The Atlanta Falcons might be one of the most unheralded 14-3 football teams ever. They have a top-10 offense and a defense that doesn’t give up a lot of points. They have one of the best young quarterbacks in the league, and perhaps one of the best wide receiver duos. They have home-field advantage (home playoff teams have a combined winning percentage of .675). But despite these facts, they’re still nearly 5-point underdogs.
And it’s not just Vegas that doesn’t have faith in the Falcons: nearly every single “expert” is picking the 49ers to win. “There is no analyst. There is no trained football mind without bias or wanting Atlanta to win that can sit down and create a blue print for Atlanta to win this game unless the Niners beat themselves,” Heath Evans of the NFL Network told 95.7 The Game. “If Colin (Kaepernick) throws an interception and, say, somehow Brad Seely’s special teams group gives up a special teams touchdown, I can maybe seeing Atlanta getting a win. But if two teams play their perfect games, their best games, the score won’t be anywhere close.”
So what is about the Falcons that has them primed to lose? Well, according to Evans, it’s because they’re “soft.” Evans called Atlanta a “front-running team” on KNBR, noting they are “soft when need be.”
Evans isn’t the only one that shares this opinion. Former 49er Brent Jones called Atlanta the “Paper Falcons.”
“I don’t think it’s going to be close in the physical matchup.” Jones continued. “I think as far as mental toughness, (the Falcons are) not there. They’re not at the same level as the 49ers. They’re mentally weaker. They tried like heck to give that game (against the Seahawks) away. The Seahawks drove the ball up and down the field on those guys and should have hammered them. I don’t think the Falcons are going to be able to handle the 49ers’ swagger, the attack. I just think physically they’re not there.”
Trent Dilfer of ESPN too described this game as a “physical mismatch,” calling the 49ers “superior in almost every aspect of this matchup.”
Bill Romanowksi, ever the hyperbolist, said he thought the Falcons were neither mean nor tough enough. “This is a team that starts out strong. Then in the second half, they play not to lose,” he continued. “The 49ers are tougher, are stronger. They’re meaner, they’re nastier, and they are gonna hit the crap out of these guys. This is just going to be one of these of bloody wars where there’s one team standing and one team on their ass, and that team on their ass is going to be the Falcons.”
We wanted to get word from somebody who follows the Falcons week in, week out, so we asked Jeanna Thomas of TheFalcoholic.com about this whole “soft” business. In addition to contributing to The Falcoholic, Thomas is a self-employed independent production coordinator for television. She resides just outside of Atlanta with her husband, a lifelong Packers fan, their two teenage daughters, and one spoiled dog. If you’re not opposed to Falcons’ content, follow her on Twitter.
East Bay Sports Guy (EBSG): What is your response to the people who call the Falcons a “soft” team?
Jeanna Thomas (JT): I don’t think soft teams execute game winning drives in a divisional playoff game with 31 seconds on the clock. I don’t think soft teams shut out the New York Giants after losing to them 24-2 in the postseason last year, or pick off Peyton Manning three times en route to a victory over the Broncos in prime time, or pick off division rival Drew Brees five times in a victory. I don’t think soft teams can achieve a 13-3 regular season record, regardless of strength of schedule. I think you can say a lot of things about the 2012 Falcons — they can be inconsistent, they’ve won a lot of close games this season, they certainly let a solid lead slip away from them against the Seahawks — but soft teams don’t have the sheer will to win that the Falcons possess.
EBSG: Of all these Q&As that we’ve done, there seems to be a consensus feeling about Jim Harbaugh: Everybody hates him. How do Falcoholics feel about him?
JT: One reader chimed in that Jim Harbaugh is overly intense, high strung, and described him as “Steve Spurrier with height.” He’s not my personal favorite. I actually kind of like Alex Smith as a player, and at the time that he suffered that fateful concussion, he had the best completion percentage in the league. Although I acknowledge that Kaepernick is fantastic, I didn’t think Alex Smith did anything that warranted demotion, and I didn’t care for the way that whole thing went down. I like Jim Harbaugh much less than I like Mike Smith, but I like him more than I like Pete Carroll, and I like him significantly more than I like Sean Payton, and I love him compared to Bobby Petrino.
Also make sure to catch our BASGcast with Jeanna Thomas.