It did not seem likely three weeks ago, but the Falcons have found a way to swing things around with three straight wins. None more convincing than their dominant showing in Washington on Sunday. It’s certainly taken some pressure off the team in terms of the playoff race. They now trail the Minnesota Vikings by just a half-game with half the season remaining. However, make know mistake about it, it is still “must-win” time for Atlanta.
Dropping one of their next two games wouldn’t mathematically hurt their chances by too much; however, given their schedule, they cannot afford to lose before Thanksgiving. Atlanta plays the Cleveland Browns on the road this Sunday followed by a return home to face the Cowboys. Both should result in blowout wins for the Falcons.
I understand the Browns have actually won a couple of games this season and are far from the woeful team we saw a year ago, but they are still one of the worst teams in the NFL. Their defense, that appeared to have made some major progress, has gone nowhere but south over the last four weeks, allowing 33.5 points per game. That’s not the formula to beat arguably the best offense in the NFL coming off their most complete game of the season.
Offensively, the Browns are still the Browns, even with Baker Mayfield, whom I am very high on. He has just been asked to do way too much. Cleveland’s receiving core is not making enough plays, the offensive line is still suspect, and the running game is inconsistent. All of this is a recipe for a rookie quarterback to have more turnovers than he does touchdowns. There is never an easy win in the NFL, but if the Falcons come in with the same focus they did against Washington, they will bulldoze the Browns.
The same can be said for the Cowboys the following week. For some reasons that nobody really knows (except for Jerry Jones), Jason Garrett is still the head coach in Dallas. The results have not changed. The Cowboys have been slightly better on defense, but their offense has been anemic, to say the least. You don’t have to look further than Monday night’s showing against the Titans to see that. To make matters even worse for Cowboys fans, Sean Lee will be out for a while once again with a hamstring injury.
Oh, and that game takes place on November 18th, which happens to be the first game Deion Jones can return from injury. Simply put, there is no way the Cowboys should be able to keep up with the Falcons on their home turf.
And that is important because the schedule takes a sharp turn towards a group of really solid football teams after that. It begins with the Saints on Thanksgiving in New Orleans. They look like the best team in football right now, winning seven straight, and the Superdome is an extremely tough place to pull out a win.
Atlanta follows that up with a home game against a physical Ravens defense and then go on the road for a December matchup at Lambeau Field. They close out their schedule with two divisional road games in Carolina and Tampa Bay, neither of which will fold easily.
The Falcons have the picture-perfect opportunity to really insert themselves back into the playoff conversation, but that doesn’t happen without wins against both the Browns and Cowboys. These are must-win games, or you can kiss any chance of the playoffs goodbye.