(Photo by SI.com)
The Atlanta Falcons are going to the Super Bowl for the first time since the final year of the last century and their quarterback Matt Ryan is a near lock to win the Associated Press (AP) NFL Most Valuable Player award. Such a feat has been a dramatic turn of events for the franchise signal caller as many doubted Ryan, including me.
I personally thought that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was going to ruin the rest of his career in Atlanta as he completed only 48.6 percent of his passes and threw zero touchdowns versus one interception in the preseason.
Do not get me wrong. I have always believed in Ryan’s talents and felt that he was only going to flourish in the right situation. Plus, I feel that he is the standard that first-round quarterbacks should live up to and be evaluated by as he went third overall and threw well to help the Falcons go from 3-13 in 2007 to 11-5 in 2008 as a rookie.
But even with the turnaround and him being the biggest reason Atlanta was annually winning during his first five years, Ryan has always been labeled as a player who crumbles in the big games. The Falcons only won one playoff game during the aforementioned time span, but after winning two this postseason, the reputation seems to be going away.
Except, there is a curse to overcome, and, unfortunately, history has not been kind to the quarterback that is set to win the league’ most prestigious individual award. Since 2000, no quarterback has helped his team win the Super Bowl in the same season he has won MVP. The last quarterback to do it was Kurt Warner when he led the St. Louis Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf to win the Lombardi Trophy. One might say it is a coincidence that this trend is not currently in Ryan’s favor, but the trend might have validity based on the opponents that have won.
During the last six championship contests featuring quarterbacks that won MVP during the same season, all but one of the Super Bowl winners have sacked the quarterback at least 40.0 times. All six have averaged a combined 17.5 points per game allowed, and four of them allowed fewer than twenty points and ranked 6th or better in that category.
|Rank in Sacks
|New Orleans Saints
|New York Giants
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers
|New England Patriots
In contrast to benchmarks set by these defenses, the sack totals of the Falcons’ opponent, New England Patriots, look pretty unimpressive. They, along with the Falcons, have only committed 34.0 sacks this season, the lowest output by any Super Bowl-bound team since the Indianapolis Colts committed just 25.0 in 2006.
But the Pats seem to be heading in the direction of all of these defensively dominant teams by allowing a league-best 15.6 points per game under head coach Bill Belichick. Since the 1981 regular season, each scoring defense leader that has played in the Super Bowl has won the championship.
On the flipside, if we were to look at other teams before 1981, three teams that lead the league in scoring defense (1968 Baltimore Colts, 1969 Minnesota Vikings, and 1980 Philadelphia Eagles) had lost the Big Game mainly due to their offenses turning the ball over, a key factor in how games are won. Five quarterbacks that played in these teams’ Super Bowls collectively threw one touchdown versus a frightening ten interceptions while the opposing quarterbacks threw a combined four touchdowns versus one interception.
The Falcons’ last six regular season and playoffs opponents having averaged 25.1 points per game allowed and facing the Patriots will be a rough uphill climb for Ryan as the odds are heavily against him. The only way the Falcons will win is if Tom Brady throws more interceptions than Ryan, but with the Pats having just two thrown by their three starting quarterbacks and Falcons seeing seven from Ryan, you might as well hand over New England its fifth Super Bowl trophy.