The Falcons officially clinched the NFC South with their win over the Panthers and the Buccaneers loss to the Saints. But almost equally importantly, Atlanta moved into the #2 spot in the NFC with the Seahawks falling to the Cardinals. The Falcons know they will be in the playoff field, but in regards to who they might face first, the possibilities are endless. Let’s take a look at how the Falcons match up against potential playoff opponents.
The Lions are currently sitting in the #6 spot, with a game for the division title against the Packers next week. A win in that matchup would likely give the Lions the #4 seed. That gives them an outside shot facing the Falcons in a second-round matchup if the Falcons hold onto the #2 seed.
Matchup to watch: Matt Ryan vs. Matt Stafford
Obviously these two guys will never be on the field at the same time, but these are two quarterbacks in the midst of the best year their careers. Not only are these guys legitimate MVP candidates, but they are also really close friends. These two can be seen vacationing with each other in the offseason, and there is no doubt they would love to meet up in the playoffs. This QB matchup would be a thrill to watch in a playoff atmosphere.
Degree of difficulty (1-10): 5
The Lions are a really solid team, that much like the Falcons, has gone under the radar for the majority of the year even though they have been at the top of their division. Detroit lost a lot of it’s luster when they lost their star receiver, Calvin Johnson, but have been a much more balanced attack without him. Stafford has gotten the ball to a multitude of receivers this year, and this Detroit offense could be a problem for a Falcons defense that has been inconsistent this year.
On the defensive side of the ball, Detroit is also much better than advertised. They have had success slowing down the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees this year and feature a numbers of players that go under the radar. Most importantly of which is Darius Slay, who is one of the most underrated cornerbacks in the league.
This game would be a tough one, but providing the Falcons are most likely going to be playing them at home, Atlanta should be able to get the job done. Much tougher defenses have tried to stop the Falcons and failed miserably, As long as this offense remains as potent in the postseason as it was in the regular season, the Lions should not pose too much of a threat to Atlanta.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers need a win over the Lions next week to clinch a playoff berth and the division. A win over the Lions, would likely give the Packers the #4 seed, which gives them a slight chance of meeting up with the Falcons in a second round matchup.
Matchup to watch: Falcons defensive line vs. Packers offensive line
One of the biggest struggles for this Packers team over the past few seasons has been pass protection. Aaron Rodgers has been run ragged a lot of games, but that has not been the case as of late. The Packers offensive line has done a tremendous job of protecting Aaron Rodgers, and the results speak for themselves. Rodgers has been on a tear as of late, and the Packers have won 5 games in a row. The Falcons were able to get some pressure on Rodgers in the regular season matchup between these two teams, totaling 3 sacks on the day. It is vital the defensive line has the same type of success in a potential playoff matchup or it is going to be a long day for the Falcons defense.
Degree of Difficulty (1-10): 9
I would definitely put the Packers on the list of teams the Falcons do not want to face. Green Bay is a hot team with a scorching hot quarterback on a mission. The Packers defense has also shown signs of improvements, and to be blunt, I was there in 2010 when the red-hot 10-6 Packers came into Atlanta and bulldozed the Falcons by nearly four touchdowns. Aaron Rodgers is tough to stop come playoff time. This is a matchup I would like to avoid.
New York Giants
The Giants are locked in as a wild-card team and could be a potential opponent for the Falcons in the first or second round, depending on how things shake out.
Matchup to watch : Falcons offensive line vs. Giants defensive line
The Falcons offensive line has been one of the most underrated units in all of football this year. They have absolutely dominated as of late. On the other end of the spectrum, there is the Giants defensive line. They are one of the most talked about units in football and rightfully so. New York has invested tons of money into their defensive line, and they have created havoc for opposing offenses all season long. It would be imperative that the Falcons offensive line keep Matt Ryan clean if they want to win in a matchup with the Giants.
Degree of Difficulty (1-10): 7
The Giants have played really solid football as late especially on the defensive side of the ball. They are one of the few teams that have the ability to slow the Falcons offense down. If they could do that, Eli Manning has the weapons on offense to put up points against the Falcons defense. Odell Beckham Jr. is an absolute stud, but the rest of the Giants receiving core goes under the radar. Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz would also be tough guards for the Falcons secondary. The biggest flaw for the Giants comes in their inability to run the football. The Falcons have done a great job against the run this year, so that could be a huge factor in this potential matchup.
The Redskins can only sneak in as a six seed, so the Falcons could only meet them in first-round if they fail to secure the #2 seed. The Redskins would obviously have to clinch a playoff berth by winning next week.
Matchup to watch: Julio Jones vs. Josh Norman
This was easy to chose, right? These are arguably the two best players at their respective positions, and it would be a thrill to watch these two face off. However, nobody in this league can guard Julio Jones 1 on 1, so if they Redskins had that in mind, they would be in some deep trouble. Julio had plenty of success against Norman and the Panthers last season, so I would expect more of the same in this matchup versus the Redskins
Degree of Difficulty (1-10): 3
The Falcons may not say it, but they would love a playoff matchup against the Redskins. Washington’s defense has really struggled all year and that does not bode well for a team going against the Atlanta offense. Matt Ryan and company would have a field day. The biggest problem would be stopping Kirk Cousins, but I will stick with Matt Ryan all day in a shootout against Kirk Cousins.
As of right now, this looks like the most likely potential matchup. The Falcons currently own the #2 seed, while the Seahawks are sitting in the #3 spot. If both the Falcons and the Seahawks handle business in their remaining games, they are on a collision course for a matchup in the divisional round.
Matchup to watch: Julio Jones vs. Richard Sherman
Much like the matchup with Josh Norman, this is a battle between two of the best at their respective positions. Sherman has not always been known to shadow receivers, but in this playoff matchup, I would be surprised if he was not following Julio Jones around the field. Both Falcons and Seahawks fans will remember the play that ultimately ended the week 5 matchup against these two teams. Richard Sherman was controversially not called for pass interference against Julio Jones on 4th down. This would be a fun one.
Degree of Difficulty (1-10): 6
There may be fans still thinking this is the 2014 Seattle Seahawks playing, but it certainly is not. This team has loads of flaws starting with their offensive line, which is one of the worst in the league. Seattle’s defense is also missing Earl Thomas, and has really shown a weakness since he has been out. Tyler Lockett has also just been lost for the rest of the season. With Atlanta potentially getting this matchup at home, the Falcons should be able to take care of business against a banged up Seattle team.
As of now, this could only be a matchup in the NFC Championship game, but these have been the best two teams in the NFC all year, so a potential NFC championship matchup could very well happen.
Matchup to watch: Cowboys offensive line vs. Falcons defensive line
The Cowboys are not going to be able to throw the ball all over the field with Dak Prescott at quarterback. They are going to rely on their running game to control the clock and keep Matt Ryan and the Falcons explosive offense off the field. The Cowboys offensive line is the most dominant in the league and the primary reason this team is 13-2. Ezekiel Elliot is no slouch either. The Atlanta defense has done a great job against the run for the majority of the year, but the Cowboys are a whole different story. It would be vital that the Falcons find a way to at least slow down the Cowboys running attack and force Dallas into some third and longs.
Degree of Difficulty (1-10): 8
Even though the Atlanta defense has not been great this season, they have rarely been manhandled. The loss to Philadelphia rings in my head though. Philadelphia was able to run the ball and control the clock, dominating the Falcons on their way to a win. The Cowboys are the best at doing that, but I am not so sure the Cowboys defense can slow down Matt Ryan. If the Atlanta defense has any success stopping Zeke and the Cowboys dangerous running attack, I think they pull out a win in Jerry World.