Nov 16, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; The Falcons and the Pantehrs at the line of scrimmage in the first quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Take care of the divisional games
If you’re only going to win six games, make sure they are all divisional games. Atlanta took that advice a little too literally last year, only winning one game outside of the NFC South.
Sep 8, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) greets Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) midfield following the Saints 23-17 victory at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Divisional games weigh more than any other game on the schedule. Not only do you get a chance to add a win while plastering a loss to a rival’s record, it can have all sorts of tie-breaking implications.
If two teams are tied at the end of the regular season, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head. Win all your divisional games and you take that tiebreaker. Now let’s assume you split the series with the opponent you’re tied with. Win your other divisional games? You stand a great chance of taking the tiebreaker then, too.
If the Falcons are able to sweep the division, which is much easier said than done, the other three teams in the division already have a lower ceiling when it comes to potential wins.
Let’s use Carolina as an example, and say Atlanta swept the division. The Panthers would then need to outdo the Falcons by three games outside of the NFC South, as matching their record would keep them behind by virtue of the tiebreaker.
Division games are tough. Nobody knows your team and your tendencies better than your nearest rivals. Atlanta has a slight advantage this year due to the fact they have a new head coach, so studying previous years of the Falcons’ tape won’t be as beneficial to opponents as it would be if Mike Smith was still in charge.
Winning divisional games at home is hard enough; doing so on the road is one of the toughest tasks a team faces each year.
In 2014, the Falcons managed a strong 5-1 record in the NFC South, but unfortunately let themselves down outside of that. If they can match last season’s feat or go one better, they will be in pole position to recapture the South and make a run.
Next: No place like home