According to the Westgate SuperBook, the Atlanta Falcons have the 16th-best chance of 32 NFL teams — actually, there’s a six-way tie for 16th — of winning Super Bowl LI (or 51, or next year’s championship game). According to ESPN’s Dave Tuley, the Falcons are the best value bet on the board. Tuley’s rationale:
“My reason for liking the Falcons is a little similar to what put me on the Steelers last year. The trio of Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones is nearly as potent as Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, so I’m not too concerned with the offense. The defense is where the Falcons need the most help, but that’s why we’re getting 40-1.”
Something else to consider: The Falcons play in the NFC South, which is also home to the Carolina Panthers, who just lost the Super Bowl as emphatic favorites after going 15-1 over the regular season. (Only loss to guess who.) Not since the 1993 season has the Super Bowl loser qualified for the big game the next season, and the team that did it then was Buffalo, which was in process of losing four consecutive Super Bowls. One reason being: The Super Bowl loser has to endure an offseason of being picked apart.
NFC South teams that have lost the Super Bowl have fallen particularly hard. The Falcons went from 14-2 in 1998 to 4-12 in 1999. (Jamal Anderson hurt his knee, you might recall.) Carolina went from 11-5 in 2003 to 7-9 in 2004. Even the NFC South teams who won it at all weren’t nearly as good the year after: Tampa Bay slid from 12-4 in 2002 to 7-9 in 2013, and New Orleans dipped from 13-3 in 2009 to 11-5 and a wild-card loss in 2010.
As great as Carolina was until the Broncos got hold of it, the Panthers are about to face a winter/spring/summer of scrutiny and skepticism. How do you lose to a team that doesn’t gain 200 yards and converts one of 14 third downs? Why didn’t Cam Newton dive for the ball after his second strip/fumble?
Understand: I’m not saying the Falcons bear the look of a Super Bowl team. (They did just finish 8-8 after starting 6-1.) But that, to echo Tuley, is why they’re getting 40-1 odds.
Oh, and one thing more: I wasn’t crazy about Newton fleeing his postgame press session in a sulk — sulking never plays well, least of all after you’ve spent the season celebrating to excess — but the questions were pretty awful. Such as: “Can you put into words the disappointment you feel right now?”
What’s he supposed to say? “My heart is as heavy as an anvil. I feel as weak as the tiniest kitten even viewed on YouTube. My world is now devoid of meaning. I will give up football and wander the Earth, a figure broken and forlorn. Those words evocative enough for you?”
(Newton’s actual response: “We lost.”)
Then the deal-breaker: “I know you’re disappointed not just for yourself, but for your teammates. It’s got to be real tough. Because you guys talked about how you’re a band of brothers coming in, and this has to be really tough for everyone involved.”
This is my least favorite type of question, largely because — maybe you noticed — there’s no question. This is a statement. (Three statements, to be exact. Another 231 words and it would have been as long as the Gettysburg Address.) Even if such a rambling non-question elicits a response, it’s rarely anything more than, “Yes, I am. Yes, it is.”
For the record, Newton said: “I’m done, man.” I might have been, too. And I’m a media person.
One final thing: My other pet peeve among press-conference questions is the staple, “Talk about (insert topic — usually a player’s name — here).” Most coaches and players will play along with this one. I wouldn’t. I’d say, “Is that a question?” Because it isn’t, either.