Atlanta Falcons Blog

Atlanta Falcons blog by D. Orlando Ledbetter, the pro football and Atlanta Falcons reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Cover 9@9: Only two No. 6 seeds have ever won the Super Bowl

Good morning! Welcome to The Cover 9@9 blog. It's our weekly blog of nine things at 9 a.m. Wednesday that you need to know about the sixth-seededAtlanta Falcons (10-6). The defending NFC champion Falcons are set to face the third-seeded Los Angeles Rams (11-5)  at 8:15 p.m. Saturday at the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

1. THE HARD ROAD: The Falcons, as sixth seed, must travel the tough road to avenge their defeat to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI.

The Falcons are set to face the upstart Los Angeles Rams, who are led by Marist School grad Sean McVay, at 8:15 p.m. Saturday at the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Since the wildcard round was added to the NFL playoffs in 1970, 10 wildcard teams have advance to the Super Bowl, six have won the Super Bowl, but only two -- Pittsburgh 2005 and Green Bay 2010 – have been sixth seeds.

The Oakland Raiders (1980), Denver Broncos (1997), Baltimore Ravens (2000) and New York Giants (2007) have won the Super Bowl after being wildcard teams.

Also, the losing Super Bowl team has not made it  back to the big game since the 1994 Buffalo Bills.

The Falcons played the 2010 Packers as the No. 1 seed and were upset at the Georgia Dome. It was a close game until Aaron Rodgers started to dissect the Falcons' secondary and the Packers pulled away on their way to a 48-21 woodshedding.

The Falcons are this season’s sixth seed and second wildcard team in the NFC.

Since the NFL expanded the playoffs to six teams in each conference in 1990, sixth seeds have won 30 of 80 postseason games (a success rate of 37.5 percent). Sixth seeds have won multiple games in the same playoffs only four times (2005, ’08, ’10, ’13).

Last season, both sixth seeds were pummeled. Third-seeded Seattle beat sixth-seed Detroit 26-6 in the NFC and third-seed Pittsburgh thumped sixth-seed Miami 30-12.

After the 2015 season, Seattle and Pittsburgh won one game as sixth seeds before losing in the divisional round to Carolina and Denver, respectively.

The Falcons remain undeterred.

“We know that the easy road is not for us, (it’s) the hard road,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “We like those opportunites. We understand that you have to earn them.”

Quarterback Matt Ryan said, “We feel about our process and our experiences in the past. For everybody, all of the experiences that we’ve have had, we feel good about how that has shaped us into the team that we are right now.

“We’re confident. We believe in ourselves and believe that we’ll be ready to play on Saturday night.”

2. RYAN'S BATTLE-TESTED: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is set to make his franchise-leading sixth appearance in the NFL playoffs.

The Falcons (10-6) and the sixth seed are set to face the surprising Los Angeles Rams (11-5) at 8:15 p.m. Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Ryan’s been to one Super Bowl (0-1), two NFC championships games (1-1), three divisional round games (2-1) and two wild card rounds (0-2) since coming in the NFL in 2008.

Ryan, who just completed his 10th regular season, is 3-5 in the playoffs and 0-2 on the road with wildcard playoffs losses at Arizona after the 2008 regular season and at the New York Giants after the 2011 season. Both of those teams went on to play in the Super Bowl.

“We’re all excited for this opportunity,” said Ryan on Tuesday. “We’ve all worked really hard throughout the offseason and throughout the season to get here. I expect us to have another good week of preparation.”

Ryan guided the Falcons to a 11-5 record as a rookie and earned a wildcard berth. They faced Kurt Warner, who’ll call this game on national radio, and the Cardinals.

Things were going along well with Falcons leading 17-14 until Darnell Dockett tossed guard Harvey Dahl into Ryan and caused a fumble in the third quarter. Arizona’s Antrel Rolle scooped up the fumble and returned it for a touchdown. The Cardinals went on to win 30-24.

“It feels like it was yesterday, honestly, it goes by so quick,” Ryan said. “But I think you learn from all of those experiences. You learn that you have to get into your routine and make it feel really normal. Then go out there and execute and play the way your capable of. Settling in and knowing that making it feel normal is the key to this time of the year.”

Last season, the Falcons stormed to the Super Bowl after going 11-5 and earning the second seed. They dismantled Seattle in the divisional round 36-20 and thrashed Green Bay 44-21 in the NFC championship game.

In the Super Bowl, the Falcons went up 28-3 before their historic collapse and were defeated 34-28 in overtime by New England.

Those two defeats, the first one to the Cardinals and the one to New England, has shaped the way Ryan plans to get ready, for the first time as a sixth seed, for the Rams.

“I think it’s trusting your process and believing in the process that we have as a team and as an organization,” Ryan said. “We do a very good job during the week of getting ourselves prepared and ready to play.”

By sticking to the routine is a key part of getting ready for the playoffs for Ryan.

“That provides confidence,” Ryan said. “I think guys need to focus on doing the best that they can with where their feet are at on that time of the day. If we do that, we’re locked in at meetings, practice and walk-throughs.

“That’s going to give us the best chances to be successful on Saturday night.”

3: QUINN IN THE POSTSEASON: Dan Quinn is just one of two Falcons coaches with at least two postseason wins.

It’s not a rich history.

Quinn currently has the Falcons record for best playoff winning percentage after his two seasons. As the franchise plays its 23rd postseason game on Saturday, Quinn has a chance to equal the record for number of wins, tying Dan Reeves.

4. SUPER BOWL ODDS: The Falcons have 18-to-1 odds to win the Super Bowl, according to oddsmaker Brovada. They have the seventh best odds of the NFL’s 12 playoff teams.

The Falcons entered the final regular-season finale at 28-to-1 before they defeated the Panthers 22-10 on Sunday to earn the final postseason berth in the NFC.

5. LEVITRE PLACE ON INJURED RESERVE: The Falcons placed Andy Levitre on injured reserve Tuesday after the starting left guard was re-injured in Sunday’s regular-season finale.

The team signed running back Terrence Magee from the practice squad to fill the roster sport ahead of the Falcons’ wild-card playoff game at the Rams on Saturday.

“He really tried to put forth the effort to see if he could go (against the Panthers),” Quinn said Tuesday. “He had a good week of practice and thought it would be good. He went through some plays and he went through the game, he wasn’t able to function like he can. We are bummed for him, but we appreciate how hard he strained to try to get back.”

Ben Garland replaced Levitre in the starting lineup in the three games. He came on against the Panthers and played 67 of 72 offensive  snaps (93 percent).

The Falcons are preparing to play the Rams at 8:15 p.m. Saturday at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The Rams defensive line is led by four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

6. HAS LEVITRE PLAYED HIS LAST GAME WITH THE FALCONS?: Levitre is under contract for 2018 and set to receive $5.8 million plus a $2 million roster bonus is he makes the team. Garland is set to be a restricted free agent and could be re-signed much cheaper.

7. TOILOLO BACK: Tight end Levine Toilolo (knee) did not play against the Panthers, but returned to practice on Tuesday. He was limited.

Center Alex Mack (calf), wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (hamstring) and defensive end Adrian Clayborn (calf) were all limited.

Wide receiver Julio Jones (ankle/ribs), running back Devonta Freeman (knee) and returner Andre Roberts (knee/ankle) did not practice on Tuesday.

With Toilolo out against the Panthers, when the Falcons wanted to run double-tight-end formations, they used tackle Ty Sambrailo as the second tight end.

8. ARMSTRONG TO GET INTERVIEW WITH CARDINALS:  Falcons special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong is a candidate to replace Bruce Arians as Arizona’s head coach, according to Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times.

9. DEPTH CHART: The Falcons released their depth chart for the NFC wildcard game against the Los Angeles, which is set for 8:15 p.m on Saturday at the Los Angeles Coliseum, on Tuesday.

With Andy Levitre being placed on injured reserve, Ben Garland was elevated to the top spot at left guard.

Here’s the depth chart:


WR 11 Julio Jones , 14 Justin Hardy, 19 Andre Roberts

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 74 Ty Sambrailo

LG 63 Ben Garland, 64 Sean Harlow

C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland

RG 71 Wes Schweitzer, 75 Jamil Douglas

RT 73 Ryan Schraeder ,68 Austin Pasztor

TE 81 Austin Hooper, 80 Levine Toilolo, 85 Eric Saubert

WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Taylor Gabriel, 17 Marvin Hall, 15 Nick Williams

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub

RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 28 Terron Ward, 25 Terrence Magee

FB 40 Derrick Coleman


DE 50 Brooks Reed, 99 Adrian Clayborn, 98 Takk McKinley

DT 92 Dontari Poe, 79 Ahtyba Rubin

DT 97 Grady Jarrett

DE 90 Derrick Shelby, 91 Courtney Upshaw

LB 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 53 LaRoy Reynolds

LB 45 Deion Jones, 56 Sean Weatherspoon

LB 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 42 Duke Riley, 36 Kemal Ishmael

CB 23 Robert Alford, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson

CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 34 Brian Poole, 35 Leon McFadden

S 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Damontae Kazee

S 22 Keanu Neal, 20 Sharrod Neasman


K 3 Matt Bryant

KO 5 Matt Bosher

P 5 Matt Bosher

KR 19 Andre Roberts, 14 Justin Hardy

PR 19 Andre Roberts, 18 Taylor Gabriel

LS 47 Josh Harris

H 5 Matt Bosher

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About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.