The Atlanta Falcons are getting ready to go into the playoffs for the second straight year.
Last year was a bit of a disappointment, but the Falcons can redeem themselves this year. Atlanta has one of the most talented rosters in all of football, but has yet to put it all together in one game this season. However, they have the players that can win one-on-one matchups and provide Atlanta with opportunities to win games.
The Falcons will end up as the fifth or sixth seed in the NFC and play in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. They can advance to the Super Bowl, but will have to win three road games first, having to go through tough venues like the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Candlestick Park or Lambeau Field.
Atlanta has the team to do this and they also have the opportunity. There are six teams that the Falcons could end up playing this postseason and there is a favorable matchup in each of these games that Atlanta will need to win.
Let's take a look at each of the Falcons' potential opponents and matchups that Atlanta can win in each game.
If the Falcons end up playing the Detroit Lions, then it would be in the NFC Championship.
This game seems very unlikely, but stranger things have happened. The Falcons beat the Lions in Detroit earlier in the year and they did so with a strong rushing attack and stopping the Lions' passing game. I believe the Falcons will need more than that to win another game against the Lions.
The Lions have been one of the hottest teams in the NFL in recent weeks, and the Falcons will probably need to put up more than 23 points to beat Detroit again. They can do so by abusing the Lions' cornerbacks matched up against the Atlanta wide receivers.
Roddy White vs. Chris Houston
I think that Atlanta should be dying for this matchup. Houston has performed well this season, racking up five interceptions and 14 pass deflections, but the Falcons should be able to expose him using Roddy White.
In their first game, White was only able to get 52 yards on five catches, but he and the Falcons are completely different than they were in Week 7. The Falcons can use White against Houston to move down the field and in the red zone to get touchdowns instead of field goals.
Julio Jones vs. Eric Wright
This is another matchup that highly favors the Falcons. Wright has had a similar season to Houston, gaining four interceptions and 15 pass breakups so far in 2011. However, I believe these two corner backs gain a lot from their destructive defensive line.
The Falcons should be able to use the speedy Jones to get big plays against a truly weak Lions' secondary. I would expect to see Jones go deep on a couple plays and used as a big play threat on multiple occasions. Jones definitely has that ability and has shown it throughout 2011.
The Falcons would need to score a lot of point if they play the Lions in the postseason, and they will need all of their receivers to play well, but they will really need Jones and White to carry their offense.
The Falcons have not played the Dallas Cowboys in 2011, but I would believe that Atlanta would be a strong favorite in this game.
The Cowboys have a horrible pass defense and inconsistent offense. The Falcons would have to play the Cowboys in Dallas, if at all, but that should not make a difference. The Cowboys are not a much different team at home than on the road.
In order to win this game, the Falcons would need to capitalize on two key matchups throughout the game and use the opportunities presented by these matchups to steal away a victory from America's team.
John Abraham vs. Doug Free
Abraham has put together a pretty solid 2011 season. He has 8.5 sacks on the year and has been a force at times. The Falcons would need Abraham to be dominant against the Cowboys, and the matchup against Cowboys left tackle Free would present that opportunity.
Free has not been a bad tackle for the Cowboys, in fact, he has been downright great at times. However, he can be beat, as evidenced by Jason Pierre-Paul's dominating performance a few weeks ago. Abraham would need a similar performance so that he can disrupt Tony Romo and the Cowboys' offense.
If that happens, then the Falcons' chances of walking away form Dallas with a victory are much greater.
Harry Douglas vs. Alan Ball
Another matchup that the Falcons have to take advantage of is their slot receiver, Douglas, on the Cowboys' nickel back, Ball. The Cowboys have had some injuries in the secondary this season, and Atlanta should be able to capitalize on that throughout the game.
However, the battle in the slot favors Atlanta greatly. Douglas is a burner and is also pretty reliable. Matt Ryan and the Falcons will be looking to hit him deep down the middle during this game and I expect to see Ball trailing behind trying to catch his breath.
There is not much the Cowboys will be able to do to stop the Falcon's passing attack. Atlanta will still need to run the ball to keep Dallas honest, but I expect to see them take advantage of a short-handed Cowboys' secondary in this game.
This is a game that the Falcons should be a bit weary of. There are favorable matchups for the Falcons, but the Giants can be a dangerous team in the playoffs.
The Falcons will need to rely on the running game early to keep pressure off of Matt Ryan and also use the passing game and attack a decimated Giant's secondary. The Falcons will also have to play good defense to stop Eli Manning and that great passing game.
Michael Turner vs. Giants Defensive Line
This may be the most important matchup in this game, and also happens to be the most favorable. The Giants are 22nd in stopping the run this year, and have given up huge rushing games to teams like the Saints, who are not known for running the ball.
The Falcons will need to take advantage of that and use Turner to wear down the Giants defense. New York has one of the best pass rushing defensive lines in the league, but they become irrelevant if Turner can have a good day.
Curtis Lofton vs. Ahmad Bradshaw/Brandon Jacobs
Lofton will need to have a good game against the Giants' running backs to help Atlanta grab a win. Lofton is a very good, and underrated middle linebacker and he should be able to stuff the Giants' backs throughout this game.
The Falcons have defended the run well all year, and the Giants depend on it to get them going. However, Lofton and the Falcons defense will be focused on stopping these two running backs, and they should be able to do it with relative ease.
I believe that we all saw what happened against the Saints on Monday Night Football a week ago.
The Falcons obviously have a lot of work to do if they expect to go into New Orleans and beat the Saints. However, I believe that it's possible if they focus on a couple things that they did not do a week ago.
The Falcons have to run the ball and then take advantage of matchups that worked well in their first two meetings.
Tony Gonzalez vs. Roman Harper
Gonzalez is still one of the best tight ends in the game of football, and the Falcons need to start using him more, especially when he is matched up against a strong safety like Roman Harper. Harper is known as a blitzing defensive back and run support guy. He is not very good at coverage and has been exposed numerous times in 2011.
Atlanta can use Gonzalez against the Saints and Harper simply cannot stop it. Most of the time it is just great pitch and catch from Matt Ryan to Gonzalez, but other times Harper is caught out of coverage.
The Falcons had this advantage in their last meeting with the Saints, but did not use it to their advantage. That would need to change in the playoffs.
Ray Edwards vs. Zach Strief
This is more of a potential matchup than a favorable one. Strief has been solid for the Saints in 2011, and Edwards has been a bit of a disappoint for the Falcons. However, that could all change easily in the playoffs.
Edwards has the potential and skill to be a great defensive end opposite of John Abraham and Strief has been beaten before, he was abused by Chris Long of the Rams earlier in the season.
This one-on-on matchup has the potential to be a great positive for the Falcons.
In order to beat the Saints, the Falcons will have to have a near perfect game, but they can starting by passing the ball better and getting pressure on Drew Brees.
This game is actually a favorable matchup for the Falcons as a whole.
The 49ers are not built to put up 30 points every game, but Atlanta can definitely do this. The 49ers defense is among the best in the NFL, but it has been exposed before and the Falcons have faced tough defenses already in 2011.
The Falcons were able to put 41 up on a respectable Jaguars defense and the have the ability to put up 40 points on any given Sunday. They more than likely won't need that to beat the 49ers, but they will need a strong offensive performance and solid defensive play.
Julio Jones vs. Tarell Brown
Unless you are a 49ers fan, you have probably never heard of Tarell Brown. He is San Francisco's No. 2 cornerback, and he is a mismatch for Atlanta wide receiver Juilo Jones.
Brown has had a pretty good 2011 season, but that is probably because he is playing opposite of Carlos Rogers, who is having the best season of his career. Jones' speed will simply be too much for Brown.
The 49ers' defense is focused on stopping the run and bringing pressure, and if the Falcons can buy Matt Ryan some time he should be able to connect with Jones on numerous occasions.
Jonathan Babineaux vs. Johnahan Goodwin
Babineaux has been a force in the middle for the Falcons all year and he will need to play big against the 49ers for Atlanta to win. San Francisco relies heavily on the performance of Frank Gore and their running game. The Falcons will need to do everything that they can to stop Gore and it starts with Babineaux.
The 49ers' center, Goodwin, is a great center, but he can be exposed. The 49ers have been unable to run the ball at times this year, and Goodwin is the guy responsible for that. He anchors the 49ers run game up the middle, and if he does not play well, then the entire team suffers.
Babineaux and the Falcons' defensive line should be able to stop the 49er rushing attack, and they will need to in order to win this game.
This is a game that I am sure the Falcons are praying that they get to play.
Not only would this be a game deep in the NFC playoffs, but it would be a chance for the Falcons to avenge their last two losses to the Packers.
They were embarrassed at home by Green Bay in last year's playoffs, and lost to them again earlier this season. The Falcons probably want to play the Packers more than any other team not called the Saints.
They can win this game, as they proved that they can hang with the Packers in the game earlier in the year. If they have any hope of beating Green Bay in Lambeau, then the Falcons will need to win the matchups that they already have an advantage in.
Falcons Offensive Line vs. Packers Defensive Line
The Packers' weakest link is their defensive line. This unit has been absolutely assaulted in recent weeks. The Bears were able to run for over 100 yards without leading rusher Matt Forte, and the Falcons should be able to bully around the Packer front seven.
Atlanta has a solid run blocking group and they will be able to exploit Green Bay's weakness, especially in a cold weather game in Green Bay. The Falcons could beat the Packers, but they would need to win this favorable matchup.
Michael Turner vs. Packers Front Seven
This is a battle that Atlanta must win if it plans to beat Green Bay in the playoffs. Turner has to get going in this game, and if he does then the Packers will be put at a disadvantage.
We have already covered that the Packers' defensive line can be pushed around, and Turner should be able to break tackles on a muddy Lambeau field. If Turner has a huge day, then it will not only propel the Falcons' offense, but it will keep Aaron Rodgers and that Packer offense off of the field.
These matchups are must wins for the Falcons to win this game, and even then, they will have to play great football to walk out of Lambeau victorious.