What do you play for when your playoff hopes are lost?
That's one of the many questions facing the Atlanta Falcons today, a little over 24 hours before they take on the Seattle Seahawks. For all the rhetoric coming from the Branch, the Falcons themselves are well aware that their playoff odds are hovering near zero. Fans, for their part, are not projecting a lot of wins going forward:
Six. RT @TheFalcoholic: Quick Twitter poll: How many wins do you expect the Falcons to wind up with this season?— Aaron Freeman (@falcfans) November 8, 2013
Eight was the high. What do you play for, then? Pride, obviously, since the locker room and sidelines are full of prideful men. I would argue that you're playing for more than that, though. You're playing the best damn football you can and trying to grow as a team, because if none of the young guys on the team grow into players, it's going to be an uphill climb again in 2014. And heck, you play to spoil things for other NFC teams, because screw those guys.
Certainly, beating a very good Seahawks team would mean a lot to these Falcons, and whether you like to admit it or not, a win here would feel great. Knowing the Falcons aren't going to tank, I want to see the growth of the team they have. Let's get it started with a win here.
Here's four matchups that matter.
Joplo Bartu vs. Zach Miller
The Falcons will need to take Zach Miller out of the game. The talented tight end has had a relatively quiet year, but he remains a red zone weapon and he burned this team for 142 yards and a touchdown in the playoffs just a year ago.
The Falcons have had mixed success against tight ends again this year, and Joplo Bartu is still growing into a linebacker who can (hopefully) cover them successfully down the line. With the cornerbacks having enough talent to hang with Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate outside, shutting down Marshawn Lynch and Zach Miller is the best way to ensure the pass rush can make life hellish for Russell Wilson.
If Bartu/the other linebackers/the safeties can keep up with Miller, Wilson loses one of his security blankets. He's good enough to still make things happen, but taking Zach Miller out of the picture will make life easier on the defense.
Falcons Front Seven vs. Marshawn Lynch
The run defense has been stingy all year long, but Marshawn Lynch presents a unique challenge. He runs like he's possessed by a train, a great trait against a defense that sometimes struggles to tackle effectively.
You've no doubt heard about how terrible this Seahawks offensive line is, but a caveat: They're not poor at run blocking. Seattle will happily run the ball all day long if it's working, setting up play action passes and short throws for Russell Wilson. That's a perfectly legitimate way to win, and when you have arguably the worst pass-blocking line in the NFL, it might be the best way to win.
I think the Falcons' pass rush will be able to get home if they can force the Seahawks to throw more than they want to. Keeping Lynch bottled up will go a very long way, so let's hope the front seven can continue to perform at a Top 10 level against the ground game.
Yeah, I'm penciling him in for this game. Yes, I'm aware this might invalidate one of my four critical matchups.
If White returns to the Falcons and is anywhere near 100%, he'll have a ripple effect on the entire offense. Teams won't be able to focus all their energies on Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez, freeing both up a bit. And if White is healthy and himself, he's got a real shot to cause problems for Sherman, who is indisputably one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.
With the pass rush the Seahawks have and their secondary, it's going to be a third straight week of tough sledding for Matt Ryan. White's return would be a huge boon for him, and if he can carve out a decent line and get open, it's going to take an enormous amount of pressure off Ice.
One Scuffling Team vs. Another
The Falcons have had two poor showings in a row, losses fueled by penalties, turnovers and mistakes that stand out in an already poor year. Previously, the Falcons hadn't been blown out in any game, but they certainly haven't come close in the last two.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, are in the same boat the Falcons were in just a year ago. They keep winning, but they're winning very ugly, with a comeback 27-24 win over the Bucs a week ago, a 14-9 ugly fest over the Rams a week prior and close wins over the Texans and Titans. They're an excellent team facing some injuries, but there's a reason some 'Hawks fans I've talked to are a little more grim than you'd expect fans of an 8-1 team to be. They're not winning convincingly right now.
So this will be two teams facing off and hoping to get back on track. Again, the Falcons are looking to do so for pride, an extremely outside chance at the playoffs and the opportunity to start playing well as a team. The Seahawks want the #1 seed in the NFC and homefield advantage, because home is where Seattle is most dangerous.
For that reason alone, it should be a good game. It's just very likely that it's going to be a sloppy one, and the team that manages to make the fewest mistakes may win. Let's hope that's the Falcons.
More from The Falcoholic:
- Meet Your Newest Falcoholic Writer: An Introduction from @FalconsM5
- Falcons vs. Seahawks Complete Week 10 Game Coverage
- Seahawks vs. Falcons: Why the Falcons Need to Win
- Tony Dorsett The Latest In A Long List Of Players Affected By CTE
- Thursday Night Football Open Thread: Redskins vs. Vikings