Welcome back to Bird’s Eye View!
Atlanta continues to be stuck on this frustrating roller coaster ride of a season. The team missed another opportunity Sunday and now sits behind the Buccaneers in the division standings.
While the Bucs’ schedule looks a bit tougher on paper, the remaining teams on the Falcons’ schedule are beginning to find their rhythm as well. Atlanta should be able to handle its road game against Carolina this weekend—if it doesn’t, then those final three games are the least of its concerns—but the final three games might be tougher than we thought a month ago.
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 14:
Week 15 – at Carolina Panthers (1-12)
Last three games:
- Week 12: Loss at Tennessee (17-10)
- Week 13: Loss at Tampa Bay (21-18)
- Week 14: Loss at New Orleans (28-6)
Tweet-length summary of Panthers in Week 14:
The Panthers have leaned heavily on the run since Frank Reich was fired, which makes sense but doesn’t provide a ton of reasons for optimism about Bryce Young’s development. Still, the Panthers gained over 200 yards rushing against the Saints and have a solid defense.
Best offensive player in Week 14: RB Miles Sanders
Chubba Hubbard has been the lead dog out of the backfield in recent weeks, but Sanders was far more efficient and explosive against New Orleans. He gained 74 yards on 10 carries, including this impressive 48-yard scamper.
Best defensive player in Week 14: DT Derrick Brown
He’s quietly having another excellent season while the Panthers languish at the bottom of the NFL standings. Brown registered 10 tackles against New Orleans, including four stops. He also tied for the team lead with three pressures and had an interception on a ball he batted to himself.
Team stat to know: Carolina’s defense ranks fifth in third-down conversion rate, allowing a first down just 35.19 percent of the time.
X-factor for the Panthers in Week 15: CB Jaycee Horn
Horn played 19 snaps in Week 1 against the Falcons before leaving with a hamstring injury that sidelined him for 11 weeks, but he’s played very well in his two games back. One of the league’s best young cornerbacks, Horn is a very good perimeter tackler and has two pass breakups in as many weeks.
Week 16 – vs Indianapolis Colts (7-6)
Last three games:
- Week 12: Win vs Tampa Bay (27-20)
- Week 13: Win at Tennessee (31-28)
- Week 14: Loss at Cincinnati (34-14)
Tweet-length summary of Colts in Week 14:
If there’s one thing I know about rooting for the Indianapolis Colts, it’s to not assume they’ll take care of business of extremely favorable games. https://t.co/42VyYMJceZ— Landon Oliver (@Landon3MR) December 11, 2023
Best offensive player in Week 14: WR Michael Pittman
It seems as though Pittman has really found his stride with Garnder Minshew in at quarterback. He had 95 receiving yards against the Bengals, and he’s got 391 yards over the previous four games. Now, he only has one touchdown during that stretch as well, but Pittman is a playmaker, no doubt about it.
Best defensive player in Week 14: LB Zaire Franklin
The NFL’s leading tackler was at it against on Sunday with a game-high 14 tackles against the Bengals. Franklin, a former 7th-round pick, is a hard-hitting energizer for the Colts’ defense. He makes big plays against the run but can be susceptible in pass coverage.
Team stat to know: The Colts have forced 21 turnovers this season, which ranks seventh in the NFL.
X-factor for the Colts in Week 15: QB Gardner Minshew
Quarterbacks who play with a belligerent resiliency to their game have given the Falcons a lot of trouble this year, and Minshew is among that lot. He’s thrown for 552 yards with three touchdowns and one interception over the last two games, both of which came on the road. There’s no reason to believe Minshew can’t do what Baker Mayfield, Josh Dobbs or Kyler Murray did if given the opportunity late in the game.
Week 17 – at Chicago Bears (5-8)
Last three games:
- Week 12: Win at Minnesota (12-10)
- Week 13: Bye
- Week 14: Win vs Detroit (28-13)
Tweet-length summary of Bears in Week 14:
The Bears’ victory against Detroit was one of the most surprising outcomes of the weekend. Chicago built an early lead but watched it vanish just before halftime. Nevertheless, the Bears tacked on 18 points after halftime while shutting down the Lions’ potent offense to score a gutsy division win.
Best offensive player in Week 14: LG Teven Jenkins
Jenkins has been largely good for Chicago over his first three seasons, and he’s been a bit more consistent in pass protection this year. It’s tough to give an offensive line credit for the success of a rushing quarterback like Justin Fields, but the Bears’ run game continues to find production regardless of who is in the backfield. That was again the case Sunday, and Jenkins is a big part of that.
Best defensive player in Week 14: DE Montez Sweat
Oh, what could have been. Sweat has been on fire recently and had another sack against Detroit, giving him 3.5 sacks over the last three games. He has 24 pressures in five games since joining the Bears, which is three shy of his number in eight games with Washington before he was traded.
Team stat to know: The Bears' average time of possession is 31:51 minutes, which is the fifth-longest in the league.
Week 18 – New Orleans Saints (6-7)
Last three games:
- Week 12: Loss at Atlanta (24-15)
- Week 13: Loss vs Detroit (33-28)
- Week 14: Win vs Carolina (28-6)
Tweet-length summary of Saints in Week 14:
Best offensive player in Week 14: LG James Hurst
Big finish for left guards this week, huh? Despite putting up 28 points—7 of which came courtesy of special teams—the Saints didn’t have a very good day offensively (see the tweet above). The offensive line, however, did play well and Hurst was the best of them. He was the only starting lineman not to allow a pressure all afternoon.
Best defensive player in Week 14: LB Demario Davis
Davis has been a very good player for a long time, but he’s started to show his 34 years of age this season. Against Carolina, though, Davis stepped into a time machine. He recorded nine tackles and had 1.5 sacks, his first multi-sack game of the season.
Team stat to know: The Saints’ defense has the second-best interception rate in the league.