Nicknamed “Matty Ice” because he is “cool” under pressure, Matt Ryan has led the Falcons to four playoff berths and 62 wins as of his seventh NFL season. Coming off an extremely disappointing 2013, it is almost completely on account of Matt Ryan’s resurgence in 2014 that the Falcons are tied with the Carolina Panthers for first place in the NFC South.
Many people will look at the 2013 Atlanta Falcons and see nothing beyond a 4-12 record, making them a popular “surprise team.” What goes unseen is the fact that Atlanta lost seven of those 12 games by seven points or fewer, and five of those seven to teams that eventually made the postseason. The Falcons easily could have won 11 games in 2013, which would have qualified them for the playoffs. With that knowledge, it is hard to justify calling the 2013 Falcons a “bad” team, or calling the 2014 Falcons a “surprise” team. The truth is that Ryan and the Falcons have been good all along.
The Falcons’ poor 2013 season cannot be entirely blamed on unfortunate luck, however. Matt Ryan threw a career-high 17 picks in 2013, and was operating without the services of all-pro receiver Julio Jones, and sometimes without Roddy White too. Neither did Ryan have any sort of ground game to complement the air attack with Steven Jackson in and out of the lineup due to injury, and career backup Jacquizz Rodgers unable to fill his shoes. Really, the fact that the Falcons were as competitive as they were with such deficiencies is more impressive than disappointing.
Now in 2014, Ryan has his top two receivers back, and they create one of the better pass-catching tandems in the NFL. And despite lacking a true premier running back, the Falcons have run the ball fairly well behind Jackson, and big-play specialist Antone Smith. They understandably lead the league in total offense, and Matty Ice ranks second to Andrew Luck in passing yardage.
Ryan has found the end zone 10 times and thrown five picks. He has yet to fall short of 230 passing yards in a game, and therefore is obviously a top-five fantasy option. More importantly though, Ryan has the Falcons turned around from their woeful and unlucky 2013 mishaps; they are right back in the mix as an NFC Super Bowl contender with division rival New Orleans off to a 1-3 start, and Carolina coming off two consecutive double-digit losses. The NFC South title is up in the air, and Atlanta might have the most legitimate shot at bringing it home this season.
Whether or not the Falcons return to the playoffs depends not on Matt Ryan or any other offensive player though. Maintaining the health of the team is the first key. Losing three starting offensive linemen to injuries on Sunday will not help, but it should not derail the whole season.
Secondly, Atlanta needs to get a lot better on defense. Through four contests, the Falcons have allowed an average of better than 28 points per game.
As long as they stay healthy and get the defense figured out, Matt Ryan and the Falcons should be one of the NFL’s most powerful teams on a weekly basis. They will score a lot of points, gain a lot of yards, and most likely, return to the playoffs.
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