The Atlanta Falcons have been criticized this year for having a historically bad schedule, squeaking out games against inferior opponents, and losing twice in the final four weeks to teams that finished the season under .500. But at 13-3 Atlanta is the top seed in the NFC playoffs and will host Minnesota, Seattle, or Washington next week. Who should Falcon fans be cheering for this weekend?
If the six-seeded Vikings win in Green Bay they will pay a visit to Atlanta. Minnesota has won four straight including back-to-back victories against Houston and the Packers. The Vikings are second in the league in rushing offense thanks in big part to MVP candidate Adrian Peterson's 2,097 yards on the ground. Minnesota has not passed the ball well ranking above only Kansas City in pass offense.
However, quarterback Christian Ponder has totaled four touchdowns the last two weeks and has not been intercepted during the last three games. The Viking defense is slightly above average against the run and mediocre against the pass. Minnesota won three road games this year including two in the final three weeks of the season.
If the Packers eliminate Minnesota then Atlanta will get the survivor of Seattle at Washington. The Seahawks have won five straight and outscored opponents 190-60 in the process. Seattle has lost just one time during the second half of the season and has a 4-1 record on the year against playoff teams. With Marshawn Lynch leading the way the Seahawks rushing game is third best in the league. Rookie QB Russell Wilson has accounted for 10 touchdowns, one interception, and completed just under 70-percent of his passes the last three weeks. Seattle's defense allows the fewest points in the league.
The Redskins enter the playoffs on a seven game winning streak. Atlanta won in Washington 24-17 October 7. Matt Ryan threw for 345 yards in the victory but the win came with an asterisk. Washington QB Robert Griffin III missed most of the second half when he was concussed on an early third quarter play near the goal line. When RG3 departed, the game was tied at seven and the Skins were moving in to take the lead. Washington backup Kurt Cousins threw one touchdown and two interceptions on nine throws in relief of Griffin III. Washington averaged more than six yards a rush but Ryan's arm was the difference. For the season the Skins lead the NFL in rushing offense and have had great success stopping the run. However, Washington's weakness has been difficulty stopping the pass.
The Falcons’ three possible opponents are all playing well and feature outstanding running games. Each team has a young QB with Ponder seemingly the weakest of the trio. Atlanta's greatest strength is their passing offense and that's where the Redskins really struggle. The Skins have beaten just two playoff teams this year. Asking for RG3 seems dangerous but they are the best matchup for the Falcons.