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Falcons' overlooked greatness, Belichick and Popovich, more

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Chris Wesseling has had it up to HERE with the faulty football logic he's seen flying fast and furious lately. Below, he thoroughly -- if a bit crankily -- debunks some of the more galling popular fallacies that have taken root:

Stop discrediting the Atlanta Falcons

When Matt Ryan became the first quarterback in 126 games of the Pete Carroll era to pass for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns without an interception against the Seahawks, Seattle fans dismissed that extraordinary performance as a byproduct of injured safety Earl Thomas' absence.

When Ryan eviscerated Green Bay's defense to become the first player of the Super Bowl era to record at least four passing touchdowns without an interception while rushing for at least one score in a playoff game, Packers fans pointed to defensive coordinator Dom Capers as the culprit.

To paraphrase James Carville, it's not your defense. It's Atlanta's juggernaut offense, stupid.

While the national media spent four months salivating over the Dallas Cowboys, pausing briefly to worship at the altar of Aaron Rodgers, they missed the boat on a high-octane Falcons attack that stands as one of the most effective in NFL history.

The legendary 2007 Patriots are the only team ever to score on a higher percentage of drives than Atlanta's 52.6 this season. If the Falcons emerge victorious in Super Bowl LI, they will be the highest-scoring champions the football world has ever seen.

Led by an unparalleled play-caller and schemer, this offense features the MVP favorite channeling 2007 Tom Brady, the NFL's premier complementary backfield, a Randy Moss-like talent leading the league's deepest receiving corps and the only offensive line to start the same five players in every game.

The national media might have just woken up to this offense's truly terrifying nature, but the Falcons have been here all along.

Sample-size absurdity

While the New York Post was mythologizing a fabled beast named Playoff Eli earlier this month, the newspaper also promoted the ridiculous notion that Ryan's uneven performance through five career playoff games qualified him for postseason choker status.

To be fair, the Post was hardly alone in espousing that tiny sample-size absurdity. Many writers tasked with previewing the Seahawks-Falcons Divisional Round matchup gave Seattle a decisive edge at quarterback due to Ryan's dubious January track record.

That take is pure, unvarnished hogwash.

Why on God's green earth would you put more stock in one playoff game from Ryan's 2008 rookie season -- which he played with a completely different supporting cast and coaching staff -- than 16 games of the 2016 season?

Ryan's checkered postseason history really came down to three disappointing starts in his first three appearances. It was obvious that he was a more mature quarterback by January of 2013, when he posted a 70.1 completion rate, 8.4 yards per attempt and 105.2 passer rating in two games versus the Seahawks and 49ers.

With a pair of scintillating performances over the past two weeks, Ryan is now in sole possession of the longest postseason streak (four games) in the Super Bowl era with three or more touchdown passes.

If you're keeping track at home, Ryan owns a 67.6 postseason completion rate, a 16:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio, a 98.8 passer rating -- and his Falcons have posted at least 24 points in five of seven playoff games. Playoff Eli's postseason numbers by comparison: 60.5 completion rate, 18:9 TD-to-INT ratio, 87.4 passer rating and three of 12 games with at least 24 points.

Before you parrot your favorite hot-take artist, do us all a favor and check the sample size for a modicum of validity.

Are the Patriots the NFL's version of the San Antonio Spurs?

Zack Goldman, "Around The NFL Podcast" producer emeritus, was among the AFC Championship Game observers to draw that comparison last Sunday.

It's an interesting connection, one with substantial shared DNA.

Bill Belichick and Gregg Popovich have each carved out a corner in the coaching pantheon of their respective sports, successfully establishing a lasting culture of substance over style that runs contrary to outside forces at work on professional athletes.

Both coaches have shown the consistent ability to identify spare parts and transform them into key components of championship-caliber teams.

Pilfered from the division-rival Bills, former lacrosse star Chris Hogan set a new franchise record versus the Steelers with 180 yards -- more than he recorded in his entire college career. Acquired from the Lions and Eagles, respectively, in under-the-radar early-season trades, linebacker Kyle Van Noy and cornerback Eric Rowe generated the two takeaways on New England's defense.

Dion Lewis, the record-setting star of New England's Divisional Round victory, was signed off the street to a reserve/future contract after failing to find a team for the entirety of the 2014 season.

The San Antonio Spurs have similarly benefited from discarded or overlooked role players such as Bruce Bowen, Robert Horry, Malik Rose and Boris Diaw.

As much respect as Belichick garners as pro football's preeminent strategist, his brilliance as a team-builder is underappreciated. He understands a championship team is not comprised of the best 53 players, but the right 53.

When Belichick stunningly and unceremoniously jettisons marquee names such as Lawyer Milloy, Richard Seymour, Randy Moss, Logan Mankins, Chandler Jones or Jamie Collins, it's with that guiding principle in mind: team over stars.

Just as Popovich and Tim Duncan were the unshakeable infrastructure around which the Spurs maintained their dynasty for two decades, Belichick has leaned on Tom Brady as his keystone mixture of selflessness and a singled-minded maniacal commitment to winning.

"No one cares who gets the ball," tight end Martellus Bennett said after last week's game. "You may not get any passes, I don't give a s---. I just want to win."

That testimony is coming from an alleged bad seed who was shipped out of Chicago with the label of being a me-first player. Just as they did with Moss and Corey Dillon, the Patriots targeted a prideful, talented player surrounded by dispiriting ineptitude and granted him a new lease on life with the sport's model franchise.

The most tangible evidence of hegemony? The Spurs won at least 50 games in 18 of Duncan's 19 seasons -- more than 26 of the remaining 29 organizations have managed since they entered the NBA. Similarly, the Steelers (16), 49ers (15) and Cowboys (14) are the only NFL organizations with more conference championship game appearances than Brady (11).

To accomplish that feat in the salary-cap era is "nothing short of a miracle," CBS analyst Boomer Esiason raved this week, making the Patriots the best-run organization in sports.

"I kind of relate it to Gregg Popovich and how he coached Tim Duncan," Patriots special teams star Matthew Slater recently explained to The MMQB. "These guys, they don't care who you are or what you've done. They want things done a certain way and that sets the tone for the rest of the team.

"You understand, if he holds the biggest star, the most successful player on the team, to a certain standard, then you know, well, I certainly better be on my job. That's been consistent throughout my nine years here."

Standing above the American professional sports landscape, the Patriots and the Spurs are the gold standard for accomplishment when every member of the organization is pulling in the same direction.

Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.

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