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NFL

2013 NFL Playoffs are a Crossroads for Atlanta Falcons

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Falcons earned the number one seed for the 2013 NFC playoffs by virtue of their 13-3 record. The Falcons are led by head coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan, nicknamed “Matty Ice” for his calm and cool demeanor in the direst of circumstances. Considering Atlanta’s 56-24  regular season record since Smith and Ryan both joined the team in 2008, it can be determined that Ryan’s nickname is appropriate.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, their regular season success hasn’t transferred to the postseason in recent years. The Falcons’ playoff history was an abysmal 0-3 during the Ryan/Smith era. They needed a victory in their NFC Divisional playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks to legitimize their 2012 NFL season. Atlanta got that legitimacy with a hard fought 30-28 victory over the upstart Seahawks, and their star quarterback Russell Wilson.

Now the Falcons will host the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game. Earning the franchise’s first playoff victory in the Ryan/Smith era is not nearly enough. Anything less than a Super Bowl championship will deem the Ryan/Smith era an utter failure. The Falcons have an excellent mix of young players and veterans that form the nucleus of their team.

Atlanta has a future Hall of Famer at tight end in Tony Gonzalez. They have a workhorse running back in Michael Turner, who’s in his prime, as well as a young, speedy running back in Jacquizz Rodgers. At wide receiver, Atlanta has the dependable Roddy White, as well as the big play ability of second year starter Julio Jones. And of course, they have Ryan under center, who once again pulled Atlanta’s fat out of the fire with another fourth quarter comeback.

While the Falcons have an ordinary defense, their offense is prolific enough to make a Super Bowl championship a real possibility. If Atlanta fails in that quest, maybe the organization may consider wholesale changes. Team owner Arthur Blank isn’t likely to accept continually falling short of getting to the Super Bowl when his Falcons definitely have the talent to get there and win the big game. Only time will tell if either the Falcons win the Super Bowl, or if the organization decides to reconstruct the team.