The Song of the Dirty South

The South has indeed risen again.

No, not that South. Not the Gone With the Wind, Scarlett — and — Rhett kind of South, ya’ll.

We’re talking about the NFC South.

The NFC South is a division of the NFL that is inhabited by the likes of the New Orleans Saints, the Carolina Panthers, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Atlanta Falcons. Since the Houston Texans joined the NFL and realignment occurred in 2002, an NFC South team has represented the NFC in the Super Bowl every season.

Granted, this has only been the third season since the realignment, but we may see another team from the South reach the Super Bowl again this year.

The Atlanta Falcons have fought their way into the NFC Championship against, you guessed it, the Philadelphia Eagles. Atlanta last made it to the Super Bowl in 1998, when they faced the Elway-led Denver Broncos, losing a laugher 34-19.

Sunday will mark the fourth consecutive time the Eagles have marched into the championship game and also the third consecutive season they have held home field advantage. Well, they lost the past three and were heavily favored in the last two games, so what makes the public think they will come through in the clutch this time?

I’m not buying it. Here are three good reasons why Philadelphia fans might be frowning this weekend.

First, Atlanta is a three-headed monster on offense, with the No. 1-ranked rushing attack in the league.

The combination of Michael Vick, Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett has the Falcons averaging more than 150 yards a game. They also put up these numbers against excellent defenses like Tampa Bay and Carolina, who they played twice each this year. Second, the Eagles are vulnerable against the run.

The team who gave Philly its first loss this season was the Pittsburgh Steelers, and they boast the No. 2-ranked rushing attack in the league. They made Philly look silly, even with Terrell Owens.

Third, clock control.

These rushing attacks keep a good-looking Eagle offense off the field and can control the pace of the game. Carolina had a similar blueprint for last year’s NFC Championship game and it worked wonders. The rushing pair of Stephen Davis and Deshawn Foster kept the ball out of the Eagles’ hands for most of the second half. Throw some Michael Vick into the mix and you’ve got a Super Bowl special.

But there is also a fourth reason: They are the Eagles.

The South has the Eagles’ number, and don’t expect that to change anytime soon. While Philly makes all the big-name splashes signing players like T.O. and Jevon Kearse, Atlanta has silently built an exciting football team behind Michael Vick and co. They have navigated the cap exceptionally well thanks to former Buccaneers General Manager Rich McKay, who was with the Buccaneers on their Super Bowl run.

I could be wrong, in which case I will gladly place my foot in my mouth. But if I was a betting man, I’d place my wager on the Dirty Birds.