How about a Falcons-Texans Super Bowl? - NBC Sports

How about a Falcons-Texans Super Bowl?
We might be debating Schaub vs. Ryan in February, not the usual stars we've come to expect
October 2, 2012, 5:10 pm

Give yourselves a hand, Americans. You could be a scout leader who let his Webelos get sun poisoning, an orthopedist who sawed into the wrong femur or any Steve Carell character ever and you're still better at your job than the NFL's replacement referees were at theirs.

Those crews bumbled and bungled their way through the first three weeks of the season, managing to singlehandedly (or quadruple-handedly, if you count Lance Easley and Derrick Rhone-Dunn dumbly signaling that touchdown last Monday night) overshadow the games they were calling.

Now that we're one week into what finally seems like the real season, we can appreciate their one positive contribution: that even in the most supercharged of election years, whether we're Democrats or GOP-ers, NFC-ers or AFC-ers, we can all agree on one thing: that they were undeniably awful. Congratulations, scabs. You were the Nickelback of sports officials.

On Sunday, I was able to stop cringing in the refs' general direction (not counting that craptastic Darren Sproles "down by contact" call in Green Bay) and start focusing on the players again, especially the ones who have very quietly played well so far.

Houston has Schaub-ed their way to their first 4-0 start in franchise history. Atlanta is 4-0 for the first time since 2004 (a season that ended in the NFC Championship) and Arizona - ARIZONA! - with their powerful, 24th-ranked offense is inexplicably 4-0 for the first time since 1974.

The Cardinals' early success has been a fluke, like a genetic mutation or the United States choking away the Ryder Cup. With apologies to both Kevin Kolb and the Arizona hat I wear in public, I don't see them sustaining it.

But Atlanta and Houston will. The Texans' offense has an insane plus-70 point differential and their defense has only surrendered 47 points.

And both teams have already sent Peyton Manning to the losers' locker room with his worst passer rating since 2008 (58.5 against Atlanta) and his second lowest completion percentage since 2007 (50 against Houston).

It might be early to start winging wild speculations around, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub staring at each other from opposite sides of Sports Illustrated's Super Bowl preview issue.

After nine years of Patriots and Giants and Steelers and Colts, the thought of Atlanta-Houston in Super Bowl XLVII is enough to make CBS executives sweat through their tailored suits. They should probably start dipping each other into vats of AXE body spray, because this could be the year it happens.

Ryan is sitting on top of the statistical categories, with an NFL-leading passer rating (112.1) and second-best marks in completion percentage (69.4) and touchdowns (11), an improvement over this time last year when he had a 62 percent completion percentage, with six touchdowns and four interceptions. The Falcons also had a 2-2 record.

As for Houston, they have a good chance to make it through the struggling New York Tebows with their win streak and their earlobes intact (and Schaub should be totally offended that his missing ear chunk didn't even get its own Twitter account. You know @TommyBradysEar TOTALLY would've been a thing).

Houston supposedly has the fourth weakest schedule in the NFL and - after they welcome the Packers and the Ravens to Reliant Stadium in Weeks 6 and 7 - it looks like their biggest opponents could be their injury report.

In Week 10 last year, Schaub suffered a season-ending foot injury, the highlight of which was hearing Texas natives pronounce the word 'Lisfranc.'

It also meant that the team's first-ever playoff appearances were put in the hands of backup-backup T.J. Yates, the rookie with five career starts. (And they still just lost the Division playoff by a touchdown).

Running back Arian Foster is also getting back to speed - literally - after a hamstring injury kept him on the sidelines for three games last season. After a slow(er) start, he's averaging 3.7 yards per carry (below his career mark) and an even 95 yards per game.

Yes, I know the season's just one quarter over, so it's totally ridiculous to talk about the postseason. I know Houston's entire playoff CV is so short that Old Navy couldn't help but invent a championship for them. I know Atlanta hasn't been in the same room with the Lombardi trophy since 1998. And I know their one-and-out playoff appearances have become a January tradition, right up there with trying to return the Hillshire Farms sausage sampler you got for Christmas.

But I also know Houston and Atlanta are what we're going to be talking about in February, when we stumble into our offices bleary eyed and Dorito-stained on that post-XLVII Monday.

And regardless of who wins, when I think back to how the season started, I'll be extra relieved that we're not still talking about those refs.

Jelisa Castrodale has learned a lot about life by making a mess of her own. Read more at jelisacastrodale.com, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/gordonshumway, or contact her at jacastrodale@gmail.com.



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