The Falcons can win the Super Bowl.
Am I willing to guarantee it?
Who am I, Joe Namath?
Who would guarantee this game, pitting the league’s best offense against its best defense? A game where the field goal point spread hasn’t shifted since the lines opened.
In such a game, a couple of breaks can tilt the outcome. In the NFC Championship Game, a missed field goal and stripped ball turned a potential10-10 tie into a 17-0 Falcons romp-in-progress.
Likewise, the Patriots holding the Steelers to a field goal before the half after first and goal from the one turned the AFC Championship Game into a one-sided affair.
What I’m saying is that the Falcons can win Super Bowl LI, and here are eight reasons why:
1. Matt Ryan. He’ll be the best quarterback on the field. That’s saying a lot when his counterpoint is Tom Brady, who’s won four of these affairs.
But Ryan had a season for the ages. He averaged 9.26 yards per passing attempt, and NFL record for quarterbacks with over 400 passing attempts. He’s also one of only four quarterbacks in NFL history with a rating over 115 who averaged over 300 yards passing per game (117.1 and 309.)
In two playoff games, those numbers jumped to 132.6 and 365, with 7 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. So much for not winning the big one.
He led the Falcons to 40 points per playoff game, a post-season number exceeded only by the 49ers, in ’89 and ’94. Both won the Super Bowl in a rout.
2. Myriad offensive weapons. Patriots coach Bill Belichick remains the master at negating the opponents’ biggest weapon. Against the Steelers, Malcolm Butler limited Antonio Brown to just 3 catches for 26 yards in the first half.
If Butler can take Julio Jones out of this game, he should retire and head straight to Canton. Jones gained 3.2 yards per route run this season, including playoffs. That’s a staggering number when you consider that only A. J. Green finished within half a yard of that number. Antonio Brown was third, almost a yard behind, at 2.4.
And if Butler shadows Jones, then who shadows Mohamad Sanu and Taylor Gabriel? The swift Gabriel just happens to have the best passer rating in the NFL when targeted this season: 144.1.
And which lucky linebacker or strong safety tries to cover Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman when they venture out on pass routes? Not to mention the very capable troupe of tight ends.
The Falcons offense creates nightmares, even for a defensive guru like Belichick.
3. Bank on an early score. Mind-boggling. That’s the only way to describe the Falcons scoring touchdowns on their first possession in eight straight games. Nothing puts a team more at ease in a big game than an early score, and that has become the Falcons’ forte. They attack from so many different directions that film study doesn’t seem to translate to that initial on-field experience.
4. Falcons generate more pass rush. Chris Long was the only Patriot to top 40 pressures this season, and he needed 496 passing plays to do so. He recorded 5 sacks. That’s not much of a rush. When Ryan wasn’t pressured, he compiled a quarterback rating of 131.1. That was the best in the NFL by over 10 points.
Brady excels against the blitz, but he’s not nearly as accurate under plain ol’ pressure. That’s how the Giants beat him in two Super Bowls. That’s how the Texans forced him into pedestrian numbers in their divisional playoff game.
The Falcons pass rush has ramped up. Vic Beasley led the league in sacks. Brooks Reed has become a force, and ancient Dwight Freeney pressured Aaron Rodgers 6 times last week. They key might just be their pressure up the middle, from Ra’Shede Hageman and Jonathan Babineaux.
Since Week 12, the Falcons blitz percentage dropped from 21.4 to 16.5, while their points per game allowed dropped from 22.5 to 20.8.
In their playoff games, the Falcons pressured both Russell Wilson and Rodgers on 41 percent of their dropbacks. That’s significant pressure.
5. No substitute for speed. Even Belichick noticed, and mumbled an acknowledgement to the media, the Falcons amazing team speed on defense. They fly across the field. They’re fast enough to cover their own mistakes, even during a play. And don’t discount the advantage of having young, fresh legs at this point in a long, long season.
6. On a roll. The Patriots went 16-2, and haven’t lost since Nov. 13. But that’s just business as usual for them. Nothing to get excited about.
The Falcons, on the other hand, are enjoying an unexpected run of six wins, besting even playoff opponents by 20 points a game. They’ve elevated up to a different level, where they feel invincible. Which brings us to
7. The ’69 Mets factor. A bunch of kids suddenly won 38 of their last 49 games, came from 9.5 games behind the Cubs to 8 in front, swept the Braves in the inaugural NLCS, lost the Series opener to 109-win Baltimore, and then swept them.
By mid-October, they thought they were the ’27 Yankees, and they played like it. Likewise, these Falcons are playing great ball, and they know it.
8. Brotherhood. There’s much to be said for locker room camaraderie, and it’s clear that the Falcons are playing for each other. They’ve bought into a team concept to the point that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
We now see why this was coach Dan Quinn’s biggest goal, and why it’s his biggest accomplishment.
On second thought, I don’t care if it’s Belichick, Brady, and the Patriots.
The Falcons win. I guarantee it.