The Atlanta Falcons are 7-2 for only the third time in the franchise's 45-year history and if the previous two times are any indication, the Falcons will be playing football on Jan. 23 and perhaps beyond. In 1998, the Jamal Anderson-led Falcons made Atlanta's only Super Bowl, losing to the Denver Broncos 34-19. In 2004, Michael Vick led the Falcons to the NFC title game before falling to Vick's current team, the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-10.
The Falcons have achieved this current state of success by winning the close games. They lead the league with five victories by one score or less this season. They've had only two wins this year by more than one score; a 10-point victory against the Cleveland Browns in Week 5 and a 34-point crushing of the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2. Even more impressive is the fact that the Falcons are 5-1 in one-score games this season, losing only to the Pittsburgh Steelers by six in overtime.
Since Mike Smith, Matt Ryan and the new regime came to Atlanta, the Falcons have played 22 one-score games versus 20 games that were decided by more than eight points. The Falcons are 15-7 (68 percent) in those one score games and 12-8 (60 percent) in all others. It was reinforced last week in prime time against the Baltimore Ravens but this team knows how to win when the game is on the line.
The Falcons are also finally getting the respect from the national media as an NFC contender but the one knock against them is they have too many close wins. They say it can't last over an entire season. Are they right? Does winning a lot of close games mean a team is simply lucky and that luck will eventually run out? Down the rabbit hole we go to find the answer.
Since the merger in 1970, there have been 40 Super Bowl champions. The chart below shows how many regular season and playoff games were won by one-score or less (7 points from 1970-1993, 8 points from 1994 and beyond) and the total percentage of games that season.
The Falcons are on pace for nine wins this season by one-score or fewer. That would tie them with the 1986 New York Giants who won nine one-score games in the regular season and then didn't play one again the rest of the playoffs. The overall record for winning close games is the 2003 New England Patriots who finished their Super Bowl season winning 53 percent of their games by a touchdown or less.
The average one-score wins by a Super Bowl champion since the merger is 4.3 in the regular season and 0.9 in the postseason for a total of 5.2. The Falcons are way ahead of that pace and looking at the rest of the schedule, I could see a potential for five more close victories giving them 10 this season, breaking the Giants regular season record and the Patriots overall record before the playoffs even begin.
So what's the answer? Is it a bad thing to be winning a lot of close games? No, but it would be comforting to see the Falcons blow some teams out or at least win comfortably over the last seven games of the season. They've won 71 percent of their games by fewer than one-score and that would be a record for a Super Bowl champion, which, let's face is, is the goal for this year. The Falcons will keep winning but the history shows us they would be better off doing so in a more grand fashion.