The Atlanta Falcons face a personnel conundrum when they face the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Two of their best players, LB Sean Weatherspoon and WR Julio Jones, will be game-time decisions due to injury. Weatherspoon's absence in the loss to the New Orleans Saints shed light on just how important he is to the Falcons defense. Likewise, the two quarters Jones missed during that loss showed a definitive shift in offensive efficiency.
With the Falcons trying to bounce back from the first loss of the season, logic would state that both players are needed back as soon as possible. Right?
Not exactly. Especially Sean Weatherspoon.
Four Weeks of Rivals
After the Falcons play the Cardinals, they will be staring down the barrel of a season-defining stretch of games. They will face all three division rivals and finish the stretch against the New York Giants. It is the most brutal part of the entire 2012 schedule.
Each game could have a direct impact on the playoffs and potential home-field advantage.
Weatherspoon Will Be Key
Sean Weatherspoon's versatility became even more evident in his absence. Look no further than the loss to the Saints for overwhelming evidence. Not having his speed and coverage skills allowed TE Jimmy Graham to be a driving force for the Saints. Weatherspoon's nose for the ball was sorely missed on several long runs.
Weatherspoon must be healthy when the Falcons travel to Tampa. Like the Saints, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are quickly turning their season around. Tampa Bay's rookie running back, Doug Martin, has quickly become the talk of the NFL. The Falcons will need Weatherspoon to have any hope of containing him.
The following week, the Falcons get another shot at the Saints. Weatherspoon may be indispensable if the Falcons want to redeem themselves. Then they're off to Charlotte to play the Carolina Panthers. Having almost beat the Falcons in the Georgia Dome, the Panthers should have confidence on their side while at Bank of America Stadium. Weatherspoon is Atlanta's best option for controlling Cam Newton.
Finally, the defending Super Bowl champions come to the Georgia Dome. The New York Giants embarrassed the Atlanta Falcons in the playoffs just 11 months ago. It is highly likely the two could meet in the playoffs again this year. This mid-December matchup will be a postseason primer for the Falcons, as the Giants are known for "getting hot at the right time."
Arizona Is a Needed Win, Not a Must Win
No team is satisfied with two straight losses. So the Atlanta Falcons can ill afford to take the Cardinals lightly. But the outcome of this game will have fewer consequences than any other remaining game. A healthy Sean Weatherspoon might be critical for capturing one of the top two seeds.
All things considered, Mike Smith might want to sit Weatherperson on Sunday. Healthy or not.