Coming into the 2016 season, the Atlanta Falcons were tasked with overcoming the toughest schedule in the NFL, based on opponents records from the previous season.
Silencing the Superdome
Week 3 came around quicker than most thought it would. After Atlanta bounced back from an opening week loss by beating the Oakland Raiders in Oakland, a huge road game against the New Orleans Saints was their next test. The build up to the game discussed the ten year anniversary of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome reopening in New Orleans and the Falcons were determined to make a statement.
Despite a quiet game from star wide receiver Julio Jones, the Falcons lit the Superdome up on a Monday night by putting up 45 points. An early confidence booster for a young Falcons team, with a big win over a divisional rival.
Beasley's Breakout Game
On a three-game win streak, the Falcons marched into Denver to battle the reigning Super Bowl champs in Week 5. That game would be known as Vic Beasley Jr.'s breakout game as the second-year pass rusher out of Clemson erupted for 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles en route to a 23-16 win for Atlanta. The win proved that the Falcons could hang with any defense while their own young defense showed just how good it could be.
Beasley's output in that game would be continued throughout the season as he finished the regular season as the NFL leader in sacks (15.5) and forced fumbles (6).
Bye Week Comes at the Right Time
By the time Week 10 rolled around, Atlanta's offense had begun to get the praise it rightfully deserved. The offense would stall against the Philadelphia Eagles though, managing just 15 points in the only game they were held to under 20 points.
The loss would help Atlanta heading into the bye week as they had to prepare for Arizona's elite defense following the bye. They were more than prepared as the Falcons offense bounced back by putting up 38 points in a rout.
KC Kickstart an Atlanta Run
The Week 13 matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons saw two playoff contenders square off with plenty of teams still aiming to prove themselves to the rest of the NFL. One of the most exciting games of the season unfolded in the Georgia Dome but a pick six by Atlanta-native Eric Berry before halftime saw momentum shift before Berry again intercepted Matt Ryan on a two-point conversion attempt to seal a huge road win for the Chiefs.
The game would set off a spark in Ryan, who since the two crucial interceptions, has not thrown an interception in the six games following. The streak that followed wrapped up the NFC South title and the NFC's number two seed in the playoffs.
The final two games of the no-interception streak were playoffs win over the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers. The stretch that saw Atlanta defeat an elite Seattle defense, before shutting down MVP-candidate Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Championship to secure a trip to Super Bowl LI. Ryan's phenomenal play in both games proved his doubters wrong and confirmed why he is the favorite to win the NFL MVP.
The playoff run to the Super Bowl was one that not many expected, despite Atlanta being the number two seed. There were plenty of key turning points throughout the season, but the playoff performances of Matt Ryan saw Atlanta reach their first Super Bowl since 1999.