If someone asked you last year to name the class of the NFC, you’d say the Green Bay Packers. Or, maybe the Green Bay Packers. The Saints would also be an acceptable answer, and some people may even say the Eagles, Bears or Cowboys.
But the Falcons and 49ers? Nope. Now, in my opinion, they are.
San Francisco is 2-1 and Atlanta is 3-0 this year, and both have looked impressive. The 49ers struggled and seemed uninspired in their shocking loss against the Vikings, but they dominated against the Packers and Lions. Atlanta has beat the Chiefs, Broncos and Chargers, and they’ve looked very impressive.
The 49ers have a great defense, although you wouldn’t know it from watching them against the Vikings. Atlanta’s defense is also very underrated, as they have forced an astounding 11 turnovers so far, all against prolific offenses. Mike Nolan is a perfect fit at defensive coordinator, and he has guys who know what to do.
Against the Broncos, the Falcons changed their defense right before the snap to confuse Peyton Manning, and it worked. Manning threw three interceptions in the first quarter, and the Falcons ended up winning the game. They’ve allowed an average of 16 points per game, and with their offense, it’s almost impossible to beat them.
Matt Ryan has proven that he can be an MVP-caliber quarterback, and Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez have proven that they can catch passes and get open. All three are valuable weapons, and Ryan knows who to throw the ball to.
His arm strength is much improved, and the same goes with a decision-making. If you asked me which quarterback improved most over the offseason, I would say Ryan or Alex Smith.
Smith is also a great quarterback, and he has some decent weapons to work with. Vernon Davis, Mario Manningham, Kyle Williams and Randy Moss are all decent pass-catchers, and Frank Gore makes the offense two-dimensional.
His streak of 249 pass attempts without an interception was recently snapped, but Smith is still an accurate quarterback who can move downfield without turning the ball over. He’s also got Frank Gore, who has started the season at a blistering pace.
Oh, and Smith has some pass-catching weapons too.
Both teams have playoff experience, although Ryan has never won a playoff game. Smith was great in the playoffs, throwing for five touchdowns in two games. Ryan has done well, but his past experience should be a factor this season. Atlanta’s defense is much improved, and they have looked unstoppable so far.
And, both teams are pretty young. Ryan and Jones are both young, while White and Michael Turner will play for a while. Sean Weatherspoon, the best player on Atlanta’s defense, is also very young, and he’s only going to get better.
Williams, Davis, Manningham, Gore, Willis, Bowman, all three Smiths and many more 49er stars are both young. They are improving each year, and so is the team.
Even though you may not think these teams are great, they are both well-rounded, young teams who are dominating. Both have prolific offenses and talented defense, and both are great at forcing turnovers. Each year, both teams are improving, and it feels like they’ve both reached their peak.
The Giants are an on-and-off team, and the same goes for middle class teams like the Cowboys, Lions, Bears and Eagles. The Packers have one star, and they haven’t looked impressive at all this year. They have reached the top, and they’re about to complete their roller-coaster ride.
But for the Falcons and 49ers, it’s just getting started. And their prime years will last for a long time.
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