The Atlanta Falcons have not inspired fear in any of the 13 teams that have fallen before them. The Falcons' best record in the NFL rarely garners respect much less apprehension. The NFC South champs are served with more questions than accolades.
Whoever comes to the Georgia Dome in the divisional round might want to look past all naysayers. There is a monster waiting to be unleashed.
In 2012, the Falcons have seen it all. Forget the dominant victories, any team can win when everything is going their way. The meat of the Falcons is found in those ugly slug-fests that they routinely win. These are the games that truly separate good from great.
Matt Ryan has orchestrated six fourth quarter comebacks and has two game-winning drives in the final minute of the fourth quarter. There is no surrender in this version of the Falcons.
In what was possibly Ryan's worst game as a pro, the Falcons struggled against a subpar Arizona Cardinals team. Ryan tossed up five interceptions and trailed 19-16 midway through the fourth quarter. While Michael Turner scored the go-ahead touchdown, five of the seven plays on that drive were passes.
This is in stark contrast to the 2010 No. 1 seed Atlanta Falcons. A few hours prior to the Green Bay Packers embarrassing the Falcons, NFL insider Chris Mortensen made a prophetic statement. Appearing on 680 The Fan's Buck and Kincade, Mortensen shocked the hosts by predicting a Packers win. His reasoning was simple. The Falcons had to play a perfect game to win, while the Packers did not. The Packers played one anyway, and the Falcons could not keep up.
In 2012, the Falcons have proven they can not only overcome the strengths of their opponents, but their own weaknesses.
This has been highly evident on defense as well. New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is not afraid to tinker during a game. Teams have rarely found success against the Atlanta defense for four straight quarters.
Motivated is an Understatement
There is no team in the NFL more desperate for a victory in the postseason. Prior to 2012, the Falcons were poked and prodded about their lack of playoff success. This season, they've been bludgeoned over the head with it on a near daily basis.
The Falcons have been made painfully aware that their unprecedented five consecutive winning seasons are virtually meaningless without at least one playoff win. Even when they were the NFL's last unbeaten team, Atlanta was questioned due to failures in the past.
The've let themselves feel that weight twice in 2012. Against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Falcons acknowledged the need to win against an opponent that was perceived as the better team. They ended up winning 30-17, though the final score made the game seem much closer than it really was.
Then two weeks ago, the Falcons faced the New York Giants in a must-win situation. Several Falcons admitted that the game would be make-or-break as far as respect in the league goes. Holding nothing back, the Falcons manhandled the Giants to the tune of 34-0.
Whoever earns their way to the Georgia Dome this January, they will find themselves facing a team desperate for a win. The Falcons do not need style points, nor will they be looking past to greater glory.
They need a win. Any win. No matter how ugly or hard fought.
And that makes them a very scary team.