Six teams in the NFC playoff picture. Five of them are new to the party after missing out last season. That one lone team just so happens to be a team that many counted out.
Entering the regular season finale against the 11-win Carolina Panthers, the Atlanta Falcons faced a clear-and-precise scenario: win and you're in. By no means was this deemed to be an easy matchup for the Falcons. Especially given that the Panthers not only beat the Falcons once before this season but also the Panthers were playing for a possible NFC South division title as well.
The 22-10 victory for the Falcons over the Panthers sealed what has been a 2017 regular season filled with highs, lows, and the weird stuff in-between. It was not a smooth win at all for the Falcons with the offense only producing one touchdowns and five field goals from a kicker we call Money. However, the young Falcons defense took an important step as a unit by holding the Panthers offense to 248 yards of total offense and added three interceptions by FS Ricardo Allen, SS Keanu Neal, and CB Robert Alford, to boot.
Despite tight wins over Detroit, Chicago, Seattle, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, and even the New York Jets and convincing wins over Dallas and Green Bay during the regular season, this latest win over Carolina may have showed the identity of the 2017 version of the Atlanta Falcons. One that has plenty of offensive talent along with a growing number of defensive pillars.
While this edition of the Falcons may not feature the insanely productive offense that we saw during the course of the 2016 regular season and deep into the playoffs, it still has a unit that is capable of making defenses play their brand of football. The team as a whole is slowly adopting the art of winning, in whatever manner that winds up working out.
Just skimming over their season, the Falcons were faced with nothing but questions about their offensive coordinator, their mental makeup, their defensive growth, oh and their mental makeup. Despite having first year offensive and defensive coordinators along with combatting the dragon that is their Super Bowl 51 aftermath, the Falcons produced an offense that was eighth overall and a defense that is ninth overall. Not bad for a team that was at one point 3-3 after being a soft joke punching bag for four quarters against the Patriots on Sunday Night Football in late October.
So the Falcons now stare at a difficult mountain ahead of them called the playoffs, after trekking through a treacherous path to get there. Beating the Panthers in a calculated manner could possibly provide the injection of confidence the team needed. Let’s hope that it matters that they finished the year off strong after battling some of the most difficult opponents since Dan Quinn was first hired.