ATLANTA — There were a few reasons I was actually rooting for the Falcons to have to go to Dallas for the NFC Championship Game (though obviously I am thrilled now they did not). One was that I wanted this club’s road to a Super Bowl to be against the best on the toughest stages. Given the Cowboys No. 1 seed, from where the Falcons sat at the start, that trek would have been Seattle, then Dallas to finally New England.
Since they have drawn no less than the best in New England for the big game, I’ve come to realize Dallas was, and is, no longer relevant to the outside perception of the Falcons.
This is the best possible Super Bowl matchup for Atlanta. Yes, it’s the most difficult, but it is also the most high-profile and will provide the kind of instant credibility this franchise could use.
Hugh Douglas and I agree this Falcons franchise, right now, is primed to have a multi-year run of deep playoff appearances. I would also say, for as sure as I was back in training camp that this was (as I said on 92-9 the Game at the time) an 11-win team that would capture the NFC South title, this club is even farther down the first stretch of that run that I had imagined it would be.
Back to next week. Beat Tom Brady on this stage and the Falcons are more than just the champions. They become a national darling (keep in mind the Pats, for all their success and issues, are not liked a whole lot outside of their New England base).
Add in the new (and state of the art) Mercedes-Benz stadium coming online this summer and the Falcons would become more than just a regional team. Their national popularity would soar. They are a club with the team of players and vibe that would sell beyond just the South.
This would all be good and it will all be true, but there is only one route to get there. And that goes through ‘The man.’ Big rewards for a tall task.