Atlanta’s next matchup is Cleveland, and the Falcons are heading into this matchup facing a talented team and cold weather. They’re also in good shape, comparatively speaking, thanks to improved team health and the addition of a new pass rushing option.
The Falcons made one of their biggest moves of the season, if not the biggest, in adding Bruce Irvin. Austin Pasztor left to make room, leaving the Falcons a little lighter along the offensive line, but still with plenty of depth there.
Irvin’s not a world-beater as a pass rusher, but he’s a proven option with a history of production, especially under Dan Quinn. He’ll be a much better option as a rotational pass rusher than Brooks Reed or Derrick Shelby, at the very least, and should be able to make an impact for the Falcons right away. The question is how large his role will be and just how large that impact will be, as well, but we’ll get our first look tomorrow afternoon.
With Robert Alford expected to return, only Matt Bryant is set to miss this game. That’s great news for this team, which hasn’t had many healthy weeks in 2018, and it greatly increases their chances of both putting the brakes on these Browns and scoring gobs of points against them.
Bryant is a loss, however. We know that he’s reliable in most any weather, and what we don’t know is what Giorgio Tavecchio will be able to do if the winds are whipping and the flakes are flying and it’s ten degrees above freezing. That concerns me, but it’s also an opportunity for Tavecchio to prove he belongs in Atlanta for the long haul, and I hope he seizes it.
What’s at stake?
Still the season. A win over the Browns puts the Falcons a game over .500 heading into a home matchup with the Cowboys, and a win over Dallas puts them at 6-4 as they head into a harder stretch to end their season. Any losses here, instead of against potent opponents like Carolina, Green Bay, New Orleans or Baltimore, really puts the season in peril.
Atlanta just has to win these games to stay alive, and after clawing their way back to .500, they are extremely keen to do just that. I don’t think they’ll lack for motivation or an understanding of the stakes.
The Falcons are indeed .500 and just played their best game of the season against a Washington team that had reeled off some impressive, if tight, victories. Cleveland is not actually an easier matchup than Washington, especially in cold weather, but they’re not a significantly tougher challenge either.
This is another winnable game in a string of them, and the Falcons have thus far been able to take advantage of Tampa Bay, New York and Washington in turn. If they play at the level they’re capable of—as they did in that thumping last Sunday—they can win this game. Heck, they can do so if they play at a lesser level, but I’d also rather not suffer through a close game if we can help it. This Falcons team is playing good ball right now, and I’m perhaps unreasonably confident in their ability to keep doing so.