Atlanta Grown Up in Four Years

After coming so close to a Super Bowl, the Falcons have been steadily improving

by Matthew Peterson | @3PSMag |

While Atlanta being in the Super Bowl may come as a huge surprise for some, judging that the prior year they went 8-8 and missed the post-season, the Dirty Birds are no strangers to big playoff platforms in recent years.

Flashback — only four seasons ago, Atlanta was playing for a Super Bowl berth against the one-time good-ish quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers.  The Falcons would ultimately lose that game 28-24, thanks to a pair of touchdowns by Frank Gore in the second half.

However, this year’s NFC championship game did not end in heartbreak for Matt Ryan.  The 44-21 victory, and the last game to be played in the Georgia Dome, punched Atlanta’s ticket to Houston and their first Super Bowl appearance since the 1998 season.

Both this year’s Falcons team and the 2012 team had great success, but which team was in fact a better team?

For starters, record-wise, the 2012 team gets the edge with their 13-3 record compared to this year’s record of 11-5.  Post-season-wise, both teams took down the Seattle Seahawks on the way to the NFC championship game.

A lot of credit has to be given to the quarterback whenever a team has this much success.  Matt Ryan has out-played himself from his 2012 season this year.  In 2012, Ryan threw for 4,719 yards, 32 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.  To put that into perspective, Ryan was 5th  that season in passing yards and touchdowns.

As for this season, Ryan tossed the pigskin for 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns, and seven interceptions, clearly a huge improvement on an already terrific season in 2012.  He ranked 2nd  in passing yards and touchdowns, as well.  Quarterback-wise, the edge goes to the 2016 season.

No team goes on a Super Bowl run without at least a little help from the ground game.  Get ready to see a name you haven’t heard in a while.  It was not Devonta Freeman in the backfield back in 2012.  No, it was rumbling, and tumbling, big butt Michael Turner.  Turner led the Falcons that season with 800 yards and 10 touchdowns to go with them.  He was not alone in the rushing effort, as Jacquizz Rodgers added in 362 yards with one score to go along with them.  When all was said and done, the Falcons rushed for 1,397 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012.

No more Turner?  No problem.  Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman put the 2012 duo to shame.  Freeman led the 2016 Falcons with 1,079 yards and 11 touchdowns. Coleman added onto that with 520 yards and found the end zone eight times.  Tally up the yardage, and the Falcons rushed for 1,928 yards and 20 scores.  Rushing game goes to the 2016 team.

We all know that defenses win championships.  Even in this era in which offenses dominate, just look what Denver’s defense did last Super Bowl.

The 2012 Falcons ranked 24th in total yards given up. That doesn’t jump off the screen as a quality defense, but those Birds knew how to keep teams out of the end zone. Atlanta ranked 5th in points allowed per game.  To put the cherry on top, the Falcons ended the season 6th in takeaways with 31.

This 2016 defense is highlighted with Vic Beasley leading the league in sacks with 15.5.  As for the other 10 players on the field, Atlanta ranked 25th in total yards given up, so right on track with the 2012 defense.  As for points per game, it is a different story with this 2016 defense.  The Falcons ranked towards the bottom at 27th, giving up 25.4 points per game.  Takeaways-wise, they were right in the middle of the league at 16th, with 22 on the season.

With that, defensively, the edge goes to the 2012 team.

The biggest difference between these two teams is that one fell just short of the Super Bowl, while the other has reached the big game.  Both teams have tremendous stats, yet one team pulls ahead.  Offensively, it is no competition.  Matt Ryan in 2016 out does himself in just about every way possible.  On the other side of the football, the 2012 defense does have better numbers. However, when it mattered most, the 2016 defense came to play and stopped Rodgers and the Packer offense.  The same cannot be said for the 2012 defense.

These two teams will be remembered by Falcons fans for two of the best seasons in team history.  For family argument purposes, though, the 2016 team is the better team.  After all, they are going to the Super Bowl.


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