Sport: The GridIron – Falcons Are Halfway To Perfect
- American culture is to a large extent obsessed with the pursuit of perfection. This can be evidenced in everything from their fantastic teeth, to a national plastic surgery addiction, to what the average cultural icon looks like! Of course, American Football is not immune to this fascination with flawlessness and the ‘perfect season’, where a team wins all their games en route to the Super Bowl, represents an almost mystical achievement, one that has only been accomplished once in the history of the league, by the 1972 Miami Dolphins.
Every few years a team arrives into November undefeated and we begin to wonder if they have the capabilities to join the ’72 Dolphins. This year, that team is the Atlanta Falcons, who currently find themselves with an unblemished 8-0 record and the league’s last remaining chance to go undefeated this year. As this represents the midpoint in their schedule, it is an ideal time to examine what their chances are.
In the last 10 years, no team has won the Super Bowl without an elite Quarterback as the NFL has moved away from sturdy defences and the run game and become a pass dominated league. In Matt Ryan, the Falcons have a Quarterback that is blossoming into one of the league’s best passers. So far this year he has a Quarterback Rating of 103, 3rd best in the league and has thrown 17 touchdowns to only 6 interceptions.
Ryan has also shown a talent for winning tight games late, a significant consideration come playoff time, with the highest number of winning 4th quarter drives in the league over the last 4 years. He has a number of highly skilled targets in wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones whilst Tony Gonzalez is one of the league’s premier tight ends. The Falcons are ranked 8th in the league in total offence, measured by yards gained per game and although only 17th by the same measure in defence, this is sufficient to suggest that the Falcons have the ability to make a serious run.
However, looking forward, there are some significant road blocks despite the remaining teams on their schedule currently boasting a combined record of 24-41. Of the remaining 8 games, 5 are against divisional rivals which are always unpredictable, including 2 games against the Saints who, for all their recent struggles, still have Drew Brees. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers with rookie Doug Martin are currently the hottest offence in football and will be very tricky opponents on current form. However the toughest game the Falcons are likely to face will be in week 15 when they host reigning Super Bowl champions, the New York Giants.
Should the Falcons manage to negotiate all of these games they will find themselves the number 1 seed in the NFC, securing home field advantage. This would be a critical boost for their chances in the playoffs because of the quality of teams in the NFC, which includes the Bears, the Packers, the 49ers and the Giants, all of whom have legitimate aspirations of winning the Super Bowl. The Falcons have lost both playoff games they have played over the last two seasons, against the Giants and the Packers.
In the addition to the psychological advantage of playing at home, the Falcons also have a very real material advantage as they are the only one of those teams to play their home games in a dome, meaning weather is not an impact on the game. This is significant as when the weather is bad, as it typically is during the playoffs, teams need to run the ball more than normal as passing is more difficult in wind and rain. However, the Falcons have one of the least effective rushing attacks in the league, ranked only 25th, so they will need to lean heavily on passing throughout.
The Falcons therefore have a chance to do it, but ultimately I believe they will fall short of perfection but will still achieve the NFCs best record and the #1 playoff seeding. Of the 14 teams that have managed to get to 8-0 in league history, 9 have gone on to reach the Super Bowl. However, perfection has eluded all but one of them and this year marks the 40th anniversary of that momentous achievement. The salary cap era has levelled the playing field and upsets are always just around the corner in the NFL, waiting to trip up a team seemingly on its way to perfection. Just ask the Packers, 15-0 last year until the Chiefs, of all teams, beat them or the 18-0 Patriots who in the 2007 Super Bowl were denied perfection at the last when a helmet caught a Hail Mary pass!
FOUR DOWNS FROM AROUND THE LEAGUE
- The Pittsburgh Steelers are emerging as the team to watch in the AFC. After a slow start to the year they recorded the most impressive win by any AFC team this year when they overcame a 10 point 4th quarter deficit in the home of the reigning champs. They did this without their two best running backs and star defensive back Troy Polamalu, while Antonio Brown suffered an ankle injury early in the game! Impressive.
- Time is almost up for Andy Reid and Michael Vick in Philadelphia. Following defeat to the Saints, Vick’s brother was on Twitter begging for him to be traded. Reid bet the house on Vick and it looks it’s going to cost him his job.
- Sometimes the best offence is a good defence. The Chicago Bears continued their ridiculous run of defensive or special team’s touchdowns on Sunday when they scored one off a blocked punt and a Brian Urlacher interception. If they can keep Jay Cutler healthy, look out!
- Andrew Luck now has the Colts at 5-3 following Sundays win at home to the Dolphins. Hands up everybody who thought the Colts would be in contention for a playoff spot this year? Put your hand down, Jim Irsay.