They might have crept up on you, but the Atlanta Falcons, after an 11-5 record, finished the season as one of the two best teams in the NFC this year.
Yes, those Falcons.
That means a first-round bye and a Divisional Round home game in the Georgia Dome.
The Falcons have an MVP candidate, the NFL’s sack leader, a balanced and prolific offense, and have been in every game they’ve played this year.
So why not the Falcons?
Here are three reasons the Dirty Birds are going to go 3-0 this postseason and claim the team’s first Super Bowl crown:
1 They have the best offense in the NFL
It’s not even that close, really. Led by Matt Ryan and a criminally underrated offensive line, the Falcons led the NFL in scoring this season, averaging 33 points per game, while amassing fifth-most rush yards and second-most passing yards per contest.
With Julio Jones, a bevy of excellent secondary options and two strong running backs in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, this Falcons offense is hoarding talent.
Oh, and Ryan was the first quarterback in NFL history to start all 16 games and average more than 9.25 yards per pass attempt, a fact which becomes more incredible the longer you think about it.
The Falcons offense is one of the best in NFL history (seventh in all-time points per game), and in this modern NFL, where defense comes second, that cannot not be overlooked.
2 Vic Beasley is the X-factor they were missing
The Falcons play with the lead often, and that allows them to unleash the NFL’s leader in sacks, Beasley, onto opposing quarterbacks with relative impunity.
The Falcons do not have the best defense in the NFL — far from it, in fact — but the emergence of Beasley as an elite pass rusher has given the Atlanta defense some bite that can keep opposing offenses under four touchdowns per game. And that’s more than enough room for Ryan and company.
Beasley injured his shoulder in the season finale against New Orleans but he did return to that contest. The bye week is a massive advantage for the Falcons, if for nothing else than to give Beasley an extra week to heal.
3 They have a coach who takes risks
In a league where plausible deniability and conservatism are the hallmarks of head coaches, Dan Quinn is a risk taker. Only the Saints threw the ball more on first down this year than the Falcons and Quinn has developed a reputation for trusting his offense in fourth-and-short scenarios and to go for two. (The Falcons went for the end zone six times after touchdowns this year.)
Some might see that resume as cause for concern, but Quinn knows what he’s playing with on his team — an elite offense and an average-at-best defense — the more aggressive he is, the better chance he has of highlighting the former and mitigating the negative effects of the latter.
And in a postseason where competition will be tight, a coach who understands his team’s strengths and weaknesses without delusion or true fear of repercussion is an advantage that can turn the balance of a contest.