Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has already thrown for over 2,000 yards (2,265), and his team shares the best record in the NFL (7-2) with seven games to go. He is one of the most consistent offensive cogs (16 touchdowns) on a team that is not afraid to beat their adversaries by a field goal or two when they have to.
Under Matt Ryan, the Falcons exhibit the kind of teamwork and synergy on offense the Patriots perfected in past seasons under Bill Belichick, and it always seems to come as a package deal with a bend-but-don't break defense. The team exhibits the mentailty Terry Francona drilled into the heads of the 2004 World Champion Red Sox when they found themselves down 3-0 to the Yankees in the playoffs: "Just Win Today."
This is the type of team that is emerging this year as a potential juggernaut, and it's one that hinges on how good Ryan really is and can be when it comes to crunch time. The toughest teams on paper Atlanta will face the rest of this season are the Saints (December 27), the Buccaneers (December 05), and the Packers (November 28). But, the Falcons go into those games having beaten two out of the three already. It will be the first time they face the Packers this year, but at least it won't be in the land of Cheeseheads.
Ryan's receivers and the offensive line's great protection are part of his success, but natural talent is another vital ingredient. Check out Matty Ballgame when he played for Boston College:
When you put the ball in just the right spot at just the right time when your team needs it most, you become the definition of a gamer. Matt Ryan may well be the real deal, and he has the potential to take his team deep into the playoffs.
But the bigger question is can he match up to Michael Vick, who he hasn't had to face this year? That's the tipping point, when you find out what a true champion he is. Vick's got about half as much yardage but the exact same completion rating as Ryan so far. The secret weapon factor goes to Vick, though, since he's the Eagles' second leading rusher even though he's been in a quarterback by committee setup for much of the year.
Ryan will be as good as his defense lets him be if the playoffs bring him a chance to face Vick. Depending on who gets home field advantage it could be one of the best games of the year. These are two teams who have nothing much to fear going through their respective remaining schedules. Bring the popcorn.
Thanks to our friends at Betcom Sportsbook for this article.