The Falcons schedule for the remaining seven games is very winnable. Sitting at 5-4 after by far the hardest part of the schedule, the Falcons have a great shot to win out, or at least end the season at 11-5. Now that we are past the halfway point, we can take a look at the games we have left. Here’s my breakdown on the rest of the season:
Week 11-Titans: The Titans represent a team who over all is very young, but not terribly good. On defense they are not very good against the run, but their pass defense is surprisingly good even though it is middle of the pack in the NFL. Cortland Finnegan is a major reason for their success, but I feel the Falcons can overwhelm Tennesse with weapons offensively. I feel very confident about our defense, especially with Sean Weatherspoon and Curtis Lofton, flying all over the field and stopping Chris Johnson. Matt Hasselbeck is not what he once was, but he can still make you pay if you don’t respect the passing game and load up to stop CJ2K. All in all, I see this as a pretty easy win for the Dirty Birds.
Week 12-Vikings: The Vikings are a team with possibly less going for them than the Titans. At least Tennessee’s defense is playing at basically full strength. The Vikings sure have fallen from a couple years ago when they went to the NFC Championship game. The linebacking core isn’t quite as good, and the corner play hasn’t been there either. The one good cover corner the Vikings had, Antoine Winfield, just got hurt last Sunday and will be out for the rest of the season. The only remnants of what was a good defense is Jared Allen. He is still a beast, but between Svitek and a tight end or running back chipping him, I wouldn’t be overly concerned about him. Adrian Peterson also falls into that beast category, and he will get his share of yardage and touches. But he is the strength of the defense. An X-factor in the game is Percy Harvin, because every time he touches the ball it could go for 6 points, but Christian Ponder is still young, the offensive linemen are not terriffic, and this is not a special team. I see this as another game where you can pencil in a W.
Week 13-Texans: This is the game that got me really excited to break down each game and write this particular piece. Going into the season I felt that this game was a pushover. The Texans have never really been good. But that’s why you play the game. The season has progressed, the Falcons have had some ups and downs, and the Texans have performed at a high level throughout (I just really wanted them to beat the Saints). Heck, if the season ended today, Houston would be the #1 seed in the AFC. However, it was just announced that Matt Schaub is out for the season with a foot injury. It will be interesting to see how this game turns out with Matt Leinart as the starting quarterback. Personally, I don’t think he can handle it, I don’t think he can take the pressure. Granted he has a good running game to lean on, but if we get great play in the secondary, I feel very good about stopping the passing game. Stopping Ben Tate and Arian Foster may be a different story, but this certainly turns the tide in favor of the Falcons. Houston’s defense has been flying around and playing lights out in recent weeks, even without Mario Williams. The key to beating Houston’s defense is keeping their offense off the field. Thats right, but stopping the two backs on first and second down, I feel good about preventing Leinart converting on 3rd downs. This will give the Falcons offense more opportunities to have the ball, ability to keep Houston’s defense on the field longer, tire the out, and eventually open up the big play, or at least multiple scoring opportunities. A week ago, this looked like nearly a toss up in a season when the Falcons need every single win they can get. Now its beginning to look like a game the Falcons have a slight advantage in. That being said, they look like a mini-Detoit Lions team right now. Very dangerous, but also very vulnerable.
Week 14-Panthers: Same story, different week. This is going to be a similar game to what the Falcons experience the first time they played this season. Due to Cam Newton’s unique skill set, the game will be close early, but a series of errors on the part of Carolina will put them out of the game fairly quickly. Should be another solid, good victory. The type of game where the Dirty Birds pad their stats.
Week 15-Jaguars: This is another really bad team. There is nothing good about the Jaguars, and I feel really bad about saying that. Maurice Jones-Drew is a great running back, but he is the only option on this team. Their defense is surprisingly stout against the run, but in the secondary they are in the same situation as the Vikings. Their best cover man, Rashean Mathis, is on IR. Yet another example of a team the Falcons can absolutely abuse in the passing game, especially if Turner runs the ball effectively. Remember what I said about the Falcons padding their stats against Carolina? The same rules apply here.
Week 16-Saints: Chapter two in the Saga. I could preview this one until the cows come home and it would still probably not do the game justice. This is the most troublesome and anticipated game left on the schedule for the Falcons, not because it will probably be the most difficult to win, but also because it is against our most hated rival. Right now, the game is looking like a toss up.
Week 17-Buccaneers: The rematch. The Buccaneers looked like contenders coming into the season, but given their last few performances, they look downright miserable. A 45 point loss to San Francisco, and a 37-9 drubbing at the hands of the Texans are not good signs. This is one of those teams that looks like it is shutting down and quitting. Josh Freeman was very efficient last season, but this season he is turning the ball over a lot. He is certainly not as good as he was last year, but I don’t think in reality he is quite as bad as he has been this season (although a Falcon’s fan could hope I suppose). Legarrette Blount is a liability on third down, and it doesn’t seem like the Bucs can stop the run. Look for a lot of play action, and now that the Falcons will be playing the Bucs on turf at home, Ronde Barber & Co. will be hard pressed to stop the Falcons offense. This one sure looks like a win to me.
So as you can see, the general theme here is how many games are easy wins, how many will be contested, and how many will be an down to the wire affair. I say that the games against the Titans, Vikings, Panthers, Jaguars, and Bucs will definately be wins, and I believe easy wins. The contest between our ‘Birds and the Texans will be a great struggle, but without a quarterback who can consistently convert third downs and make plays in the passing game, I see this game as well as a win for the Falcons. The one game that is concerning and could go either way is the one down in New Orleans. In this rivalry, it doesn’t really matter who is the home team, who is the visiting team, who is favored, who is missing players due to injury. Everyone plays at such a high level for this game, it always comes down to the wire. If the Falcons can defeat the Saints in New Orleans, I can legitimately see the Falcons winning their next seven games. Even with a loss to the Texans or (God forbid) the Saints, the Falcons would be 11-5 and in great shape for making the playoffs.
Note: Chicago still has a date with Green Bay left, and Detroit still have two left with the Packers. Apparently nobody matches up well with Green Bay. If these two teams lost all of those contests, the Falcons would certainly have a playoff spot. Atlanta holds a tie breaker with Detroit.