The Falcons are used to flying under the radar. It just doesn't usually keep happening when you're 12-3. Yet, that's been the case with this year's team. A bunch of boring, drama-free players and coaches quietly winning close games all season. If it wasn't for the recent Twitter dust-up between Roddy White and the New Orleans Saints, many casual fans may not have even realized that the Falcons are playing for home field advantage.
Though not glamorous, this team has had many accomplishments this season. From the acquisition of Dunta Robinson to the re-emergence of John Abraham to milestones from Todd McClure (129 consecutive starts) and Tony Gonzalez (1,000 catches), there’s a lot to choose from but what have been the biggest Falcons stories in 2010? Away we go.
#1 - An Era of Winning Is Born
It took 44 seasons but on Jan. 3, 2010 it finally happened. The Falcons strung together back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in franchise history. After winning 11 games in 2008 and a 4-1 start in 2009, consecutive winning seasons seemed like a sure thing but a 2-6 midseason slump changed all that. It took a three-game winning streak to close the season but the Falcons had accomplished what was once was out of reach.
They'd come close to posting consecutive winning seasons twice before but fell just a game short each time. In 1972, they followed a 7-6-1 season with a 7-7 one. Then in 2005, an 8-8 campaign followed an 11-5 season.
This season, just to put away any doubt, the Falcons secured their third consecutive winning season by Week 12. With a proven GM, a winning coach and young pieces at every position, this Falcons team is in a position to pile up many more consecutive winning seasons.
#2 - Home Field Advantage
Despite the setback to the Saints last week, the Falcons are one win away - against a 2-13 Carolina Panthers team - from clinching home field advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs for the first time in 30 years. You'd have to go all the way back to 1980 to find a Falcons team that earned the title: the best team in the NFC.
Back then a 12-4 Falcons team secured the No. 1 seed in the NFC only to have their season ended in the first playoff game to the Dallas Cowboys, 30-27. This year's team is 6-1 at home and 19-4 since 2008 when the new regime of Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith came to town. Matt Ryan, in his third season, has won 19 of his first 21 starts in the Georgia Dome with both losses by a combined seven points.
The loss to the Saints last week makes the Georgia Dome a little less invincible but since 2008, only New England has a better home field advantage.
#3 - Michael Vick
Yes, he remains a Falcons story. For six seasons, he the most recognizable Falcon and the primary reason non-Falcon fans watched Atlanta play. Vick led the Falcons to the playoffs twice, in 2002 and 2004, losing to the Philadelphia Eagles both times.
In a twist of fate, after Vick was released from prison, he signed with the Eagles. The irony was not lost on Andy Reid, who, in 2009, specifically designed several series to showcase Vick against his old team in a 31-7 win.
This year with the Falcons and Eagles set to play again, Vick's rib injury kept him out of action postponing the inevitable meeting between the two. Now that both teams have clinched playoff berths, a Vick vs. Falcons NFC championship game just has to happen, right? The Football Gods would be silly to pass up that much drama. Since 2000, the Falcons are 1-8 against the Eagles and beating them (and Vick) in the playoffs would be the ultimate cathartic experience.
#4 - The Invisible Team
If a team wins 13 games and no one talks about them, do they still matter? That's been the story of the 2010 Falcons. They are not flashy. They have no reality shows. None of their players get arrested, benched, or even injured. They didn't make a huge splash in free agency (their biggest move, Dunta Robinson, has yet to grab an interception this season). All they do is consistently play sound football and win games.
That's boring and the primary reason the national media don't mention the Falcons when listing off teams they think can win the Super Bowl.
But wait, excitement is what you crave? Nine of their 15 games have been decided by less than one score. The rebuttal? That just means they are lucky to win. There's always an argument that can be made against the Falcons but the road to Dallas still goes through Atlanta if the Falcons can beat a bad football on Sunday. And they'll probably do so by one score.
#5 - Roddy White
White was coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons, so he was no stranger among the top wide receivers, but in 2010, he reached a new echelon and established himself as the best receiver in the game.
He surpassed 6,000 yards receiving for his career and became the fastest Falcon player to do so. He has 109 receptions and 1,327 yards with one game still to play. With three more catches and 56 yards against the Panthers, White will break single-season franchise records for receptions (held by Terance Mathis) and yards (held by White himself). He's topped 200 yards receiving twice this season and caught 11 or more passes on three different occasions, tying him for the lead league with Reggie Wayne.
Add in his midseason honor from Sports Illustrated's Peter King as the Offensive Player of the Year and the rest of the NFL is finally seeing what the Falcons have known for years; White is one of the best in the game.