FALCONS DREAM SEASON NOT SEEN BY MANY

NFC Championship - Green Bay Packers v Atlanta Falcons

Despite throttling both the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers en route to Super Bowl LI, the talent of the Atlanta Falcons remain unknown on a national level.

The reasons are obvious. Atlanta was not tabbed for a Sunday Night appearance and not even flexed into a late season game, as was the case with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. For other late afternoon national broadcasts, FOX likes to roll with known brands such as the Cowboys, Packers and Seahawks while CBS’s number one crew typically work  Broncos, Patriots and Steeler games. The two networks also make sure to get at least one interconference game that involve such teams.

That left Atlanta with a Week 3 Monday night game at New Orleans that drew alarmingly low ratings against a presidential debate, a Week 8 game v. Green Bay and a Thursday night game in Tampa for a national audience. Most other Falcons games were shown regionally.

Week 1 v. Tampa Bay – The season began with the Falcons in the shadow of the defending NFC Champion Carolina Panthers, who opened on a Thursday night. With the New Orleans Saints also in action, the game aired in Georgia, the Tampa area and some other southern locations.

Week 2 at Oakland – This interconference game would normally air on FOX, but was flexed to CBS. Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon called this game while Colts v. Broncos got the Jim Nantz/Phil Simms treatment.

Week 3 at New Orleans (MNF) – The aforementioned 45-32 Atlanta victory that drew low ratings against Trump v. Hillary.

Week 4 v. Carolina – With the Panthers in town, the Falcons 48-33 victory was shown in most homes in the south during the 1 p.m. Eastern window. A Seahawks v. Jets game aired everywhere west of Denver and in the northeast.

Week 5 at Denver – The Falcons took down the other Super Bowl 50 participant in a 4:05 Eastern start shown to most of the south and west while a Cowboys v. Bengals game aired in the 4:25 window on FOX

Week 6 at Seattle – The Falcons controversial loss in Seattle was shown regionally in Atlanta and the Pacific Northwest as the rest of the nation got Cowboys v. Packers in the 4:25 window.

Week 7 v. San Diego – Another 4:05 start only shown in the Chargers and Falcons markets, while Patriots/Steelers was shown to a national audience on CBS.

Week 8 v. Green Bay – The Falcons 33-32 marked Atlanta’s lone national 4:25 appearance, shown everywhere with the exception of Denver as the Broncos had a home game.

Week 9 at Tampa Bay (TNF) – The Falcons Thursday night appearance fell here, the first game done with the NBC crew and Al Michaels.

Week 10 at Philadelphia – Headlined FOX’s 1 p.m. slate and shown in many regions that included the West Coast and Texas.

Week 12 v. Arizona – This game again got FOX’s number two team of Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch. The 1 p.m. start was only seen in Georgia, Arizona, the Carolina and other upper Midewest areas.

Week 13 v. Kansas City – CBS’s number two team handled this game which aired mainly to the Kansas City and Atlanta markets. Jim Nantz and Phil Simms worked Houston at Green Bay in the 1 p.m. window.

Week 14 at Los Angeles – By this point in the season it became obvious that the Rams did not make for good TV viewing. Dick Stockton called the one-sided contest aired to the Los Angeles and Atlanta markets.

Week 15 v. San Francisco – Another 4:05 local start against a subpar opponent aired regionally. CBS carried Patriots at Broncos in the 4:25 window.

Week 16 at Carolina – Christmas Eve game went out regionally as most of the nation received Vikings v. Packers in 1 p.m. window.

Week 17 v. New Orleans – Aired in the 4:25 window, the Falcons regular season finale played second fiddle to Giants/Washington in the same time slot.

Division playoff v. Seattle – The first true look to many of this team nationally, but got Burkhardt/Lynch as Joe Buck/Troy Aikman worked Packers/Cowboys.

NFC Championship v. Green Bay – Joe Buck finally got his first look at the Falcons, as he was on his World Series assignment during the previous Packers/Falcons meeting.

Talk about a lack of respect. But with a new stadium on the horizon coupled with this year’s success, the Falcons can look forward to infinitely more television exposure in 2017.

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WHO RUNS TABLE TO SUPER BOWL LI?

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Aaron Rodgers made good on his six-week promise to ‘run the table’ towards a division title, and it was nice.

A win over Philadelphia, followed by home wins over Houston and Seattle before the Packers swept through the remnants of the NFC North.

But will Rodgers and Green Bay double-down and run the table straight through January and first Sunday in February?

My heart roots for a Chiefs/Packers Super Bowl, 50 years after the original. But my gut say it is turn for someone else to run the table, a movie we have seen before.

Trust me, I deeply root for this to be dead wrong.

WILD CARD

  • Oakland (11-5) at Houston (9-7) – In a switch from last year, all four home teams on Wild Card Weekend actually come in favored. I congratulated the Texans back in October for earning their annual place on ESPN’s 4:40 p.m. Saturday telecast, the NFL’s version of March Madness’s First Four. At this point a Ravens/Broncos pairing holds more intrigue, in their current state the Raiders and Texans represent the two worst playoff participants. Who do you have, Connor Cook or Brock Osweiler? I take Khahil Mack. WINNER: Raiders
  • Detroit (9-7) at Seattle (10-5-1) – The Lions limp into Seattle as eight point underdogs, I say they cover. This will follow the script of most Seahawk home playoff/prime time games. Matthew Stafford has a huge night on a depleted Seattle secondary but Pete Carroll’s proxy army ultimately escapes with their patented psy-op/roller derby-like finish. WINNER: Seahawks
  • Miami (10-6) at Pittsburgh (11-5) – The Dolphins also likely go into postseason with a backup quarterback, and anything beyond this stage would be a bonus. The Steelers have lost at home to lesser opponents in postseason in the past, but not this time. WINNER: Steelers
  • NY Giants (11-5) at Green Bay (10-6) – Packers fans flooded Vegas and have bet Green Bay down to 8-1 to win the Super Bowl, yet only find themselves as 4 1/2 point home favorites against the Giants, who the bookies have at 20-1. This feels just like 2008 and 2012.Temperatures are expected to climb all the way to 12 degrees at Lambeau come game-time, that may be too warm for Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, who torch what’s left of the Packers secondary. WINNER: Giants

DIVISIONAL

  • Seattle at Atlanta (11-5) – The NFL stuck the Falcons in the early Saturday window, another franchise the league cannot see eliminated as possible. This one could go either way, but look for the Seahawks luck running out in the divisional round for a second straight year. WINNER: Falcons
  • Oakland at New England (14-2) – You know a 15th anniversary of the Tuck Rule game has to happen. And how do the Patriots get away with signing Michael Floyd straight off a DUI arrest? Anyone for Sheriff Joe as NFL commissioner? This will serve as a scrimmage on the Pats yellow-brick road to the AFC title game. WINNER: Patriots
  • Pittsburgh at Kansas City (12-4) – The teams met early in the season, with Al Michaels forced to dig into his blowout material early after the Steelers hung 36 points in the first half. And why does Mike Tomlin go for two? Because he cannot go for three. Tyreek Hill returns an early punt for a score, other than that I do not see too much that has changed. Add this to the list of Kansas City postseason disappointments. WINNER: Steelers
  • NY Giants at Dallas (13-3) – The league predictably puts the top-seeded Cowboys in the late afternoon window, as they have for more than 40 years. Here Jason Garrett, Dak Prescott and company meet their worst nightmare, the one team that has their number. Eli Manning also tore through Dallas in 2008 and left Terrell Owens in tears. Do not tell Skip Bayless, but history repeats. WINNER: Giants

CHAMPIONSHIP

  • NY Giants at Atlanta – Anyone think the Giants would tear through Green Bay and Dallas, only to lose in Atlanta? New York condemns the Georgia Dome and the Manning family qualifies for their sixth Super Bowl in 11 years. WINNER: Giants
  • Pittsburgh at New England – The Jim Nantz special sees the latest playoff scrum between the Steelers and Patriots. Tom Brady gets his vindication and punches his franchises seventh Super Bowl ticket in 16 years. WINNER: Patriots

SUPER BOWL LI

  • New England v. NY Giants – Fans have feared a Patriots/Cowboys Super Bowl all year, a.k.a the Skip Bayless Bowl. This would be worse, but who thinks Eli Manning rolls over and just be satisfied tied with his older brother with two Super Bowl rings. A late Patriots drive ends in controversial fashion, the final karma on Tom Brady and the team signing Michael Floyd. Eli gets another title and quickly returns to relative obscurity for another four years.

 

SUPER BOWL LI CHAMPIONS: New York Giants (run to the window now!)

2007 NFL SIMULATION – VI SEED, VI-TIME KINGS

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The 2007 NFL season provided many talking points and storylines. Tom Brady broke the single-season touchdown record as the Patriots eyed a historic mark, on the other end of the spectrum, the Miami Dolphins chased 0-16. Terrell Owens made a spectacle of himself as the Dallas Cowboys earned the NFC’s number one seed. Adrian Peterson broke the single-game rushing record as part as his rookie season and Brett Favre led the Packers back into contention in what appeared to be his NFL swan song.

In November the league was rocked by the death of Washington safety Sean Taylor at age 24, a number five overall pick who became a two-time Pro Bowl selection and one of the league’s most feared players in his all-too brief time win the league.

In real-life the New York Giants parlayed their spot at the playoff table into a Super Bowl championship. In the simulation the Green Bay Packers suffer an even worse gut punch as an even more hated rival won the championship – again.

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In Week 1 the Patriots lost, and the Dolphins won. As late as Week 6 the Patriots and Dolphins tied for the division lead at 4-2. Miami remained in playoff contention for the entire season and finished 8-8 compared to their actual 1-15 mark.

2007 marked a rare year where the Cleveland Browns contended. In real life they missed the playoffs at 10-6 but made the postseason here at 9-7.

The Patriots, Steelers and Jaguars all finished the regular season at 13-3, but a late-season home loss to the Steelers dropped New England to the number three seed. The San Diego Chargers also easily won their division with an 11-5 mark.

The Cowboys won a competitive NFC East, but the worst amongst NFC division leaders. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came away with the top seed at 14-2, followed by the Cardinals whose 13-3 record bested the Packers via tiebreaker.

Being forced to play on Wild Card weekend proved to be Green Bay’s worst nightmare as the Vikings snuck in with the number six seed. The Packers easily swept the regular season series in both real life and simulation. Did not matter, the Vikes won easily at Lambeau 31-21 and Brett Favre would next be seen in purple two years later. Terrell Owens and the Cowboys also went home crying early, losing to Carolina 23-17.

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The Browns playoff appearance was short-lived, and am not even sure they got the memo that they made the postseason, falling to New England 31-0. The Chargers advanced behind a LaDainian Tomlinson touchdown run in the closing seconds to defeat Indianapolis 24-20. The Chargers also won a regular season meeting between the two teams by scoring 31 points in the fourth quarter.

As in real life, the Patriots and Jaguars met in the divisional round, this time in Jacksonville where the Jaguars prevailed 34-24. The Jags bid for a second consecutive faux-AFC Championship ended the following week with a 24-17 loss to the Steelers.

On the NFC side, the Vikings were just warming up as they traveled to Tampa and defeated the Buccaneers 17-13. In the NFC Championship at Carolina the Vikings jumped off to a quick start, Adrian Peterson rushed for 144 yards and scored twice, and the Purple Express was headed to Arizona with a 37-27 win.

Super Bowl XLII featured teams with faux Super Bowl records of 5-0 and 4-0 respectively. Fast Willie Parker scored his fifth touchdown of the playoffs with a late fourth quarter score, but proved as just a consolation tally as Minnesota won 26-13 with Adrian Peterson taking MVP honors.

2001 NFL SIMULATION: BATTLEGROUND STATE

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I return with my 36th simulation from the Super Bowl era, with WhatIfSports data to replay the schedule for each season once, and only once. Included will be a recap from the bottom so you can wonder how the hell the Minnesota Vikings won five Super Bowls and how the Detroit Lions won one.

The 2001 season marked the third and final campaign with 31 teams in the league, necessitating at least one team per week to take a bye. The events of September 11 pushed the league schedule back a week and resulted in playoff games deep into the month of January.

The league scheduled the Raiders and Patriots on a snowy Saturday night in Foxboro. Charles Woodson forced a late fumble but the ref enforced the Tuck Rule. Adam Vinatieri somehow made a long field goal without help from the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, the Patriots won – and the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick dynasty launched.

In the sim however, the Pats reign of destruction will have to wait, both New England and Oakland finished 9-7. The Pats squeaked into the postseason while Jon Gruden got his termination letter from Al Davis.

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  • As in the actual season, the Steelers and Rams finished as the number one seeds in their respective conferences. The Rams appeared unstoppable and headed for their second Super Bowl in three seasons.
  • Also, as in the real season, the Indianapolis Colts imploded down the stretch with only one win in their final eight games. Playoffs!?!
  • The NFL  East proved hyper-competitive in simulation with he Dallas Cowboys in the mix and the Arizona Cardinals earning a rare playoff berth.
  • In the third season of its carnation, the Cleveland Browns went 7-9, but only one three games here, giving fans additional beer bottle throwing practice.

The Patriots won in Baltimore in the wild card round but then traveled to balmy Miami the following week, where they lost 36-26. Both the Packers and Rams fell in the divisional round, falling to the Eagles and Bucs respectively.

The Steelers hosted the Dolphins for the AFC Championship, and Kordell Stewart silenced his many critics as he led Pittsburgh to a 43-10 rout and its first Super Bowl appearance in 22 years. Meanwhile the Eagles defeated the Buccaneers for the second straight year to claim the NFC crown.

The Eagles and Steelers traveled to New Orleans for the all Keystone State Super Bowl. Kordell Stewart makes his Crescent City homecoming a memorable one as the Steelers win their fourth World Championship in as many attempts with a 24-6 victory. Super Bowl losers have now averaged 5.7 points in the past six games of the series. It also marked the first consecutive AFC victories since Super Bowl’s IX and X.

Now a brief recap of alternative universe NFL history.

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1979 NFL SIM: STEELERS END RAMS FOUR-PEAT BID

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After only six of the first 26 teams replicated their Super Bowl appearances, and just two repeated their world titles – KACSPORTS 1979 NFL simulation delivers a repeat of the Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl XIV victory over the Los Angeles Rams.

The simulation also features a wild race in the NFC East and a first-time playoff participant.

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  • Four teams in the jumbled AFC East won 10 games and even the last place Colts finished 8-8. After a series of tie-breakers, Miami would be the odd team out.
  • As expected, the Steelers rolled to a division crown with the league’s best record. More notably the WhatIfSports simulation was not kind to Bum Phillips Houston Oilers, who went 6-10
  • Air Coryell arrived on schedule, as the Chargers pulled away from a competitive AFC West with a 12-4 record.
  • In real life, Dallas, Philadelphia and Washington battled hammer and tongs in the NFC East, in the sim Washington came away with the NFC’s number one seed at 13-3.
  • The Bears made the playoffs as a wild card in the actual season, in the sim they cruise to the division championship. The actual division champ Buccaneers got off to a slow start and would be a non-factor.
  • As in the real season, the Rams sputtered throughout the season and finished 9-7. The Saints would beat them in the final regular season game to win the NFC West.

The bad news was the Rams played in the Wild Card round, the good news is they got to go to Dallas and for the sixth time in eight years eliminated the Cowboys at Texas Stadium with a 30-9 win. Roger Staubach’s career ends without a Super Bowl appearance.

Unlike Dallas, the Steelers did not disappoint in the postseason, routing the Patriots 52-21 and throttling the Jets 44-17 on their way to the Super Bowl.

In the NFC, the Rams postseason run continued with a 31-5 win at Washington while the Bears beat New Orleans 22-19 to earn the right to host the NFC Championship at Soldier Field. The Rams would prevail 10-9, their second consecutive one-point win in the conference title game.

The Rams appeared in their seventh Super Bowl in 14 years, and for the fourth time in as many Super Bowls in Los Angeles or Pasadena. As in the actual game, the Rams proved to be a tough out, but Franco Harris rushed for 115 yards for a 27-21 Steelers victory in the most compelling Super Bowl to date.

With their third championship the Steelers improved to 3-0 in the Chuck Noll era, compared to the actual team’s four titles. But with six appearances and three titles, the Rams still own the sim version of the 1970s, the Carter years in particular.

 

1978 NFL SIM: LA DYNASTY AS DALLAS DOOMED AGAIN

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1978 represented a huge year for the National Football League. The schedule expanded to 16 games, from Labor Day weekend through Christmas. An additional wild card team was also added in each conference along with an additional tier of playoffs. New rules also ushered in a new era of offensive-minded football.

In the KACSPORTS sim version of the season, the Dallas Cowboys stood poised to make history after a 16-0 regular season to go along with the Cowboys 14-0 season in 1971.

In the postseason however, Dallas would be doomed on its own turf by the same familiar nemesis.

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Highlights of the 1978 included…

  • The NFC East’s dominance of the AFC East and the AFC West over the NFC Central were both reflected in the final standings. 1978 marked the first year of rotational inter-conference play.
  • Doug Williams joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and immediately led the third-year expansion club to respectability, winning the NFC Central with a 9-7 record. A closer look at the real-life point differentials explains the parity of the division Chris Berman would soon re-name the ‘NFC Norris’ –  Buccaneers -18, Bears -21, Vikings -12, Lions -10, Packers -20. Another 16-game sample size would produce a different result.
  • In real-life, the Houston Oilers burst onto the scene behind rookie running back Earl Campbell. But the sim was not nearly as kind to Luv’ Ya Blue as Houston finished 7-9.
  • The San Diego Chargers stumbled out of the gate in the actual season thanks in part to the ‘Holy Roller’ loss to the Raiders. Although they also lost to the Raiders in Week 2 of the sim, the Chargers still finished 10-6 and earned a wild card spot.

All signs pointed towards a reprise of the actual classic Steelers/Cowboys Super Bowl in Miami. It would not happen.

The Chargers won the Wild Card Game in Cleveland and then shocked Pittsburgh at Three Rivers, as the Steelers season would end with a home playoff loss for a fourth consecutive year. San Diego’s run ended with a loss to Oakland in the AFC Championship, sending the Raiders to their first Super Bowl in 11 years.

Dallas had the fortune to draw and easily dispatch the upstart Buccaneers in the divisional round. Unfortunately, the Rams arrived for the NFC Championship Game and for the fifth time in seven season ended the Cowboys season at Texas Stadium with a 14-13 win, giving the Rams their sixth Super Bowl trip while Dallas has not won a single NFC title despite a 99-15 regular season record over eight years.

So Steelers lose four years in a row at home and the Cowboys to the Rams at home five times. Still think Hillary Clinton winning six coin tosses in a row is not a coincidence?

It must be noted the Cowboys did win at Los Angeles in a faux-regular season game.

The Raiders and Rams made the cross-country trek to the Orange Bowl in Miami. New coach Ray Malavasi picked up where Chuck Knox left off, and the Rams completed the unprecedented three-peat and fourth Super Bowl title overall with a 10-7 win. The Raiders would be doomed because of four missed field goals by Errol Mann.

He had to be sickest man in America.

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John Madden made a Super Bowl appearance in his final season as Raiders coach.

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1974 NFL SIM: MAD STORK DELIVERED, FOR A YEAR

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If I could start a team with any Green Bay defensive player since 1970 or so there would be a few options definitely starting with either Reggie White or Clay Matthews.

I would take a circa-1974 Ted Hendricks over both.

Hendricks played for the University of Miami and his name is now on the award for college football’s best defensive end. Hendricks began his pro career with the Baltimore Colts and traded to Green Bay when his contract came to its option year. For additional leverage Hendricks also inked a ‘futures contract’ with the World Football League.

Throughout the 1974 campaign, in his age 27 season as a hybrid DE/OLB, Hendricks lurked everywhere. He intercepted five passes and a game-changer on special teams blocking seven kicks (punts/FG’s/PATs) for the season alone.

If he just had a team around him. Quarterback Jerry Tagge (a 1972 draft pick) regressed so badly that out of desperation embattled coach/GM Dan Devine traded two first, two second and a third round pick to the Rams for John Hadl, just 10 days after Hadl was benched in a loss to the Packers.

After 11 games the Packers harbored faint playoff hopes with a 6-5 record with three seemingly winnable road games at Philadelphia, San Francisco and Atlanta on the horizon.

An analyst on a local pregame show threw water on any chances Green Bay had.

“Well, Philadelphia is a rowdy atmosphere, the Packers never play well on the West Coast, and even though the Falcons have had a bad year they will be looking to end on a high note.”

Sure enough, Packers lost badly to the Eagles in an icy rainstorm and mailed in their final two games. Seeing a chance to leave a sinking ship, Devine jumped at the head coaching job at Notre Dame that opened up. The day following the regular season, Devine would be named the Fighting Irish’s new coach.

The Packers then lowballed Hendricks at the negotiating table, he would sign with Oakland with the Raiders giving up two first round picks as compensation.

But for the WhatIfSports simulation Hadl plays the entire season and Devine is focused on the team and not preparing his resume for submission to South Bend…

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Both Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier exceed 100 yards rushing in the Steelers Championship win while the Packers emerged victorious in hosting their second NFC title game in three years.

The Steelers would win their second Super Bowl as Bleier, a Wisconsin native, scored the lone touchdown. Bleier rushed for 163 yards on 35 carries in an actual game against Green Bay in the 1975 regular season.

In a losing effort Hendricks recorded his fourth and fifth interceptions of the postseason. Swap the Vikings for Green Bay and Super Bowl IX was about the same as the Steelers actual 16-6 victory.

Both Terry Bradshaw and backup Terry Hanratty got hurt during the 1974 season, unleashing the legend of Jefferson Street Joe Gilliam. The heavy lifting for most of the season was done by the run game, but Gilliam goes down as the first African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl, 13 years prior to Doug Williams actual achievement.

Other events from the sim version of the 1974 season.

  • There would be no ‘Sea Of Hands’ playoff game between the Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders. Both teams missed the playoffs with the Raiders somehow finishing 4-10. Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield shocked the sports world by signing 1975 contracts en-masse with the WFL’s Toronto Northmen. By the time 1975 rolled around the team was known as the Memphis Southmen (although they kept the grizzly bear logo) and the short-lived league was on its last legs.
  • The Denver Broncos win the AFC West with a 10-4 record to earn the franchises first faux-postseason appearance.
  • The Minnesota Vikings did not do bad outside of being swept by Green Bay. The Vikes went 9-3 with the rest of the schedule and would be edged out for the Wild Card berth.
  • With a 11-3 regular season, the Dallas Cowboys have now gone 50-6 over the last four regular seasons, without a Super Bowl appearance to show for it.

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