Not that there isn’t reason to be concerned about the Falcons, what with Matt Ryan struggling, and Michael Turner hobbling, and the defense never being that good to begin with, even before injuries.
But have you looked around? I just did.
For sake of argument, let’s give the four divisions in the NFC to New Orleans (South), Minnesota (North), Dallas (East) and Arizona (West). That leaves up to seven teams (I’m being generous) vying for two wild card berths in the conference. It’s way too early to get into tiebreakers, although it’s worth noting that losing to the New York Giants Sunday would hurt the Falcons in head-to-head scenarios. But you know what? The Giants may not even get that far.
Here’s the breakdown. I’m listing the teams in order of how I would rank their wild card chances.
♦ Green Bay (5-4): I’m betting the Packers are in. They have a relatively easy schedule with one very difficult game (at Pittsburgh). The others: San Francisco, at Detroit, Baltimore, at Chicago, Seattle, at Arizona. Simplified projection: 5-2 and a final record of 10-6. Yes, Green Bay lost to Tampa Bay two weeks ago. But it bounced back to beat Dallas last week, and that team probably is closer to reality. The Packers are a solid team and they’re through the toughest part of their schedule. Translation: No more games against Brett Favre.
♦ Falcons (5-4): Of their seven remaining games, four are against bad to less-than-average teams (two against Tampa Bay, Buffalo, at the New York Jets) and three against good teams (at New York Giants, Philadelphia, New Orleans). That’s 9-7 in an oversimplified world. We can break this down a hundred ways, but the Falcons were not built to win low-scoring games. With Michael Turner out for one to seven weeks — I’m covering myself, because you’re not going to get an honest answer from anybody in Flowery Branch – the onus is on Ryan and offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey to win games. I still think they’ve got a pretty good shot.
♦ N.Y. Giants (5-4): Hard to imagine but there’s a chance the Super Bowl champions from only two years ago may not make the playoffs. Their performance against the Falcons coming off the bye week will be interesting. Their defense has fallen apart. They’ve lost four straight, allowing 133 points (average: 33.2) in that span. They’ve already lost as many games as all of last year (12-4). The only other two times they lost four straight under coach Tom Coughlin, they missed the playoffs (2004 and 2006). The remaining schedule is about on the level of the Falcons’, maybe a little tougher: Atlanta, at Denver, Dallas, Philadelphia, at Washington, Carolina, at Minnesota. Simplified projection: 4-3 the rest of the way, 9-7 in the end.
♦ Philadelphia (5-4): Could the Giants and Eagles both miss the playoffs? It doesn’t seem plausible. But Philly probably will have to do without running back Brian Westbrook the rest of the season. He just got his second concussion in four weeks, and, medically, this gets into an area of things that can’t be fixed with trainers tape, a shot and two pills. For the Eagles to recover from Westbrook’s loss, they need rookie LeSean “Shady” McCoy to do all the things Westbrook does: run, catch, block. He’s not there yet. The remaining schedule is about like the Falcons: at Chicago, Washington, at Falcons, at Giants, San Francisco, Denver, at Dallas. Simplified projection: 4-3 the rest of the way, 9-7 in the end.
♦ Carolina (4-5): The Falcons had multiple opportunities to win the game Sunday. The Panthers are helped by a great running back (DeAngelo Williams) and the fact quarterback Jake Delhomme has cut down on interceptions. But they’re still a very average team with a less-than-average defense. Even Jason Snelling, the Falcons’ third-best tailback, ran the ball effectively against them. And look at the last four games on the Panthers’ schedule: at New England, Minnesota, at New York Giants, New Orleans. The other three: Miami, at New York Jets, Tampa Bay. Simplified projection: 3-4 the rest of the way, 7-9 in the end.
♦ San Francisco (4-5): The 49ers play hard, largely because they’re scared to death of coach Mike Singletary. They’re just not that good. The offense ranks 27th overall, the defense is 29th against the pass. Remember, the Falcons tore this team apart. Remaining games: at Green Bay, Jacksonville, at Seattle, Arizona, at Philadelphia, Detroit, at St. Louis). Simplified projection: 3-4 the rest of the way, 7-9 in the end.
♦ Chicago (4-5): I just can’t see quarterback Jay Cutler leading the Bears anywhere except into the ground. He threw five interceptions last week and leads the NFL with 17. The Bears’ defense is solid but not nearly as effective without Brian Urlacher. The remaining schedule is difficult: Philadelphia, at Minnesota, St. Louis, Green Bay, at Baltimore, Minnesota, at Detroit. Simplified projection: 3-4 the rest of the way, 7-9 in the end.
So there’s my ranking. Agree or disagree?