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It's Official: the Atlanta Falcons are NFC South Champions.
The Falcons clinched the division on Sunday afternoon, as the Broncos took down the Buccaneers in Denver—ensuring that Tampa would finish the 2012 campaign with a worse record than the Falcons. This marks the earliest the Falcons have sealed a division crown in franchise history, and their fifth of all time. They are now guaranteed at least one home playoff game in January.
The next goal for the Falcons is to earn the top seed in the conference to ensure home field advantage throughout the postseason. Atlanta can accomplish this by winning two of its final four regular season contests, which will be played against the Carolina, New York (Giants), Detroit and Tampa Bay.
"It’ll be fun for the teams involved," Mike Smith said Sunday night. "It ought to be fun for the fans and it’s going to be fun for the coaches. Football in December, it can’t get any better."
Falcons Turning Skeptics Into Believers
Just prior to last Thursday's game, Boston Globe columnist said on Around the Horn that the Falcons could go 15-1 and still be underdogs in the playoffs. As irrational as that statement may seem, he's right. Atlanta has yet to convince the football world that they're ready to compete for the Lombardi Trophy, and they won't be able to properly convince anyone of that idea until they start winning in the postseason.
That said, however, this team is slowly but surely turning skeptics into believers. While the offense sputtered for the majority of this week's game, the Falcons were still able to take down the Saints on national television and pick off their star quarterback five times (six if you count the one that was called back for a penalty).
If there's one reason to believe this team is ready to take the next step and win a playoff game, it's the improved play of the defense as a whole. And while nearly every facet of MIke Nolan's crew has been better than the previous regime, no development has been more important than that of the secondary.
Forcing Drew Brees into throwing five interceptions (six if we count the one that was called back for a penalty), Atlanta's D looked strong enough on Thursday to compete against just about any team in this league—despite some unfortunate injuries.
"I am extremely happy with the way our defense played, more specifically, our secondary," said SS William Moore, who made two interceptions. "I feel like our depth gets overlooked. When Brent Grimes went down, and also Asante (Samuel) this game, guys like Christopher Owens and Robert McClain were ready and prepared to fill in those shoes."
The defense will be given an easier task than the Saints on Sunday when the team travels to Carolina, but the real test will come on December 16 when the New York Giants come to town.
Panthers Fall to Chiefs
Speaking of Carolina, the Panthers fell to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, losing to a 1-10 team by the score of 27-21. While you can never overlook an opponent in the NFL, this loss only furthers the notion that next week's game should be a decisive win for Atlanta. I'll be in attendance to