Which team is the favorite to win the Super Bowl this season? Mark Sessler shared his opinion on this topic in his Weekend Mailbag column on NFL.com on Saturday. Sessler was specifically asked if the Falcons were the favorite to win it all this year, and his response was a definitive no.
Sessler's reasoning is based around the fact that he is enamored with the San Francisco 49ers, and Jim Harbaugh, crowned by Sessler as potentially the "finest coach in the conference." He concedes that Thomas Dimitroff has made some good moves in free agency, but suggests it's not enough at this point.
ESPN's John Clayton ranked the Falcons fifth on his list of potential Super Bowl champions for the coming season, behind the Broncos, the Patriots, the Packers and the Seahawks. Clayton suspects that the Falcons would have to fight their way to the Super Bowl on a wildcard bid because of Sean Payton's return.
What's interesting about these listings, and the relative lack of confidence in Atlanta's prospects for the coming season, is the criteria listed to support perspectives on the teams they believe have a better chance to win the Super Bowl than the Falcons. For example, on the 49ers, Brown says:
If you keep coming close, you can find a way to finally break through.
After four playoff appearances in five seasons, one could make the same argument about Atlanta. The way that the NFC Championship Game ended, excruciatingly near to victory, is pretty much the definition of "coming close."
On the New England Patriots, Brown says:
Some people are acting like the Patriots fell apart this season. They won another division title and reached the AFC championship game. How embarrassing.
Replace "Patriots" with "Falcons," and "AFC" with "NFC," and you have to ask yourself, why are people insisting the Falcons fell apart last season? And why are they so dismissive of Atlanta's chances to make a run this season?
NFL.com's Chris Wesseling ranks Atlanta's current roster, with the additions of Steven Jackson and Osi Umenyiora, and the return of Tony Gonzalez, as the fourth-strongest in the league. And NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal, whose writing generally does not flatter the Falcons, labeled them a winner in free agency. The Falcons will have a more difficult schedule in 2013, and that is a factor. Very real needs exist for Atlanta on the defensive side of the ball heading into the draft. But, for a team that finished 13-3 in 2012, won the NFC South, locked up the top seed in the NFC, beat a very good Seahawks team, and lost a painfully close NFC Championship Game to a very good 49ers team, it's not reasonable to dismiss their chances to make a legitimate run this season.
The Falcons are just one of those teams that journalists find reasons to discredit. But, as always, the opinions don't matter. What matters is that the front office has retained a great deal of talent while adding more talent at positions of need. What matters is that the draft is just around the corner, and it's a deep draft for defensive needs. What matters is how the Falcons execute once they hit the field in September.
The Falcons are most certainly my favorite to win Super Bowl XLVIII. Which team do you expect to win it all this season?