There was some confusion after the Falcons victory over the Panthers whether Atlanta still had a mathematical chance to make the playoffs. It seemed they did, but they would need a lot of help, including a loss from the Vikings on Sunday night to the Giants. Well that did not come to fruition as the Vikings dominated a lowly Giants team 49-17 to clinch their rightful place in the playoffs.
Although it was not all bad news on Sunday. Atlanta did get to end the Panthers undefeated season, and showed some very promising signs. The defense has been improving all season, and continued to show those improvements by dominating the Panthers offense. The defensive line, especially rookie Vic Beasley, kept Cam Newton under duress all game and shut down the Panthers passing game. Newton and the Carolina receiving core were hitting on all cylinders coming into the Georgia Dome, but the Atlanta defense held Carolina to just 113 yards through the air. The offense was also able to avoid numerous key turnovers and outgained Carolina by over 100 yards on the day. It was far from flawless, but the Falcons dominated this game and perhaps showed Carolina next year will be a different story.
The Falcons Week 17 matchup against the Saints will be for nothing but pride. The Saints were the team to hand the Falcons their first loss of the season after starting out 5-0. Heading into Week 6, Atlanta seemed to be poised to shake up the NFC playoff picture, especially with a weak remaining schedule. However, the offense disappeared and numerous turnovers led to a six-game losing streak that made the playoffs more of a long shot than a guarantee. There is technically nothing at stake for these two teams, but when the Falcons and Saints meet that is almost never the case. This is one of the best rivalries in the NFL that nobody talks about, and both teams are coming off nice victories and want to continue that success heading into the offseason.
Atlanta has numerous things to address heading into the offense. The first has to be the offensive coordinator situation. Matt Ryan and Kyle Shanahan seemed to not be on the same page for the majority of the season. The offense, for the first time in years, had serious problems putting up points, and Matt Ryan had the worst season of his career. Quinn will have a lot of tough decisions to make this offseason, but I believe he has to let Shanahan go if this team wants to compete for the NFC South title next season. The Falcons also have to address the trenches. On both sides of the ball, the Falcons lines struggled. Matt Ryan had trouble staying up for more than 3 seconds, while some opposing quarterbacks could check twitter before beginning to look downfield for an open receiver. Atlanta made positive strides in Quinn’s first season, but there is still a lot of work to do if this team wants to become an NFC power once again.