It's time for me to do something I don't usually like to do, but feel is necessary. I must now, at great personal risk, attempt to figure out how the Falcons will finish the season. At 5-3, they have now played half their games, and a 5-3 finish in the second half would put them at 10-6 with a very likely spot in the playoffs. The question is, can they do it?
Perhaps the biggest factor is going to be injuries. When Milloy, Abraham, or Hartwell get hurt, it's a major concern. When Mathis or Norwood gets hurt, it obviously doesn't cause that same level of concern, but I'm here to suggest that it probably should. The Falcons are a team that have notoriously lacked depth in the last few years, with the only high level backups backups on offense being Schaub and Duckett, and Duckett is now growing a big grey beard in Washington. This year, Rich McKay went out to acquire new starters and thus created depth by placing the former starters on the bench. He also drafted intelligently, picking up a stellar cornerback prospect for the future and a lightning fast halfback who has contributed all year. He's also done wonders with the offensive line, which has featured a revolving door at the guard position for most of the year. But what happens if the injuries start piling up, you ask?
We lose, clearly. You can blame the Lions game on Vick (and your chosen deity knows I do), but there were also an unusually high number of injuries during the game. This forced the team to test its depth at safety, halfback (hint: there is none), and linebacker (where Demorrio Williams is it). The Falcons do have an improved depth chart, but it is not strong enough to withstand the rigors of a full schedule without its key starters. With Abraham and Lehr due back sooner than later, there figures to be a boost, but the loss of Mathis and conceivably Milloy and Norwood is going to force the Falcons to play guys like Omare Lowe. This is not good.
So where will the Falcons finish with injuries and inconsistency plaguing them? 10-6 certainly seems reasonble; this team has proved they have tremendous talent and spirit when they want to. They've also proven that they can be creamed by the worst teams in the league on their off days, so 5-3 seems like a reasonable expectation. At the same time, I'm not entirely sure they can get there. 4-4 is probably more accurate, given that they have to play the Ravens, Saints, Cowboys, and Eagles before the end of the season, and all four of those games will be challenges. I don't think the Falcons will implode enough to finish up 8-8 or 7-9. Instead, I expect them to squeak into the playoffs on a wildcard at either 10-6 or 9-7, other teams in the NFC permitting. Because I'm a slippery blogger, though, I reserve the right to revisit my soothsaying at the 3/4 mark of the season, when hopefully the Falcons will have gone 4-0, and your chosen deity forbid they go 0-4. The barometer? A supposedly easy game against the Browns that I'm effectively considering a must win for this team, and a must get back on track for the offense.
Let's see if they do it.