Throughout the 2012 NFL season, I was one of the bigger critics of the “Dirty Birds” in the ATL, now I have them in the Super Bowl. After a 13-3 season and a first round bye, I expected more of the same from Atlanta, loads of hype, followed by a huge letdown in the Georgia Dome. This team seems different though. After going up 20-0 at halftime, and then 27-7 in the third quarter, the Falcons seemed to hit the brakes hard and allowed Russell Wilson and the Seahawks to take a one point lead with 30 seconds left. Two beautiful Matt Ryan passes and a field goal by Matt Bryant later, Atlanta is awaiting Patrick Willis and his 49ers for a trip to New Orleans. Soon after the shock of the ended had settled, the first thought in my mind was “9ers in the SB”, but as the week went on I began to sway heavily and have finally decided, I am picking Atlanta.
When the thought first crept into my head, I was trying to find reasons for it, I’ve found my reasoning and canceled my head examination appointment. Out of the four teams left in the play-offs the pressure is mainly on the other three squads. Baltimore knowing Ray Lewis will retire at the end of the season, and not knowing about the return of Ed Reed, the Ravens window may be rapidly closing to get another ring. New England has not won a Super Bowl in their last two appearances and Tom Brady isn’t
getting any younger, the Patriots fans want another Lombardi trophy and they want it now. San Fransisco made it to the NFC championship game last year, benched the starting quarterback for a younger, more exciting one and now hope to return to the glory days of the 1980s/90s. Atlanta had as much pressure as you can have in a second round play-off game, and though they almost blew it, won. It was about Matt Ryan and Mike Smith never winning a play-off game, about a defense that wasn’t a championship defense, about Tony Gonzalez possibly playing in his last NFL game. Not that this week isn’t filled with pressure, Atlanta got a huge monkey off their backs last week and this week should play much looser and remember that football is a game, a game with high stakes and salaries, but a game that is fun to play and funner to win at.
This game all starts with Atlanta’s defense and their struggles against running quarterbacks, proven by Cam Newton and Russell Wilson this season. They face, who may be the best in the league right now, 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick on Sunday but I believe this is their best chance to have a huge day on defense. While Kaepernick is no slouch throwing the football (60% completions, 92.9 QBR) his long delivery could be just the chance that Falcons corner Asante Samuel is looking for to make a huge play. If Atlantas defense can somehow contain Kaepernick from breaking big runs, they have playmakers on the outside who can jump a route and take the ball to the endzone. This will come down to Atlanta’s defensive line and linebackers not running to Frank gore every time a hand-off is indicated and getting pressure on Kaepernick without all out blitzing.
The match-up that I feel most people are excited about is the high flying Atlanta offense vs the fast and physical San Fransisco defense. Last week, Atlanta was very effective on the ground, racking up 162 rushing yards against a very good Seattle defense but now will face the best front seven in the NFL with stars such as Justin and Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman and Ahamad Brooks. The Falcons will have to get something on the ground but this Atlanta offense usually flows with their quarterback, and early season MVP candidate, Matt Ryan. “Matty Ice” will have to avoid the giving safeties, Dashon Goldshon and Donte Whitner, chances to make plays and attack the outside with his two dynamic wide receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones. Combine these two threats with, who many say, is the best tight end in NFL history in Tony Gonzalez, and he 49ers defense has a lot to worry about.
If the Falcons can stop Kaepernick, and keep Matt Ryan in a clean pocket to throw from, I love their chances at winning this game. This Falcons team has shown all season that they can close, low scoring games or stay by any offense in a shoot-out. I can;’t pretend I didn’t criticize, or even make fun this Falcons team but if they play as well as last week, they’ll headed to the Super Bowl to face the winner of the Ravens/Patriots game. So Atlanta, I’ve eaten crow and now I’m picking you to win, don’t let me down.