Home-field advantage in the NFL is on the line when the Falcons travel to Detroit Saturday.
By JOHN MANASSOFS South
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The most quotable member of the
Atlanta Falcons was trying not to say anything at all.
But he couldn't help himself and failed.
As the team's open locker room session with the media came to a close, wide receiver Roddy White left for a meeting and announced, "I'm not talking until after we win home-field advantage."
With a victory at Detroit (4-10) on Saturday, the Falcons (12-2) will clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs for the second time in three seasons. There also are scenarios in which they can still secure home-field advantage if they do not win.
The first is if they tie the Lions and San Francisco (10-3-1) loses or ties in its key NFC West match-up at Seattle (9-5). The second is if the Falcons lose and Green Bay (10-4) loses or ties Tennessee and San Francisco loses.
On occasions when he is asked, Falcons head coach Mike Smith will not answer what his team's goals are, saying he prefers to keep those internally. Having already won the NFC South title, there's not much else to accomplish for Atlanta in terms of the regular season other than having home-field advantage.
"Well, that's what everybody's trying to do," Smith said on Tuesday. "I really believe that and that's the thing that's in reach. We've got to go out and play effectively this week and our goal is to win every game we play and figure out what happens after that. If we win this week, I think it'll clear some things up."
In 2010, the Falcons earned home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs in 2010 and then promptly squandered it with a 48-21 loss to Green Bay. This time, the Falcons seem focused on not allowing that to happen again.
Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon already tweeted after they won the division on Dec. 2 about how he was happy to be there, so to speak, in his rookie season in 2010 and how he, for one, will have a more business-like attitude this time around.
In addition, Smith through his words and his deeds in practice is showing an urgency and a seriousness to finish out the season strong.
"I think it's important that you're playing efficiently and effectively in December and January," he said on Monday. "I think that's what every team is striving for. I think over the last two seasons, the teams that were playing well in December and were really rolling were the teams that had the most success. They were the teams that ultimately were the world champions. I think momentum is very important."
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was asked in his weekly session with the media on Tuesday whether Smith needs to remind his team what is at stake.
"No, I don't think so," Ryan said. "I think everyone understands where we're at in terms of the regular season, what's in front of us and what our mindset needs to be. I think the focus in our locker room has been really good the last two weeks and we need to keep it right there."
Added Weatherspoon: "We know there are big rewards if we go out and do what we do."
One reason for Smith's success is his ability to keep his team focused on task. On Saturday, season-long and short-term goals will be intertwined, but safety Thomas DeCoud said ought not to distract the Falcons.
"It definitely helps," he said of the situation. "Like I said, it's going to be in the back of my mind. We can't play this game and not have that on our minds or have it be something we know and are in tuned to. On that same coin, we can't let it get too far ahead of us and become the emphasis of the game and that's what's driving us. We have to go out there play because we want to play well not because we want to stay home in the playoffs."