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Is Sunday a Must-Win for Atlanta?

Chris Trotman

Let's all think back to Jan. 8 of this year. I'm sure you all remember that day fondly.

The Falcons headed to New York to face the Giants in the first round of the 2011 playoffs. It was expected to be Matt Ryan's time to shine, Mike Smith's first postseason victory with Atlanta, the end to all the torment fans had endured for years. But of course that game ended up as a complete debacle, and critics still reference it often.

Now here we are in Week 15 of the 2012 season, and guess who's coming to town? It's redemption time for the Falcons. They don't want Tom Coughlin's crew to walk away with another win, and they would certainly enjoy putting the memory of last year's collapse behind them.

Can we call this a must-win game, though?

What really defines must-win in the regular season when you've already clinched a playoff spot? We know the Falcons are in, we know they remain in control of the No. 1 seed, yet plenty of people are making this game out to be the most vital part of the year.

Look back at the past few Super Bowl winners. 2011, the Giants lost 23-10 to the Redskins in Week 15. They won the last two games of the regular season, and caught fire in the playoffs. 2010, the Packers lost 31-27 to the Patriots in Week 15. They won the last two games of the regular season and caught fire in the playoffs. 2009, the Saints were still undefeated heading into Week 15. They lost 24-17 to Dallas and proceeded to head into the playoffs on a three-game losing streak.

Beating the Giants this weekend would boost the confidence of the Falcons, get the critics off their back a bit and further ensure the top seed in the NFC. A loss on the other hand disappointing? Sure, but it's not the end of the world. They wrap up the season with Detroit and Tampa, two games to build momentum. Even if Atlanta loses those two games as well, though, winning in the playoffs is still completely attainable.

Week 15 hasn't been important in the grand scheme of things in recent years. Obviously I would love to see Matt Ryan come out and put up 400+ yards and five touchdowns in a crushing victory over Eli Manning. We all would. I'm not sure I can call this matchup a must-win scenario, though. What do you think?