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Bird’s Eye View: How Atlanta’s remaining opponents played in Week 12

The road ahead looks easy on paper, but as we learn each week in this league: Things are never as simple as they appear. 

Welcome back to Bird’s Eye View!

A pivotal division victory has the Falcons back on top in the NFC South with six games remaining. If the Atlanta Falcons can win its three remaining divisional games, it will have an excellent opportunity to return to the playoffs after a five-year hiatus.

The road ahead looks easy on paper, but as we learn each week in this league, things are never as simple as they appear.

A brief refresher for those who may be reading this piece for the first time: This exercise is meant to provide a quick synopsis of how each team did the previous week. I’ll highlight a standout player from each side of the ball, and for the two teams next on Atlanta’s schedule, I’ll include a potential x-factor player for the upcoming matchup.

Here’s how the Falcons’ remaining opponents looked in Week 12:

Week 13 – at New York Jets (4-7)

Last three games:

- Week 10: Loss at Las Vegas (16-12)

- Week 11: Loss at Buffalo (32-6)

- Week 12: Loss vs Miami (34-13)

Tweet-length summary of Jets in Week 12:

Best offensive player in Week 12: WR Garrett Wilson

It feels like Wilson and Breece Hall have traded off in this spot for most of the season, which isn’t surprising considering they are the Jets’ best offensive weapons. Wilson had a meager outing by his standards—just 44 yards on seven catches—but he did score his third touchdown of the season. Wilson’s talent is undeniable, and although the quarterback play has been bad for New York, he’s a threat every week.

Best defensive player in Week 12: DT Solomon Thomas

While Quinnen Williams will draw most of the attention in this matchup, Thomas is coming off his best game of the season for New York. He’s not been great this year, so it’s possible that his performance on Friday was an outlier, but Thomas had a sack and two run stops against a very good Miami offense. The Jets rely on the defensive front to make life hard, and Thomas is a factor in that.

Team stat to know: The Jets rank last in average time of possession.

X-factor for the Jets in Week 13: QB Tim Boyle

The Jets turned to Tim Boyle in Week 12, and he finished his first start completing 27 of 38 pass attempts for 179 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions. Boyle will start again on Sunday against Atlanta, which maybe isn’t the comforting feeling it would be for most fanbases. After all, the Falcons have made some lesser quarterbacks look pretty good this season. Still, this chart is all you really need to know.

Week 14 – vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7)

Last three games:

- Week 10: Win vs Tennessee (20-6)

- Week 11: Loss at San Francisco (27-14)

- Week 12: Loss at Indianapolis (27-20)

Tweet-length summary of Buccaneers in Week 12:

Tampa Bay plays basically the same game every week. Baker Mayfield is frisky; Mike Evans makes big plays, and the defense gives up a few long drives. That usually adds up to a close loss for the Buccaneers, and it did once again against Indy.

Best offensive player in Week 12: WR Mike Evans

This is a Pro Bowl season for Evans, who has 54 catches for 850 yards and nine touchdowns in 11 games. He once again led the Bucs with six catches for 70 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Colts. I don’t need to go on about Evans; we’re all very aware of what he can do.

Best defensive player in Week 12: S Antoine Winfield Jr.

I think it’s fair to say that Winfield Jr. is the best defender for Tampa Bay this season. He once again led the team with 10 tackles, including nine solo. He also had a pass breakup while allowing just one catch for 5 yards in his coverage.

Team stat to know: Tampa Bay’s offense ranks 13th in EPA/play on third downs this season.

X-factor for the Bucs in Week 14: QB Baker Mayfield

Mayfield hasn’t been bad for the Buccaneers this season. In fact, he’s about right in the middle of the pack for quarterback play in 2023. He’s completed about 65 percent of his passes for 2,588 yards with 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions. However, it’s his ability to move around that makes him the X-factor here. Although he doesn’t do it often, Mayfield has the mobility to do something similar to what Josh Dobbs did against Atlanta.

Week 15 – at Carolina Panthers (1-10)

Last three games:

- Week 10: Loss at Chicago (16-13)

- Week 11: Loss vs Dallas (33-10)

- Week 12: Loss at Tennessee (17-10)

Tweet-length summary of Panthers in Week 12:

Best offensive player in Week 12: OT Taylor Moton

This may have been Moton’s best game of the season, which doesn’t really mean much in a 17-10 loss. He didn’t allow a single pressure and was a big asset in the run game.

Best defensive player in Week 12: DE Brian Burns

Burns had another sack in this game, bringing his season total to six on the season. At one point, the Panthers reportedly had two first-round picks on the table for Burns. He’s a surefire pillar defender for any defense, but does he make sense for a team this deep into a rebuild?

Team stat to know: Carolina’s defense ranks fourth in third-down conversion rate, allowing a first down just 35 percent of the time.

Week 16 – vs Indianapolis Colts (6-5)

Last three games:

- Week 10: Win at New England (10-6)

- Week 11: Bye

- Week 12: Win vs Tampa Bay (27-20)

Tweet-length summary of Colts in Week 12:

Jonathan Taylor played a big role in the Colts sticking in the AFC playoff mix, but a thumb injury will cause him to miss some time down the stretch. Can Zack Moss and Gardner Minshew keep things rolling?

Best offensive player in Week 12: RB Jonathan Taylor

Taylor carried the ball 15 times for 91 yards with a pair of touchdowns, and he looked like the version of himself that led the league in rushing in 2021. It’s a shame Taylor will have to miss some time after he’s started to find his stride, but if the Colts do make the playoffs they will want their star running back ready to go. Whether he makes it back for the Falcons game is another question.

Best defensive player in Week 12: DE Samson Ebukam

The former 49er is playing well for the Colts in his first season. He’s coming off a big outing in which he had a pair of third-down sacks, including a strip sack late in the fourth quarter that ended the game. Indianapolis’s defense is playing well during the second half, and it’s because of players like Ebukam stepping up.

Team stat to know: The Colts have the third-most forced fumbles this season.

Week 17 – at Chicago Bears (4-8)

Last three games:

- Week 10: Win vs Carolina (16-13)

- Week 11: Loss at Detroit (31-26)

- Week 12: Win at Minnesota (12-10)

Tweet-length summary of Bears in Week 12:

Best offensive player in Week 12: WR DJ Moore

Now that Justin Fields is back under center, Moore has picked right back up as the dominant receiver he is. He caught 11 passes for 114 yards and gave the Vikings’ secondary headaches all night long. On the season, Moore has 70 catches for 1,003 yards and six touchdowns.

Best defensive player in Week 12: CB Jaylon Johnson

How good has Johnson been this season? He had another outstanding game against a pretty potent Vikings passing attack. Johnson had a pair of pass breakups and a really instinctual interception to start the second half. He’s dropped a few more interceptions this season (including one Monday night) but he’s playing like a Pro Bowler.

Team stat to know: Chicago’s defense ranks dead last in red-zone defense, allowing a touchdown 73.5 percent of the time.

Week 18 – New Orleans Saints (5-6)

Last three games:

- Week 10: Loss at Minnesota (27-19)

- Week 11: Bye

- Week 12: Loss at Atlanta (24-15)

Tweet-length summary of Saints in Week 12:

The Saints moved the ball well, but they couldn’t get anything done in the red zone. Blake Grupe, who is 5-foot-7 and 156 pounds, carried the offense in this one with five field goals. Saints are definitely getting a London game next year.

Best offensive player in Week 12: WR Chris Olave

Before Olave left the game in the third quarter due to a concussion, he was giving the Falcons some real headaches. The second-year receiver made some great contested catches and showed real chemistry with Derek Carr. He had seven grabs for 114 yards before exiting the action.

Best defensive player in Week 12: S Tyrann Mathieu

Mathieu went toe-to-toe with Jessie Bates, snagging a pair of interceptions of his own to balance the turnover card. His second interception on an attempted wheel route to Van Jefferson was a savvy play and a learning moment for Desmond Ridder. Fortunately, the Falcons had an All-Pro safety of their own.

Team stat to know: The Saints are in second place in the NFC South.