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An Atlanta Falcons Playoff Run: Recent History Shows Late-Season Performance Means Squat

When the Saints bashed the Falcons on Monday Night football, the NFC South was no longer a possibility for Atlanta. The playoffs were already guaranteed, but in the eyes of many the Falcons fell from the edges of "Superbowl contender" to "one and done."

Though they've had a solid year and should hopefully finish at 11-5, their fourth winning season under Mike Smith, the Falcons likely won't receive much fanfare given the relative strength of teams like the Packers, the 49ers, and of course the Saints.

But since when has regular season performance, even late in the season, ever been an indicator of how well a team will do in the playoffs? I think last year's 13-3 Falcons are living proof: the regular season means nothing.

We all know the story of last year's Packers team: they barely sneak into the playoffs and then march into the dome and absolutely destroy the Falcons, ultimately going on to win the Superbowl. Big deal, you say.

Well, what about the Saints? In 2009, they started of 13-0, but then dropped their final three games of the regular season, including an ugly overtime loss to the 3-13 Buccaneers in the Superdome. New Orleans would bring home its first Lombardi trophy about one month later.

What of the year before that? The Arizona Cardinals of 2008 were blown out by the Patriots (47-7), the Vikings (35-14), the Eagles (48-20), and the Jets (56-35) en route to winning the weak NFC West at 9-7. Ken Whisenhunt then proceeded to guide his team to the Superbowl, only narrowly losing to the Steelers in a tight championship matchup.

You can even look back to the Giants of 2007, who made the playoffs as a wild card having just lost to the 16-0 Patriots, along with losing to the Vikings (41-17) and the Redskins (22-10) at home. History tells us that seeding in the playoffs and even the so-called "momentum" going into the playoffs is nothing but media fanfare.

Do you remember anyone thinking Butler would do anything in the NCAA tournament? What about the St. Louis Cardinals, who edged into the postseason thanks to an epic Atlanta Braves September collapse? I don't recall the Chicago Blackhawks getting much hype when they won the Stanley Cup a couple of years back, either.

Monday Night's loss to the Saints, while disappointing and possibly the worst the Falcons defense has played all year, should only give the players motivation to play better next time. I don't care about what an unnamed Falcons player said about Drew Brees going for the passing record on national television, because frankly it doesn't matter.

All that matters is stringing together four wins once the regular season ends. While teams like Green Bay and New Orleans seem intimidating, we've still seen that both are very beatable (see: the Chiefs, the Rams).

Lest we forget, the Saints lost to a Rams team that features the great A.J. Feeley at quarterback and one of the softest defenses in the NFL. For all the great throws he's made this season, and contrary to what anyone at ESPN may tell you, Brees also has his share of "off" days.

If anything, Mike Smith should be able to use this loss to motivate his defense should the Falcons and Saints meet again in the first round of the playoffs. If not, well... the Falcons may be in for a few changes.

For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.