The Falcons have undergone some pretty massive, upsetting changes since the beginning of this season. To help you keep track of all those, and to help you take a deep breath before the game ahead, we’re taking a weekly look at where the team stands heading into their next matchup.
The Atlanta Falcons made a couple of significant moves this week. The first, most impactful and saddest was the team’s decision to place Ricardo Allen on injured reserve after he suffered a season-ending injury. To replace him, the team jettisoned Richard Jarvis and signed veteran linebacker Bruce Carter and familiar safety Sharrod Neasman, who spent time with the Falcons fairly recently. Neasman will be the backup at strong safety and Carter figures to offer depth for a group of linebackers that looks fairly thin at the moment.
The roster is unquestionably worse off yet again thanks to Allen’s injury. Neasman is a terrific special teamer and has shown signs of being a capable reserve safety, at the very least, and Carter has had his flashes during his career. The Falcons are still putting bandages on chest wounds at the moment.
Not to downplay Devonta Freeman’s importance, but the Falcons are getting back their most key injured player this week outside of the men on injured reserve. That would be Takkarist McKinley, who has been the team’s most productive pass rush on a per-snap basis by a country mile.
McKinley’s return equips the Falcons to have some kind of pass rush against the Bengals, who have some weaknesses along the offensive line Atlanta has to exploit. Unfortunately, there will be no Derrick Shelby, no Freeman and no Justin Bethel, but those losses should be survivable this week. Going without Takk again was not going to be.
What’s at stake?
A great deal. A loss here drops the Falcons to 1-3 and basically forces them to reel off eight-to-nine wins in their last 12 games to even sniff a playoff spot. A win pulls them up to .500, gives them a confidence boost heading into a tough road game against the Steelers, and lets them stay afloat while they wait for Freeman to get healthy. They’re still going to have a tough road, but in a season as injury-plagued as this one, every single win is going to matter.
Also, even though Cincinnati is a pretty tough team, they’re an easier fight than some of the teams left on Atlanta’s slate. You can’t drop too many of these and stay in the hunt.
I said this last week, but I think the Falcons can win this game, albeit narrowly. There won’t be many blowout predictions from me the rest of the way unless the defense dramatically improves in the near future, but with a little bit more pass rushing juice and another great offensive performance, they can pull this one off. I think they’ll get both, genuinely, and end up winning this game.