By Jason Keidel
With the ADD nature of the world these days, the machine-gun clatter of clicks and double-clicks and the entire galaxy summoned to your mobile phone, it’s now natural that we’ve already forgotten Tom Brady’s fifth ring while computing odds on his sixth.
To that end, our dear friends in Las Vegas are already on it. The Patriots — shocking, I know! — are the early chalk to win Super Bowl 52 (or LII, if you’re fond of the Romans). Opening at 6-1, the Pats are now 5-1 favorites. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys — perhaps the NFL’s two most popular teams — opened at 10-1, with Dallas since inching up to 8-1.
Then we have the Packers and Seahawks, also perennial playoff teams, tied at 12-1.
What’s missing? Or rather who’s missing?
The Atlanta Falcons.
The club just tore through the league by scoring 33.8 points per game, then stormed their way into the Super Bowl, and charged out to a 28-3 lead, only to vomit the largest lead in Super Bowl history. The Falcons are sixth on the list, with 16-1 odds to win the world championship.
If you think those odds are skewed, think again. OR ask the Carolina Panthers, who were favored to win last year’s Super Bowl, lost and were equally lost this season, failing to make the playoffs.
Try finding teams that lose a Super Bowl then charge back the next year. The Dallas Cowboys lost Super Bowl V then won Super Bowl VI. The Miami Dolphins lost Super Bowl VI then won the next two. And that’s it. It’s been over four decades since Miami.
The Kansas City Chiefs lost Super Bowl I, then won Super Bowl IV. The Dallas Cowboys lost Super Bowl X then won Super Bowl XII. The Patriots lost to the Giants (twice) then eventually won two more, but it took years to rediscover that January magic and February mojo.
The most famous Super Bowl masochists of all-time are the Buffalo Bills, who had no problem reaching four straight, or losing four straight. In fairness, the Bills are now regarded in more friendly hues. Though we Americans place an absurd premium on winning, we finally realized that reaching four consecutive Super Bowls is way more impressive than winning one and never getting back.
If we look back a few days, there were some tell-tale signs that Atlanta was in for a long night.
Now, we all agree that no one saw that coming. No team had ever blown more than a 10-point lead in the Super Bowl much less gag Atlanta’s 25-point bulge. The various power indexes tell us that the Falcons had a 99.5 percent chance of winning once they went up 28-3. Two stats jump out. First, which Joe Buck gave us from the booth, was that NFL playoff teams leading by at least 19 points in the fourth quarter were 93-0. But perhaps the more startling stat came from Peter Schrager, who said that, since 1991, teams with a 25-point lead at any point in an NFL game (playoffs or regular season) had a combined record of 1,057-4.
Those are the numbers that should keep the Falcons up at night, and could very well keep them far away from the Super Bowl anytime soon. What exactly can head coach Dan Quinn tell his players? That they will be in a better position next year than being up 25 points in the second half of the Super Bowl?
What the last four teams from this year’s playoffs have in common is no concern at quarterback. The Packers, Patriots and Steelers employ three surefire Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks, and the Falcons start the NFL MVP.
But Atlanta would be wise to look at more nuanced numbers. As in the team that played in a Super Bowl after scoring at least 500 points in the regular season is now 1-6 since 2001. Also, no team has ever won a Super Bowl while surrendering an average of 25 points per game during the regular season. Atlanta yielded 25.4.
With all the pyrotechnic passing that is virtually a precondition for winning Super Bowls these days, Atlanta should take solace in the fact that Matt Ryan is not only the league MVP, he’s also in his prime. And no team can win without a fine QB. Just ask Houston, who had a rather robust roster but a big variable at QB, in Brock Osweiler. Ask Denver, who won with Peyton Manning, though clearly diminished. But it turns out a Peyton at 50 percent is better than a Trevor or Paxton at 100 percent.
As we saw in Super Bowl LI, the Falcons’ defense was a bit better than the numbers suggested. They stalked, chased and pounded Tom Brady for three quarters. Maybe next time a more mature defense will carry them through four quarters. If there is a next time.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.