’t think I could stomach.

I dunno, i just need to believe that having class and character wins out, and if the Eagles won, it would shake my faith in that idea.

Ed

December 19th, 2010
8:54 pm

I think this Falcons team can beat anyone including the Patriots in the Super Bowl. They play with so much resiliency and Matt Ryan becomes a better QB every week. The Falcons beating the Eaglea in the NFC Championship game would be like Batman getting the best of the Joker at the end of the movie.

Yes we Can!

December 19th, 2010
8:55 pm

Great win tonight guys! As for the topic of discussion, I am not 100 percent confident the Falcons could pull one out against the Eagles during the playoffs. Ideally, it would be in our best interest for New Orleans or Chicago (if they are still in contention) to handle the Eagles for us. We got straight punked and we had absolutely ZERO happening on either side of the ball when we played them, and I don’t see any vast improvements since then that would make me think otherwise. Not being a hater just realistic is all.

But we’re still winning so it’s all good GOOOO FALCONS!!!!

Mark Bradley

December 19th, 2010
8:56 pm

I did think the Falcons got a massive break on that fourth-down spot. I didn’t think it was close to being a first down.

todd grantham

December 19th, 2010
8:56 pm

things are going so well for Vick that rumor has it that Tech is asking him to teach a humanities class spring semester.

eddiedawg

December 19th, 2010
8:56 pm

Hey Rabbit’s Foot-

Are you serious? We have made our own luck this yr. The Saints had it last year. It’s part of the game. But a 12-2 record is not luck. And if we host the Eagles at home, I like our chances-even though they seem to have our number. This team is for real.

GO FALCONS

The Big Falcon

December 19th, 2010
8:57 pm

The Falcons will be the Patriots in the Super Bowl. But first things first, let’s take care of the paper bag folks and the those sorry cats from Charlotte.

todd grantham

December 19th, 2010
8:57 pm

walking through Kroger’s the other day i saw Vick on the cover of Guns and Dogs.

todd grantham

December 19th, 2010
8:59 pm

and things are going so well the President has indicated he will pardon Vick of all felonies. Of course, this will allow him to vote in the next presidential election. Coincidence?

Nx

December 19th, 2010
8:59 pm

What Cheshire said.

cheshire

December 19th, 2010
9:00 pm

One thing people forget about the Eagles… their defense is not good at all. They can’t stop the run. Their offense can be explosive, but they aren’t always clicking on all cylinders. They lost to a Bears team not two weeks ago that just got demolished at home. I think people are WAAAAY overhyping them as a team. They’re definitely good and definitely a threat, but people seem to be trying to make them this regular season juggernaut like the 2007 Patriots, which is just weird. They have very big flaws.

Mike

December 19th, 2010
9:00 pm

This Falcons team seems different than the pessimistic expectation that we’re used to. They seem almost charmed. Get exited people! They Could Go All The WAY !!

todd grantham

December 19th, 2010
9:01 pm

and now, the Woodrow Wilson Law School plans to give him an honorary Doctor of Laws Degree in light of his legal experience.

12-2

December 19th, 2010
9:01 pm

With Matt Ryan at Quarterback,

the Falcons have lost ONE game in the Georgia Dome,

20-24 on November 16th, 2008 against Denver.

todd grantham

December 19th, 2010
9:02 pm

dont forget the City of Philadelphia “Andy Reid Man of the Year Award”. MV is a shoe in.