If the Falcons season has been a roller coaster so far, the last month has been the part where the tracks end and the cart soars majestically toward the ground. Yes, it has not been a good four weeks for the Dirty Birds. But all that can change right now. The Redskins are not a superb team in any sense of the word, so the Falcons naturally match up well with them. But as I've been saying for weeks now (and won't stop saying until they're officially out of the playoffs), this week is critical. The loss to the Saints probably screwed them out of the division, but the NFC is playing so poorly as a whole right now that the wildcard is still very much within reach. With a couple of wins against the Redskins and the Bucs, the Falcons are at 7-6 and possibly second in the division. Obviously, this needs to happen for a salvaged season.
But let's not look ahead too far. What do the Redskins offer?
The O: The Falcons have been miserably bad on offense for a while now, but Vick looked better last week. If it hadn't been for some of those epic drops, we might even be praising him this week. So he'll come out tossing, though I've given up all hope that Knapp will let him loose of the pocket. The running game is showing signs of slow decline, especially in the form of Warrick Dunn. I have absolutely no criticism for Dunn, a classy guy and someone who wouldn't be performing poorly if he wasn't injured or fatigued. But Norwood should get more carries to offset this, as the Redskins' D isn't filled to the brim with excellent pursuit athletes. The only thing I'm going to say about the receivers is that they had damn well better catch the ball this week, or somebody's going to kill them. I wonder if Vick would be fined for flipping off his own receivers, come to think of it.
On the other side, you have a somewhat depleted Redskins' O. Jason Campbell has a lot of potential at QB, but potential can't save him from sacks and pressure. Not to strum the same chord over and over again, but the Falcons need to go after him and try to rattle him throughout the game. He has a very dangerous couple of targets in Santana Moss and Chris Cooley, who have the potential to wreck up the Falcons' useless secondary. The Redskins turn to Ladell Betts and former Falcon T.J. Duckett, who has basically been a bag of crap on their doorstep for much of the year. Why trade for a guy you don't like and you won't use? I don't understand it. That being said, neither one scares me very much. Betts can easily have a 17 carry, 60 yard game and end up nowhere near the endzone, so the Falcons should focus primarily on shutting down the pass. Will be difficult, though.
The Wing Edge: Atlanta. The Redskins would probably win this if Portis was healthy, but the Falcons certainly have a better chance of scoring quick points. It's hard for me to say that without cringing, though, because I'm afraid I'm jinxing them yet again.
The D: I predicted yesterday that Boley would be the key to the defense, and I'm repeating that here. Boley has good instincts wherever's he going and should be able to author a game changer if given the chance. Look for John Abraham to return to form a little bit and actually post some kind of stats for the week. The front seven should contain the run with little problem, but I'm worried about the secondary, as usual. Hall will have to keep a very close eye on Moss if we're going to stand a chance of stopping him, and I don't trust either safety to cover Cooley worth a damn. Donatell may want to consider cheating the linebackers into coverage a little and giving them a chance to help the safeties out a bit, especially early on.
The Redskins' D has a bunch of probables, but I expect most of them will play and thus am not that worried about it. The 'Skins have the opposite problem of the Falcons, really. Their front seven is above average but has allowed 119 yards rushing per game, which bodes well for Dunn and Norwood. Their secondary has a pair of good coverage corners in Shawn Springs and Carlos Rogers, and Sean Taylor is incredibly scary to any receiver going over the middle. The passes that may work best are the under-the-coverage type, but I'm kind of cynical about the Falcons' ability to run that well. So pounding the ball until the secondary's unprepared is probably the way to go, but watching out for Taylor is also key.
The Wing Edge: Atlanta. The Falcons have a pretty awful pass defense as of late, but their run defense is very good and their pass rush should be able to slow down the Jason Campbell Experience. The Redskins have a lot of talent but are prone to big plays and aren't super effective against the run, so Atlanta gets the slight edge here.
The ST: Morten Andersen has quietly become much more reliable than I thought he would be. He no longer has a plus leg for distance field goals, but he is pretty consistent on the shorter ones (Saints game aside, of course). Koenen is a classic case of the sophomore slump, and he's actually not doing that poorly for the year. I just expected more out of him after last year's surprising ascension. He'll be a factor in this game; hopefully for the better.
The Redskins have had troubling problems at kicker, with Nick Novak going a gruesome 5/10 for field goals so far this season. He may very well be removed as the kicker by gametime Sunday, which I hope doesn't happen. I would prefer an inconsistent distance kicker anyday, if not one who has no legs at all. But we can't always get what we wish for, I suppose. Derrick Frost supplies the punt for Washington, and he's got a decent leg, with a 42.2 average and 8% of his kicks going for touchbacks. Nothing special, though.
The Wing Edge: Atlanta, again. I've now officially crossed into "there's no reason the Falcons can't win this game" territory, which makes me nervous. If you need me, I'll be in my bomb shelter.
Overall Wing Edge: Atlanta. It's not that the Redskins are terrible; it's just that they're not a team that matches up well with Atlanta. They had a mighty impressive victory over the Panthers last week, but I honestly don't see them pulling that off again this week.
Prediction: Falcons win by a touchdown.