The Atlanta Falcons are Super Bowl bound after routing the Green Bay Packers 44-21 in the NFC Championship Game. The score is deceiving – it wasn’t even that close. Up 31-0 with under 14 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter and 44-15 with 12 minutes to play, the Falcons took their foot off the gas, cruising to an impressive victory. This drubbing is especially impressive when you consider the opponent, the Green Bay Packers, were the hottest team in football. Led by the great Aaron Rodgers, they looked all but unstoppable, winning eight games in a row, including an incredible, last-second victory at Dallas in the Divisional Playoff. It’s even more impressive when you consider expectations for the Falcons going into this season. Most NFL analysts didn’t have them in the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl.
Atlanta’s success is due mostly to their high-octane offense. Their offense is so mesmerizing, calling them high-octane is an understatement. During this season, Atlanta led the league in points scored (540) and points per game (33.8). At the center of every great offense is a great quarterback. Matt Ryan didn’t come out of nowhere. This is Ryan’s ninth season in the league, and he’s been considered an above average quarterback most of his career. This season, however, Ryan elevated his play to a level beyond expectations, leading the NFL in total QBR. He was second in the league in yards (4944) and touchdowns (38), threw just seven interceptions, and led the league in yards per attempt (9.73). Yes, he has Julio Jones as a target, arguably the best receiver in the NFL He also had Jones last year when the Falcons finished 8-8, and the year before when they posted a 6-10 record.
Ryan has also proven that he’s no ”choker,” as some have claimed. In previous seasons, this may have been a valid point. Ryan was just 1-4 in his first 5 postseason games. This postseason, he’s been nothing short of spectacular. In two playoff games, against the Seahawks and Packers, Ryan threw seven touchdowns with no interceptions. Against Green Bay, he was responsible for five of Atlanta’s six touchdowns, including a 14 yard scramble. Keep in mind, this was with Julio Jones at less than 100% with an injured foot.
When it comes to this year’s MVP, you will hear a lot of talk about Tom Brady, and rightfully so. Brady’s been his usual, brilliant self this season. He threw 28 touchdowns with just two interceptions. While Brady missed the first four games, the Patriots jumped out to 3-1 start. Would the Falcon’s go 3-1 in four games without Ryan? Unlikely. You will also hear a lot MVP talk about Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers was brilliant down the stretch this season, but you can make the argument Ryan was even better. Ryan beat Rodgers head-to-head twice. If Ryan comes up short on Super Bowl Sunday, I’m betting it won’t be because he chokes. It will be because the Falcons are over-matched by a superior Patriots team. As our new President might put it, Ryan has stepped up “bigly” this season, and should be rewarded for it with his first MVP.