Originally written on Cippin on Sports  |  Last updated 12/4/12
The Falcons, speeding off to an 11-1 record through the season’s first thirteen weeks, clinched the NFC South on Thursday with a win over the Saints.  They have done so with a lineup on the offensive side of the ball that is almost identical to last year’s squad, and that helped the team to a (still not shabby) 10-6 finish and a wild-card entry to (and first-round exit from) the playoffs. What’s changed this year?  Strangely, it hasn’t been an improvement in either offensive or defensive performance.  In fact, Atlanta’s DVOA on both sides of the ball has actually fallen (the ratings below are as of week 12; as of this writing, Football Outsiders’ stats were not yet updated to include week 13): Year Off. DVOA Lg. Rank Pass Rank Rush Rank 2012 4.0% 14 19.9% 13 -16.6% 27 2011 6.1% 11 23.2% 8 -7.3% 23 Year Def. DVOA* Lg. Rank Pass Rank Rush Rank 2012 1.1% 16 0.5% 12 1.9% 24 2011 -9.1% 8 -1.8% 11 -19.1% 3 *Remember that, for defensive DVOA, the lower the number, the better (so last year’s overall -9.1% DVOA is significantly better than this year’s 1.1%). Atlanta’s success despite a drop-off in performance is not just a result of its easy schedule (according to PFR’s SoS rating system); DVOA adjusts for quality of opponents, so it indicates that Atlanta is actually performing less effectively, in a vacuum, than it did last year.  The most significant culprit is the vast difference between this year’s team and last year’s in its record in close games.  This season, the Falcons are 7-1 (.875) in games decided by seven points or less; last year, they were 4-3 (.571).  And Matt Ryan, after leading three fourth-quarter comebacks and three game-winning drives last season, already has four and six, respectively, this year (leading the league in both categories). The difference made by performance in tight games is reflected not only in the team’s overall record, but in the difference between its actual record and its expected record according to point differential (see PFR’s discussion of football’s Pythagorean Theorem for an explanation of how wins can be projected based on points-for and points-against): Year W-L Point Diff. Expected W-L Diff. in Wins 2012 11-1 +88 8.2-3.8 +2.8 2011 10-6 +52 9.3-6.7 +0.7 Much of Atlanta’s success this year thus results from its ability to pull out wins in close games, as it has won almost three more games than expected based on its point differential.  What does this mean for the remainder of the Falcons’ season, and for their chances of finally winning a playoff game?  It has been argued that, historically, “winning blowouts is a far better indicator of championship quality than winning close games”; on the other hand, though, last year’s Super Bowl champions went 7-3 in games decided by seven or fewer points, including the final two games of their playoff run. In a future column, we will take a look at the performances of other title contenders in 2012 in order to sort out whose potential Super Bowl trips could be “expected,” and those who could once again demonstrate that, in pro football, regular season performance matters far less than being on top of one’s game in the deep winter months. —- Box of the Week Washington Redskins 17, New York Giants 16 The Redskins ran for a total of 207 yards against the Giants on Monday, as rookie back Alfred Morris passed the 1,000-yard mark in the twelfth game of the year.  He is tied with Doug Martin for third in the league in rushing yards with 1,106, and he is on pace to rush for almost 1,500 this season.  Together with rookie QB Robert Griffin III (whose 714 yards on the ground is first among quarterbacks, and 21st overall), Morris has helped lead Washington to the top of the league in rushing in 2012. —- The Rounds: It’s time again to start messing with ESPN’s Playoff Machine. The walls continue to fall in Philadelphia. Fitzgerald on the pain of being an A+ receiver in a D offense. Handshakes now bear watching, apparently. Ed Reed made the most Ed Reed play ever Sunday against the Steelers. Colin Kaepernick’s tattoos became a big deal this week. Titus Young likes to freelance at the line. Dan Snyder is all-in with his team’s intra-divisional animosities. The Bus Egger saga has come to an anticlimactic close. This didn’t really almost happen. — Greg Blume writes here and rambles there.
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Report: Former Jets exec leaked false Deflategate info to ESPN

Belichick on sticking it to NFL: 'Really not very important to me'

Yankees, Astros reportedly both pursuing Craig Kimbrel

Urban Meyer hints JT Barrett leads Ohio State starting QB competition

Boras: Marlins players are angry Marcell Ozuna is in minors


Report: Chancellor officially holding out of training camp

Cardinals' Jen Welter is 'tired of hearing about Tom Brady's balls'

Sandoval downplays talk about weight, conditioning, defense

Astros acquire Carlos Gomez from Brewers

Richardson charged for resisting arrest after high-speed chase

Yankees finally get Dustin Ackley

Urban Meyer will make us wait on OSU's starting QB decision

Compelling camp competitions: #5 Bradford vs. Sanchez

Five most overrated NFL players heading into 2015 season

Giants acquire Mike Leake from Reds for two prospects

Twins closer's wife pens essay about Twitter hate he's enduring

Kings set to make Lieberman NBA’s second female coach

Is Julius Randle a star?

Projecting the prospects in the David Price trade

'Miracle on Ice' goalie selling Olympic gear for $5.7 million

Josh Smith addresses ‘harder on me’ comment in essay

Examining the state of the NFL

Steelers players: Who is Jimmy Garoppolo?

All Sports News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Examining the state of the NFL

Puig: Broke out of slump by playing baseball video games

Braves dump risk, exchange it for risk

David Price traded to Blue Jays

The indefensible Hulk Hogan

Cole Hamels chose Rangers over Astros

Can Preller fix the mess in San Diego?

Next summer's top 10 NBA free agents

Who is the NL's new top shortstop?

Cardinals HC Bruce Arians calls Jen Welter a 'trailblazer'

Mets still act like a small-market team

Tom Brady: I did nothing wrong

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Follow Yardbarker