The Atlanta Falcons are playing high-level football at the right time. The way they opened against the Saints was possibly the best example of that.
Coaches often talk about playing their best football heading into the playoffs. Dan Quinn must feel good about what his team is doing right now.
The Falcons stack up well against the remaining NFL teams. At least according to the scoreboard and numbers in recent weeks.
Atlanta closed out the regular season with their fourth consecutive win, an offense that is playing at historically elite levels, and a defense that is visibly better at the end of the season than they were at the start. And they've got a quarterback that is playing as well as anyone in the league heading into the postseason.
The New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers can all lay claim to the 'hottest' title as well. The Patriots and Steelers both won their final seven games of the regular season, and the Packers carry a six-game winning streak into the playoffs following tonight's win over the Lions.
But in terms of consistently outplaying their opponents on both sides of the ball during that stretch, the Patriots and Falcons seem to be the two teams to watch coming into the playoffs.
In their final six games of the regular season, Atlanta outscored their opponents by more than 16 points per game (36.7 - 20.5). The Falcons offense is scoring at a rate few teams can compete with.
And they are being led by a quarterback who is playing at a level that stacks up well against any other player in the league. Ryan compiled passer ratings over 100.0 in five of the last six regular season games, and his one sub-100 rating was 90.0. He's thrown 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions in that time.
But it's the emergence of the Falcons defense over that span that has changed the way this team looks. That unit has been allowing eight fewer points per game in their last six games than they did during their first 10. And that includes nine points given up by the offense against Kansas City, as well as 19 fourth quarter points against the New Orleans Saints in tonight's game, after the outcome was largely decided.
The Patriots are the only team outscoring their opponents at a greater clip in their final six games than Atlanta. But they're doing it a little differently than the Falcons are. New England isn't scoring at the same rate, but they boast the league's top scoring defense, finishing the regular season having given up just 15.6 points per game. And they got better during the stretch run, allowing only 11.7 points per game over their final six games.
And Tom Brady is nothing to sneeze at. His touchdown-to-interception ratio is an astounding 28-to-2. In their final six regular season games, Brady threw 12 touchdowns, and just one interception.
The Packers and Steelers will also be favorites entering the Playoffs, and the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC still goes through Dallas.
But if you're just looking at the numbers, including final scores, Atlanta and New England are looking superb heading into the playoffs.