With the hangover from last week’s fourth-and-one and the Falcons’ loss to New Orleans subsided, its worth noting: This team is still in pretty good shape for the playoffs.
Just don’t lose to Tennessee today.
The Falcons (5-4) already have one more loss than last season (13-3). But their remaining schedule and the current standings suggests they’re still in solid position to win an NFC wild card berth and can still catch New Orleans (7-3) for the South title.
The Saints have a bye this week. They come out of the off week with home games against the New York Giants and Detroit and then travel to Tennessee. The Falcons travel to New Orleans on Dec. 26. If they win today and can stay within one game of the lead, that game will mean something.
Here’s a mini-breakdown of the wild card race. I’m projecting Chicago (6-3), which has won four straight and five of six, will get one of the two spots. That means the other berth likely will go to one of four teams: the Falcons (or New Orleans), Detroit (6-3), Dallas (5-4) and Tampa Bay (4-5).
Here’s the NFC playoff standings right now, factoring in tiebreakers, via the NFL. The top four seeds would be division winners Green Bay (North), San Francisco (West), New Orleans (South) and the New York Giants (East). The top five wild card contenders are in red.
|1.||Green Bay Packers||North||9||0||0||1.000||320||186||134||3-0||1.000||7-0||1.000||2-0|
|2.||San Francisco 49ers||West||8||1||0||.889||233||138||95||1-0||1.000||6-1||.857||2-0|
|3.||New Orleans Saints||South||7||3||0||.700||313||228||85||3-1||.750||4-3||.571||3-0|
|4.||New York Giants||East||6||3||0||.667||218||211||7||1-1||.500||3-3||.500||3-0|
|9.||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||South||4||5||0||.444||156||233||-77||2-1||.667||3-4||.429||1-1|
|15.||St. Louis Rams||West||2||7||0||.222||113||223||-110||0-1||.000||1-6||.143||1-1|
The Falcons’ remaining schedule is favorable. They play home games against Tennessee (5-4), Minnesota (2-7), Jacksonville (3-6) and Tampa Bay (4-5); road games against Houston (7-3), Carolina (2-7) and New Orleans (7-3). Only three of of the seven opponents have winning records. One is the Titans and the Falcons get them at home. Another is Houston, which has likely lost starting quarterback Matt Schaub for the season. The third is the Saints.
Back to today’s game. It’s not a likely walkover, especially if Tennessee can run as well as it did last week against Carolina (Chris Johnson rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown). But the Falcons have been strong against the run (No. 3 in the NFL at 90.3 yards per game). Conversely, the Titans’ defense ranks only 22nd against the run (125.2) so expect a heavy dose of Michael Turner.
An efficient game by quarterback Matt Ryan also would help. He has four interceptions in the last three games and has thrown in at least one interception in seven out of nine games this year. He already has thrown one more interception (10) than all of last season (nine) and is four off his career high (14 in 2009). He also has been sacked 20 times, three off his career high of 23 last season.
Some late injury notes: wide receiver Julio Jones will not play today because of a hamstring strain, meaning Harry Douglas will start. The Falcons had listed Jones as “questionable,” which seemed optimistic given that he didn’t practice all week.
By the way, the Falcons are 3-0 this season after losses and are 15-3 under coach Mike Smith following defeats, with seven straight wins dating back to 2009.
That’s it for now. Feel free to vent on all thoughts and concerns about today and the playoff race while I get something to eat. And coffee.
By Jeff Schultz