Oct 30, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper (81) celebrates a first down catch in the second quarter of their game against the Green Bay Packers at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons won 33-32. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
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Contrary to popular belief, the Falcons do not play a game this Sunday afternoon. They are on something called a “Bye Week” and get to relax while the rest of the league continues the season.
I can see it now. You just clicked on the link to this article and are probably wondering to yourself one or all of these three things. “There is no specific reason the Falcons don’t play this week, every team gets a Bye”, “This guy is an idiot” or “Why in the world is this guy writing this kind of article when the Falcons don’t even play?”
Well confused reader, I’ll tell you why.
After some thinking, I thought the bye week would be a great time to reflect on this wild Falcons’ season, while still looking ahead to the remaining 6 games. So instead of my normal five reasons why the Falcons either won/lost this week, I will use the five slides to look back on fun moments from the season so far. Also, I will give my thoughts on the upcoming games and even make a bold prediction.
The Atlanta Falcons are 6-4 and lead their division. Many fans and pundits alike didn’t see this start coming at the beginning of the season from this team. I know I sure didn’t. There have been a lot of fun games, and some disappointing performances as well. But above all, the Falcons have placed themselves firmly into the playoff hunt with 6 games remaining in the 2016 NFL Season.
Consequently, this should make all Atlanta fans excited for what has happened and what still lies ahead. The dirty birds have defied expectations, and in this unpredictable year of 2016, they just might have a special playoff-run in store for us.
Oct 2, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) scores a touchdown in the fourth quarter of their game against the Carolina Panthers at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons won 48-33. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
The 5 Best Plays
Every year, a handful of plays stick with a team and even define their season. Just think back to Dez Bryant’s “catch” in the playoffs a few years ago. That play stuck with that team, and unfortunately for the Cowboys, defined their season.
This season, the Atlanta Falcons have had their fair share of amazing plays that could end up defining their season. Let’s take a look at the 5 best in my opinion.
1. Julio Jones’ long touchdown to cap a historic afternoon
In a game against the reigning NFC Champion Panthers, Julio Jones had the game of his life. Catching 12 passes for 300 (!!!) yards while leading the Falcons to victory.
This catch and run was a microcosm of how that game played out, and was the nail in the coffin, putting Carolina away for good with less than 2 minutes remaining.
2. Rookie Deion Jones makes a huge play in his homecoming
Anytime the Falcons play the Saints, it’s a big deal. The matchup earlier this season was made even bigger because it was the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and a homecoming for Atlanta rookie, Deion Jones.
Jones comes away with the tipped pass and takes it to the house in his return to New Orleans, his hometown. He has had a stellar rookie campaign, and this play will be on his highlight reel for a long time to come.
5. Two rookie Falcons showing what the future could be like
Our last play is one I feel is underrated. Yes it came from the dissapointing home loss to the Chargers, but this is a play that could define Atlanta’s future.
Rookie safety Keanu Neal lays a massive hit and in turn causes the interception for other rookie, Deion Jones. If these young players are making plays like this early in their careers, just think what they could do in the future.
Oct 9, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Vic Beasley (44) celebrates a sack in the second half against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Falcons defeated the Broncos 23-16. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
The 4 Best Players
This season, we have seen many players step up and play well. Consequently, it has lead to the Falcons being much-improved and has them as a viable contender in the NFC. Let’s take a look at who I think have been the 4 most impactful players so far for Atlanta.
1. Matt Ryan
The veteran QB has bounced back nicely from his poor 2015-16 campaign and has turned in MVP-like numbers through 10 games. So far this season, he has thrown for 3,247 yards, 24 Touchdowns and only 5 interceptions.
Ryan has already surpassed his TD total from last season and he still has 6 games to play. It’s not hard to envision him on the podium accepting the MVP trophy if he keeps up this level of play and the Falcons keep winning games.
2. Julio Jones
I am convinced Julio is an alien. Sent from outer space to destroy every defensive back on the face of the earth. He is just so much bigger and faster than everyone on the field, it’s hard not to list him as one of the best players on the team, if not the NFL.
Jones has caught 61 passes for 1105 yards and 5 touchdowns so far this season. With a few more games like the ones against Carolina and Seattle (despite the missed PI) he could surpass 2,000 (!) yards on the season. Which is just absurd.
3. Vic Beasley Jr.
During the offseason and even into the early part of this year, there were grumblings that Vic Beasley might be a bust. I always think a player needs at least 3 full seasons to determine if they are a bust or not, but Beasley was obviously struggling through the early part of his career.
Then the game in Denver happened. #44 tallied 3.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles in the game that would be his coming-out party. Since then, he has only gotten better each week, totaling 9.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles on the season thus far. It’s more than encouraging to see Vic live up to his 8th overall pick this season, let’s hope he finishes 2016 just as strong as he’s started it.
4. Alex Mack
Last year, the center position for the Falcons was an utter disaster.
This lead to GM Thomas Dimitroff forking out the big bucks to get all-pro center Alex Mack in free agency. Oh boy did that move work out in Atlanta’s favor. Mack has solidified the Falcons’ offensive line and turned the unit into a true strength.
The play of the much improved line has lead to the Falcons having the most potent offense in the NFL through the first 10 games. If Mack and Co. can continue their solid play, the Falcons will remain a threat in the NFC.
Oct 16, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham (88) defended by Atlanta Falcons cornerback Jalen Collins (32) along with linebacker Deion Jones (45) and safety Ricardo Allen (37) in the second quarter during a NFL football game at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
3 Things to Improve On
The Falcons are far from a perfect team. For all the good I have talked about so far in this piece, there has to be some talk of the bad. Atlanta has a very young team that still has room for a lot of improvement despite their improved play this season. Let’s look at 3 things I think the Falcons can improve on going forward.
1. Defense, as a whole
Offense has not been the problem for Atlanta this season. They average an absurd 32 points per game and have shown they can score on almost anybody. The problem has been their young defense.
This unit needs to improve if the Falcons want to be considered a Super Bowl contender. I believe in the cliched “Defense wins championships” and this defense is far from championship caliber. They surrender way too many yards through the air and have problems getting off the field some times.
A positive however, like I stated earlier, is that this defense is really young. With rookies occupying 3 starting spots and 2nd year guys scattered throughout, their is still time for growth. Let’s just hope its sooner rather than later.
It’s not the number of penalties that bother me when it comes to the Falcons. It’s the timing and the bone-headedness(?) in which they occur that causes me the most frustration. The offense could be in midst of a promising drive, until someone holds or is called for illegal hands to the face.
The frequency in which these mistakes occur needs to be decreased. Being a more disciplined team usually results in more success. This Atlanta team is good, but not good enough to get by committing these penalties week after week. Once this improves, so will the Falcons.
3. 3rd down on both sides of the ball
Atlanta is in the middle of the road (39.3% and ranked 17th) when it comes to converting on third down. This may not seem terrible but it could be improved. In the close games this season, the Falcons have either won or lost due to their ability to convert third downs into first downs.
On the other side of the ball, the Falcons just need to get off the field. Last game against Philadelphia, they were destroyed in terms of time of possession because they could not stop the Eagles on third down. If this team can ever figure this out, they will be hard to beat by anyone.
Sep 26, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn (L) and New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton (R) talk after their game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Falcons won 45-32. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
The 2 Most Important Games Left
The Falcons have made it through the teeth of their schedule relatively unscathed. It would appear to most, that the remaining six contests are much more favorable than the previous ten. With that said, lets talk about the two most important games left, in my opinion.
1. Week 12 vs Arizona
This game is important for a few things.
Most notably, this is the first game for the Falcons coming off of their bye week. Last time we saw them on the field, they looked flat and gave us a poor performance. They need to start the home stretch with a victory against the struggling Cardinals to get some of their mojo back.
Arizona will be coming in after losing today to the Minnesota Vikings. They have under-performed this season but are still a very talented team. Atlanta will have to be on their game if they want to come away victorious.
2. Week 17 vs New Orleans
Like I mentioned earlier, every time the Falcons meet the Saints on the field, it’s a big game. At least it feels this way. This will be the last regular season game in the Georgia Dome so Atlanta will definitely bring the juice in this game as Coach Dan Quinn likes to say.
This game could have huge divisional implications depending on how the last games of the season pan out. The Falcons lead the division by 1 game as I am writing this piece, so they really don’t have that much room for error. In a game against a heated rival, with playoff hopes possibly on the line, this could be the biggest game of the entire season.
Oct 30, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) at the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter of their game against the Green Bay Packers at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons won 33-32. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
1 Bold Prediction
Alrighty folks. We’ve come to the final slide.
At this point you’re either begging for this to stop or craving more Falcons knowledge. I truly hope for the latter.
This season has surprised me as a die-hard fan of the dirty birds. If you would have told me that at this point in the season they would have beat Denver, Oakland, Carolina AND Green Bay before the start of the year, I would have laughed in your face. Atlanta has already accomplished a great deal this season and have shown the improvement us fans have craved since the Dan Quinn era began. But there’s still at least 6 more games to be played, and crazier things have happened than a deep playoff run by the Falcons this season. (Im looking at you Donald Trump and the Chicago Cubs).
For my bold prediction for the remainder of the season, I see the Falcons winning the division and playing a home playoff game. Oh that’s not bold enough for you? Did I forget to mention that Mr. Matty Ice is going to be the NFL’s MVP? Because I believe he’s going to scorch the earth these last few weeks and take home that trophy that’s rightfully his.
Fandom aside, I just hope for a entertaining remainder of the season. Football is the best sport on earth (in my humble opinion) so let’s enjoy it while it lasts.