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As the Falcons recover from Week 17 and New Years hangovers, the focus has begun to shift to the looming playoffs. While Atlanta's past three postseason games generated a lot of excitement among the fans, the upcoming divisional round contest seems to be bringing more nervous feelings than anything else. At this point, there's nothing to celebrate until this team wins in January.
Week 17 Injuries Appear Minor
The results of last Sunday's matchup against the Bucaneers bears little significance; however, the health of the team coming out of that game is crucial to the Falcons success in the postseason. Luckily, despite several cringe-inducing plays, it appears as if Atlanta will head into the divisional round at full strength.
"I can tell you this," Smith said Monday, "with both of the players that left the game yesterday, I fully anticipate they will be ready to go on Sunday, Jan. 13 at 1 p.m."
Falcons fans received quite a scare late in the Tampa game as star defensive end John Abraham was carted off to the locker room with a hurt ankle. Given Abe's past injury history and his age, the fact that he wasn't able to walk off the field was an alarming site. That said, it seems as if No. 55 will be ready to go come Jan. 13, providing the Falcons with their one reliable pass rusher. Without Abraham, it's hard to imagine Atlanta getting much pressure on the quarterback in a playoff scenario.
Additionally, Dunta Robinson appears fine after sustaining a nasty head injury early on last Sunday. Without his presence, the Falcons would be forced to start Robert McClain, Chris Owens or Dominique Franks in his spot.
Practice to Remain Intense During Bye Week
While the Falcons won't be in action again until the 13th, Coach Smith plans to keep practice upbeat and intense as if there was a game to be played this week. Back in 2010, when Atlanta was in the same position as the top seed in the NFC, Smith gave the players a bit of a break during the added bye week. Clearly that didn't work out, so naturally a new approach is in order.
“The work load is going to be different in terms of the number of days that we work and when we work,” Smith said on Monday. “We did not spend a whole lot of time on the field during our bye week (in 2010). We used it to rest. This year we’re going to spend more time out on the field. We’ll be out on the field four days this week. They won’t be long practices, but we’ll be out on the field.”
Coordinators Could Leave for Head Coaching Gigs
While the Falcons have had the same head coach and general manager since 2008, they may have to hire their third set of coordinators in three years this summer.
Both Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan are candidates for head coaching vacancies throughout the league. And with so many firings this past Monday, there's a solid chance one of them will be gone.
While losing Koetter would be unfortunate, he's far more replaceable than Nolan, who's completely revamped Atlanta's defense. If Nolan were to depart, it could be incredibly detrimental to this team if the right replacement isn't found.
Run Defense to be Tested
Regardless of who the Falcons match up with in the divisional round, they're going to face an elite running back.
The three teams Atlanta could play are Minnesota, Seattle and Washington, which are the homes of Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch and Alfred Morris, respectively.
“As a staff, we’ll spend one day over the next three days on a specific team,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said on Monday. “That’s how we’ll do it. The wy we are going sequence it, Washington will be the last one that we do because we have some familiarity with having played them earlier in the season. We’ll focus on the other two teams that we have not played on Wednesday and Thursday.”
The Falcons' ability to advance to the conference finals doesn't solely hinge on how well they stop whomever is playing running back for the opposition, but it will be among the biggest keys to success. Peterson has been pretty much unstoppable this year, and the Redskins and Seahawks both have mobile quarterbacks. If Atlanta can't keep the other team's rushing attack in check, a victory will be very hard to come by.