If the Falcons were to go 16-0 over the course of the 2013 regular season do you honestly believe Vegas would make them more than a three or three and a half point favorite against ANY opponent? And Vegas aside, would you enter that contest with any confidence in the Mike Smith/Matt Ryan Atlanta Falcons?
In the 2010-11 playoffs, the 13-3 blackbirds lost their first playoff game to the Green Bay Packers at home 48-21.
In the 2011-12 playoffs, the Falcons lost their playoff game to the New York Giants 24-2 in one of the more pathetic displays of playoffs past.
This postseason the Falcons survived blowing a 20-point first half lead to the Seattle Seahawks with a heroic half-minute field goal charge that many believed would alter the organization's modern history. It did not. A week later Atlanta blew another first half lead - this one 17 points - to the San Francisco 49ers. No magic wand this time. No lucky lotto ticket. The #1 seed in the conference exited the NFC playoffs having blown 37 points in first half leads.
The Falcons are setting a new standard for playoff futility. But there's another team starting to creep up on them slowly. Who, you ask? I think you know.
Think about the Green Bay Packers for a minute. They won the Super Bowl in February 2011. They went 15-1 the following regular season and were runaway favorites to win the Super Bowl. The Aaron Rodgers bandwagon had reached a tipping point as comparisons to Joe Montana (not Joe Montegna) were rolling and folks were starting to throw the "dynasty" word around on the national football broadcasts. There was no reason to move the Lombardi Trophy from Title Town. It would stay home for the next few years.
Then Eli Manning and the New York Giants walked into Lambeau Field, manhandled the Packers 37-20 and went on to win another Super Bowl for Big Blue. Clay Matthews claimed the Packers beat themselves. Local media blamed the lengthy layoff for the seemingly stale offensive output. The performance was written off as the exception, not the rule.
The Packers entered the 2012 season, once again, as one of a handful of favorites to win the Super Bowl. They won the NFC North division after a slow start behind the soon-to-fade Chicago Bears. But when faced with a win-and-bye scenario in Week 17 they failed to tackle Adrian Peterson once, a single time, EVER and were forced to play on wild card weekend.
Did that matter? No and yes. No because Joe Webb showed up at Lambeau on Saturday night and was grotesquely unprofessional. Yes because it meant the Packers would need to travel to San Francisco the following weekend and be manhandled in the postseason for the second consecutive season.
The Packers are 0-2 in the postseason against teams not quarterbacked by Joe Webb since winning the Super Bowl. They've lost those two games by an average 15.5 points.
I understand a response to this with, "Well he's a Bears blogger. Of course he is spinning this negative!" I'd respond with words from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Bob McGinn:
A week ago, Jim Harbaugh called the Green Bay Packers the best team in the National Football League over the last number of years.
"They play tremendous as a team and they have guys step up when others are injured," the 49ers' second-year coach said before the San Francisco-Green Bay divisional playoff game. "They have great coaching . . . they have great talent.
"They do the things that all teams aspire to be. Which is not just consistent, but consistently good."
Three days later, the Packers showed their consistency in another area. They're a soft football team, and in a sport that forever favors the tough, soft is a very, very bad thing to be.
The Packers' season ended just as it started, in a convincing defeat handed down by an opponent that is physically superior.
What general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy do about it will determine if this team is to go down as "just another fart in the wind," as the 1990s one-and-done title team was characterized by GM Ron Wolf, or wins another championship.
And that same newspaper has not only called into question the physicality of the club. Rob Reischel called into question the leadership of the star quarterback:
Aaron Rodgers, one of the leaders of the Green Bay Packers, sat alone at his locker, staring aimlessly around the room. Rodgers was asked if he'd talk about the season that just ended.
"Nope," Rodgers said.
Instead, Rodgers began eavesdropping on an interview linebacker Desmond Bishop was conducting.
After each question, Rodgers made a snide remark about the queries loud enough for anyone within earshot to hear.
"I can't believe they'd ask that," Rodgers said.
"Nice question," he said another time.
Finally, doing his best Drew Rosenhaus, Rodgers bellowed, "Next question."
Instead of preparing for the NFC Championship Game, Rodgers was now critiquing reporters.
It's this type of leadership that had some taking shots at the 2011 most valuable player this season.
One can argue the pressure has been relieved from the Atlanta Falcons heading into the 2013 season. Nobody will care one way or another what the team does unless they find themselves playing in the last game of the season in New Jersey.
The pressure on the Green Bay Packers is just beginning to mount and 2013 may be the fork in their championship road.