I’d like to start this off by saying the argument that Matt Ryan can’t go deep into the playoffs because he’s never won a playoff game is ridiculous. Peyton Manning was once 0-3 in the playoffs and he went on to win a Super Bowl. Plus, two of Ryan’s playoff losses came against eventual Super Bowl Champs. Finally, it’s just 3 games. It doesn’t really mean much. However, the conclusion those people come to is not wrong, just the reasoning. I don’t think the Falcons have a real strong chance of winning the Super Bowl, but I don’t care so much about those 3 playoff games as I do about how they’ve played in 16 games this season and I’m not impressed.
They do have one thing going for them. Matt Ryan is 32-6 at home in his career and, by virtue of their record, they got the #1 seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. However, that’s where the good news stops for the Falcons. The Texans and Colts are both rated much lower in DVOA than their record would suggest because of a weak schedule and a lot of close call wins.
The same is true for the 13-3 Falcons, who rank 10th in regular DVOA and 13th in weighted. They have played just 2 playoff teams and they have 7 wins by 7 points or fewer. They did beat both of the playoff teams they played, but those games were in weeks 2 and 5 respectively against teams that are better now than they were then. The beat the Broncos by 6 when Peyton Manning was still getting his bearings back and they beat the Redskins by 7 in a game in which Robert Griffin actually left with an injury.
They also have won their last 3 games by more than 7 points, snapping a streak in which 6 of their 7 wins were close calls. However, they’ve also lost twice to non-playoff teams in that stretch. The loss to an underrated Panthers team wasn’t that bad and for a while it looked like it woke them up (they beat the Giants 34-0 the following week, a win that’s not as impressive as it once seemed, but still pretty impressive), but a home loss to the Buccaneers last week killed their momentum. The Falcons didn’t rest starters in that one either and that loss came at home to a team that had previously lost 5 straight, including 2 in blowout fashion.
It’s true that game didn’t really mean anything to the Falcons, but at the very least it snapped their momentum. Since 1989, 17 teams have lost week 17 before having a first round bye. 7 of them have lost their very first playoff game (meanwhile, teams who win week 17 and then have a playoff bye are 16-9 in that same time period). Think about it, when the Falcons take the field in the divisional round, their last win will have come 3 weeks prior, while their opponent won a game the week prior. We know how big momentum is in the playoffs. There’s a reason why Super Bowl teams frequently come out of wild card weekend. And right now, the Falcons don’t have it.
Their home field advantage should propel them to a win over the road challenged Seahawks or the inferior Redskins, but the Packers and 49ers could both easily beat them in the NFC Championship game. Both of those teams are superior to the Falcons and if the Cardinals, Raiders, Panthers, and Cowboys can all almost beat the Falcons at home, the Packers and 49ers can both finish the job. Matt Ryan will get his playoff win, but I think that one will be it.
Projected fate: Lose to Packers in NFC Championship