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Atlanta Falcons Playoffs Preview – The Road To Super Bowl 51

Falcons Playoffs Preview - Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan organises the huddle against the Dallas Cowboys NFL Football Schedule via


The Atlanta Falcons held off a late surge by the New Orleans Saints to win 38-32 and secure the 2nd seed in the NFC, earning a Wild Card round bye in the process.

Having been given the toughest schedule in the league and losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on opening weekend, fans would have been forgiven for casting an early glance towards the 2017 draft, thinking that the team might be in a position to grab one of the premier talents.

Since that point, the Falcons have beaten the Raiders, Broncos, Packers and all 5 of their remaining division games. The team scored the 7th most points of all-time and saw Vic Beasley step up to lead the league in sacks.

As with all teams, they have gone through their share of adversity. A heartbreaking loss to the Kansas City Chiefs when an intercepted 2 point conversion attempt was returned late in the game would have been tough for the Falcons of previous years to overcome, but this team prides itself on energy, team spirit and desire.

Overcoming injuries is crucial to any team with Super Bowl aspirations and the Falcons are no different. The team has placed 4 of their starters from the season opener on injured reserve.

While Kemal Ishmael was only starting at strong safety in the absence of injured rookie Keanu Neal, Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant, tight end Jacob Tamme and defensive tackle Derrick Shelby would all be expected to play major parts if healthy. Veteran linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who was re-signed in the offseason, would be a useful rotational piece for a linebacking corps that, while promising, lacks in experience.

Despite some concerns on defense, the Falcons shouldn’t fear anybody that they might face in the NFC. There are no complete teams, with the majority having a heavy emphasis on offense, and the Falcons scoring more freely than any team in the league.

Dallas Cowboys (13-3) (1st Seed)

In order for the Falcons to face the Cowboys, both teams would need to advance to the NFC Championship game. Following a preseason injury to their starting quarterback, Tony Romo, the Cowboys surprised many people by storming their way through to the playoffs as the top seed.

Lead by a dominant offensive line and two rookies in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott who look as if they will be superstars for years to come, the Cowboys’ blueprint to victory has been controlling the clock and limiting the time that their defense has to spend on the field. After falling behind early and struggling with the physicality of the Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive line, the Falcons will know that their best chance of victory against the Cowboys is to get a lead and force them to chase the game.

Dak Prescott has been a revelation since entering the starting lineup but he throws among the fewest number of passes in the league among starting quarterbacks. The Cowboys are at their best when they are ahead and, if they take the lead, the Falcons’ run defense could struggle to get the offense back on the field.

Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1) (3rd Seed)

Having made the playoffs every season since Russell Wilson was drafted in 2012, the Seahawks have to be respected as a team that knows how to win games. That said, there are few teams whose performances show as much variance as the Seahawks. A dominant home team who use a loud and intimidating crowd to force offenses into mistakes, they have struggled on the road throughout the season, missing out on a 1st round bye because of disappointing losses to the Saints, Buccaneers and Rams.

If the Seahawks make it past the Detroit Lions in the Wild Card round then they will be the team traveling to the Georgia Dome. While they shouldn’t be underestimated, this isn’t the same Seahawks team as the one from past seasons. Their running game is one of only 8 in the league to average fewer than 100 yards per game and their “Legion of Boom” pass defense has been unable to adjust to life without All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas, whose broken tibia ended his season prematurely.

After a cruel defeat in week 6, Falcons players and fans would relish an opportunity to set the record straight against the Seahawks. With the frailties that the team has shown in the second half of the season, they may never have a better opportunity to do so.

Green Bay Packers (10-6) (4th Seed)

With the possible exception of Matt Ryan, no quarterback in the NFL played better than Aaron Rodgers to close out the regular season. The Packers started slowly before winning their last 6 games, wrestling the NFC North title away from their rival Detroit Lions in week 17.

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Stylistically, the Packers and Falcons are incredibly similar. With MVP candidates leading high-powered offenses, both teams look to put up as many points as possible and hope that their defense can be opportunistic enough to limit the opposition. The Falcons triumphed in week 8 but adding Ty Montgomery to the running game in the latter parts of the season has rejuvenated the Packers, who had been struggling to get productivity from James Starks earlier in the year.

While Desmond Trufant’s injury hurt the team, Robert Alford has shouldered the responsibility of being the number 1 cornerback admirably, cutting down on penalties and making his contract extension look like an astute piece of business by General Manager Thomas Dimitroff. Last year’s second round pick, Jalen Collins, has successfully changed the narrative surrounding him since spending a couple of weeks on the inactive list earlier in the season and looks like an excellent young cornerback, perfectly suited to Dan Quinn’s system.

The Packers haven’t been as lucky. With injuries to Sam Shields, Quinten Rollins and Damarious Randall, they are desperately scrambling around for depth at cornerback, promoting undrafted rookie Herb Waters, who is making the transition from wide receiver, to the 53 man roster. It’s fair to wonder how an inexperienced secondary would cope with one of the most diverse and explosive receiver groups in the league.

New York Giants (11-5) (5th Seed)

With a defense that has improved every week on its way to becoming one of the league’s best, Giants fans could be forgiven for thinking that this team has the feeling of those that won Super Bowls in 2008 and 2012. Having restricted 3 of the top offenses in the league in the Lions, Redskins and Cowboys to 10 points or fewer, a matchup with the Falcons would have all the makings of a classic.

Tough against the run, their defensive line is also capable of forcing enough pressure that their ball hawking secondary, lead by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Landon Collins, can make plays. With no obvious weakness on defense, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan would relish the opportunity to once again prove his genius as a play caller.

While the Giants haven’t been allowing opposing offenses any opportunity, they will know from experience that the postseason formula will require Eli Manning to step up his game. Having had an extremely disappointing regular season, Manning will need to rediscover the playoff magic that is likely to land him in the Hall of Fame one day. With a superstar wide receiver in Odell Beckham Jr. and a promising supporting cast that includes rookies Sterling Shepard and Paul Perkins, it shouldn’t surprise anybody if the Giants are dangerous.

Detroit Lions (9-7) (6th Seed)

Having already been written off by the majority, the Lions will be looking to prove a point in the playoffs. A disappointing close to the regular season has taken the attention away from a team who showed tremendous heart and resilience, staging multiple 4th quarter comebacks to win games. While he’s fallen off the pace, Matthew Stafford was an MVP candidate at one point and his partnership with offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter has helped the latter work his way into the discussion for head coaching vacancies.

On the defensive side of the ball, the health of cornerback Darius Slay will be a concern for the team. Teryl Austin looks like a head coach of the future, moving towards the top of team’s wish lists having been in the running for jobs last offseason.

Given that so much of the team’s success has come late in games, the Falcons would look to build an insurmountable lead early on and hope that their prevent defense can make enough plays that any attempts at late game heroics prove futile.