Paul Jannace: Falcons still fighting for respect
The Atlanta Falcons have suddenly become the NFL’s Rodney Dangerfield.
Despite being the No. 1 seed in the NFC with homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, many people — myself included — did not believe in the Falcons. While I correctly predicted the Falcons would beat the Seahawks in this space a week ago, it came with the caveat that they would lose to either the Packers or 49ers this weekend.
Even after Sunday’s thrilling win over the red-hot Seahawks could not garner enough respect for the Falcons. The 49ers are 3-point favorites (as of Thursday evening) on the road in the NFC?Championship game against the top seed. That’s about as much disrespect you could give a team that has the best record in the league.
So, why is there this lack of faith in the Falcons?
The biggest reason could be the Falcons’ previous three failures in the postseason, losing handily to the Packers as the No. 1 seed at home two years ago and a rout at the NY?Giants last season — both of those teams went on to win the Super Bowl, by the way — and another playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals four years ago. In fact, that Cardinals team that knocked off the Falcons four years ago reached the Super Bowl.
It’s not like the Falcons have lost to a bunch of scrubs, but it’s been recent lackluster performances that are fresh in people’s minds.
Another reason could be the Falcons went 13-3 in a somewhat unimpressive fashion. The Falcons did go 6-2 on the road, but played only two playoff teams along the way. Of course, they did beat both of those playoff teams early in the season — Denver and Washington — and had a 34-0 trouncing of the Giants late in the year that served as sort of a statement.
Still, a meaningless Week 17 home loss to Tampa Bay and other close victories against some mediocre teams has created a lot of doubt about Matt Ryan and the Falcons.
The Falcons’ defense is ranked near the bottom of the league — 24th overall — and its running game is fourth-worst in the NFL. Plus, even though th Falcons did beat the Seahawks, they did it despite blowing a 20-point fourth-quarter lead and still almost lost in the final seconds after coming back to retake the lead.
As we come to championship weekend, the Falcons are hosting the NFC championship for the first time in franchise history and have a tall task in front of them. The 49ers were very impressive in beating up the Packers a week ago, led by Colin Kaepernick’s legs and arm.
The 49ers are the favorites for a reason and were in this position a year ago before losing a heartbreaker to the Giants in overtime. While the Falcons won last week, Russell Wilson did have a huge game running the read option. It’s another read option quarterback this week, plus a nasty 49ers defense that will try to terrorize Ryan.
The disrespect for the Falcons continues — 49ers, 31-17.
In the AFC, it’s a rematch from last year’s championship game. The Baltimore Ravens are trying to keep Ray Lewis’ career alive for one more crack at the Super Bowl and hope for some revenge from the heartbreaking finish of last season’s game, while the Patriots are just looking to get back on top after falling short a year ago.
The goats from the Ravens’ loss last season are gone — Lee Evans and Billy Cundiff — but Joe Flacco is back and ready to prove he belongs in the conversation among the best quarterbacks in the league.
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick might be happy to see that the Giants are nowhere to be found and can finally get that fourth Super Bowl title that has eluded them for so long.
The Ravens may have had luck on their side against Denver, but Flacco still made several clutch throws and this Patriots’ defense can be exposed. The Ravens have a win over the Patriots already this season, and we should expect another very close game between these two teams.
This game is more about the Ravens’ offense than the defense. Sure, the defense needs to contain Brady, but that could mean holding the Patriots to 24-28 points. If the Ravens can keep the Patriots under 30, they will have a good shot to pull this upset.
The Ravens’ defense is older, but still can be intimidating at times. Perhaps they are being inspired by Lewis’ impending retirement, but even without Rob Gronkowski this Patriots’ offense is arguably the most explosive in the league.
Baltimore will come with an inspired effort and bruise and batter the Patriots, but it won’t be enough — Patriots, 31-27.
Follow Paul Jannace on Twitter at @pjscribe.