All season long the Atlanta Falcons have heard about how weak of a schedule they have played, how lucky they have been throughout the year, and how it will catch up to them in the playoffs if not sooner. At 11-2 and unbeaten at home, Atlanta needs two wins in their final three games to clinch the top seed in the NFC playoffs.
For the first time in nearly three months fans at the Georgia Dome will see a playoff caliber opponent today. The defending Super Bowl Champion Giants travel to Atlanta and must win their final three games to guarantee a playoff a birth. The same Giants dominated the Falcons in New York during the first round of last year’s playoffs.
Atlanta's opponents thus far have a combined record of 66-103. Of the 13 teams in the league with a record of 5-8 or worse the Falcons have beaten them eight times. If the playoffs began today Atlanta has faced only one of the 11 other postseason qualifiers. In the one game against a playoff team the Falcons led Denver 20-0 early thanks to three Peyton Manning interceptions and held on for a 27-21 victory. It was just one of a lot of fortunate Falcon wins.
If 2011 was the season of crazy Tebow luck, then Matt Ryan must have spent this off-season learning how to effectively convince the football gods. The Falcons are 7-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less and 4-0 in field goal or fewer margin contests. They have consistently found ways to wrestle victory from the jaws of defeat.
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On six occasions an opponent has imploded, collapsed, or otherwise handed the Falcons a win. It started with Peyton Manning's three first quarter interceptions in week two. Just a couple of weeks later Atlanta scored twice against Carolina in the final five minutes with a critical Cam Newton fumble aiding the cause. An injury to Robert Griffin III helped the Falcons rally to beat Washington in week five, while a defensive touchdown and 55-yard field goal at the buzzer were enough to eke out a win against Oakland in week six. The victory against Arizona November 18 might be the best of all. Despite Falcon QB Matt Ryan tossing five interceptions, the inept Cardinals managed just 41 passing yards and went two for 16 on third down conversion chances giving away what could have been an easy victory. Finally, two weeks ago Drew Brees tossed five interceptions in a game New Orleans dominated in all phases but turnovers.
So the Falcons are beatable. But who are the 2012 Giants? They started 2-2, won four straight, and now stand at 8-5 after a 17-16 loss in Washington followed by a 52-27 home stomping of New Orleans. The numbers indicate New York is a good but not great offensive team and a mediocre but not atrocious defensive squad. The Giants crushed San Francisco in the Bay Area but were demoralized in Cincinnati. New York dominated Green Bay and lost to the Eagles. When the Giants win, they average 36 points a game. In losses New York scores an average of 16.6 points per contest. Oh by the way, the Atlanta defense is suspect.
Last week Carolina beat the Falcons 30-20 racking up 475 yards of offense. In a win against New Orleans two weeks ago the Saints rolled up 436 yards and if it wasn't for the interceptions it likely would have been a Falcon loss. You cannot take away wins and it does not matter how they come, but one has to wonder when and if Atlanta's fortune will run out.