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The 2016 season will live long in the memory of the Atlanta Falcons, unfortunately for the wrong reasons.
Dan Quinn’s men reached the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1998 campaign, boasting an 11-5 record and wins over the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs.
Their challenge for the Vince Lombardi could not have gone better for the opening three quarters, holding a 28-3 lead over the New England Patriots.
However, they crumbled under the pressure of Tom Brady’s passing attack in the final quarter, allowing the Patriots to score 31 straight points to win the crown for the fifth time.
Quinn has insisted that his team will be able to put their devastating defeat behind them and put forward another surge for the Super Bowl in the 2017 season.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff has already been hard at work, acquiring talent to retain the NFC Championship, but the club know that it will take another incredible effort to reach the Super Bowl.
We’ll now take a look back at the Falcons’ 2016 season and look ahead at how they could compete for the crown once again in Minnesota next year.
The Falcons began the term with a defeat at the hands of their divisional rivals the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with Jameis Winston carving apart their defense with ease.
However, Matt Ryan started his charge towards his MVP season by going score-for-score on the road against the Oakland Raiders and Derek Carr.
The 32-year-old led his side down the field twice in the fourth quarter to take the game away from the home side, connecting with Justin Hardy and handing the ball off to Tevin Coleman to notch touchdowns and secure the win.
Atlanta’s offense continued to dominate in their next outing, with Devonta Freeman and Coleman running all over the New Orleans Saints. Julio Jones was contained by Sean Payton’s men, but the depth of the club’s offensive firepower was too much for their rivals.
Jones exploded into life against the Carolina Panthers, amassing the best day of his career. The wideout torched the Panthers’ defense for 300 yards and a touchdown on 12 catches, with the Falcons dominating from start-to-finish.
Perhaps Atlanta’s most impressive win of the season came on the road against the Denver Broncos. Coleman had a huge day out of the backfield, recording over 130 receiving yards and a touchdown, while Ryan was efficient against one of the league’s most dominant defenses.
Against the Seattle Seahawks on the road, the Falcons were forced to rally from a deficit and with three strikes Ryan brought his side back into the contest. However, a late pass interference call went against Quinn’s men as Richard Sherman covered Jones before an Earl Thomas interception ended the match.
The Falcons were unable to get over their disappointment of their defeat to the Seahawks in their next outing, losing to an inferior side in the form of the San Diego Chargers, despite a stellar display from Jones.
Ryan and company were back to the peak of their powers in the next two matches, overpowering the defenses of the Packers and the Buccaneers to get their season back on track. However, the Philadelphia Eagles stymied their progress, limiting Atlanta to their lowest offensive production of the season, scoring just 15 points.
After the bye week, the Falcons were able to rally with a comfortable win at home against the Arizona Cardinals. A rare mistake from Ryan saw them slip to their fifth defeat of the campaign, with Eric Berry interception a two-point conversion attempt late in the game to secure a one-point victory for the Kansas City Chiefs.
That would be the Falcons last loss until the Super Bowl as Ryan powered his side past the Los Angeles Rams, the San Francisco 49ers, the Saints and the Panthers, earning the number two seed in the NFC playoffs.
The Falcons were pitted against the Seahawks in the divisional round of the playoffs in a rematch of their regular season contest.
However, on this occasion, the offensive power of Ryan and company was too much for the Seattle to contend with as Quinn’s men ran away with the victory in the second half to book their place in the NFC Championship game for the first time since the 2012 season.
A barnstorming start against the Packers in the NFC title game put the Falcons on the brink of victory at the end of the first half. Aaron Rodgers attempted to mount an incredible comeback in the third quarter, but Ryan and company pulled away to notch their Super Bowl berth.
After two weeks of build-up, Quinn and his side could not have scripted a better first half of the Super Bowl. An early Devonta Freeman score put the Falcons ahead before Austin Hooper collected a strike from Ryan to compound their advantage.
Robert Alford sent the Atlanta fans in NRG Stadium into raptures when he intercepted Tom Brady to put the Falcons in front by a 21-3 scoreline at the break.
The offense fired again in the third quarter with Coleman collecting a score, handing his side a 25-point lead and on the brink of the first Vince Lombardi trophy.
New England began their improbable comeback with a James White touchdown, while a Stephen Gostkowski field goal put them within two scores with 12 minutes to play.
A fumble from Ryan after a sack from Dont’a Hightower allowed Danny Amendola and White to combine for eight points before the same duo tied the match. Brady then broke Atlanta hearts with his fifth scoring drive on the bounce as White ran in from two yards in overtime.
The Falcons have managed to keep the majority of their roster intact from their run to the Super Bowl, although they have lost a few players from the team.
However, the biggest departure could be the loss of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who has become the new head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
He managed to bring out the best in Ryan last season and it will be interesting to see if his exit has a knock-on impact on the quarterback’s play next season.
Elsewhere, full-back Patrick DiMarco received a lucrative offer to sign with the Buffalo Bills, while Aldrick Robinson opted to link-up with Shanahan at the 49ers.
Special teams took an impact with the loss of linebacker Paul Worrilow and returner Eric Weems, but on the whole the club have managed to emerge from free agency unscathed.
Atlanta bolstered their defensive line with a move for Dontari Poe from the Kansas City Chiefs, while end Jack Crawford should provide pressure on opposing quarterbacks this term.
As a result, the club should be able to continue to dominate in the NFC South, although there will be a lot of pressure on new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian to maintain the level of production that they yielded in the last campaign.
The Falcons came so close to winning their first Super Bowl, but for their late collapse in the fourth quarter. The early stages of next season will be vital for the club to put that disappointment aside and refocus their efforts to go one better in 2017 and get their hands on the trophy.
Ryan made a breakthrough last term to claim his MVP award and establish himself as a top-five quarterback in the NFL. He was clutch throughout the season, but will rue his mistakes in the Super Bowl, with a fumble and taking a sack in the fourth quarter.
He has the ability to bounce back and should be able to continue to dominate – if he and Sarkisian are able to strike up a rapport.
Defensively, the Falcons were outstanding for three quarters against the Patriots, limiting Brady and his offense to just nine points. There is enough talent there in the future to make a stout unit, especially with the return from injury of Desmond Trufant.
Deion Jones, Keanu Neal and Grady Jarrett were all rookies last term and with them ingrained in the spine of the defense – the future looks bright. As a result, backing the Falcons to win the NFC with TopBet sportsbook at 11/2 6.50 +550 5.50 5.50 -0.18 would be a prudent bet, while their Super Bowl odds of 12/1 13.00 +1200 12.00 12.00 -0.08 are equally intriguing.
Atlanta Falcons To Win NFC Championship
Odds: 11/2 6.50 +550 5.50 5.50 -0.18
Atlanta Falcons To Win Super Bowl
Odds: 12/1 13.00 +1200 12.00 12.00 -0.08
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