Matt Ryan doesn't want to go through this again in January
When the NFL schedule was released in the Spring, I circled this week's game against New York.
My attention was not drawn to this game because it would provide the Falcons with an opportunity to avenge last season's playoff loss to the Giants (who starred in the NFL's now two year-old postseason reality show, Beat the Falcons Soundly, Go on to Win a Super Bowl), but the game caught my attention because it was going to be played in Week 15, where at least one of these teams figured to need a win in order to secure a playoff spot. As it turns out, the Giants will be the desperate team when they come to the Georgia Dome on Sunday, and that bodes well for the Falcons in terms of their own playoff preparation.
No, Sunday's game against the Giants is not a must-win for the Falcons because of its potential impact on Atlanta's playoff seeding.
The Falcons are 11-2 and still maintain a one-and-a-half game lead over the 49ers and a two game lead over the Packers for home-field advantage in the conference. Given the schedules that the 49ers (at NE, at SEA, vs. AZ) and Packers (at CHI, vs. TEN, at MINN) face the last three weeks of the season, the Falcons may be able to secure home-field advantage by winning only one of their final three games (vs. NYG, at DET, vs. TB).
Instead, the Falcons need Sunday's game against the Giants badly because they need to face and respond to the kind of pressure that they have folded under in the playoffs in 2010 and 2011.
It's the kind of pressure that only comes when you're playing against a talented, battle-hardened team that is playing for its right to survive. Indeed, if Falcons fans want a true test of whether or not this 2012 squad has what it takes to win that elusive first playoff game of the Dimitroff/Smith/Ryan era, they need not look any further than this Sunday.
Thanks to Week 14 wins by the Redskins and Cowboys, the Giants are now clinging to a one game lead in the NFC East over both teams. However, the Giants are not just in danger of losing their lead in the division. At 8-5, the Giants are in danger of missing the playoffs altogether if they lose two of their last three games (at ATL, at BAL, vs. PHI).
That's because the Giants have a 2-3 record within the NFC East, while the Redskins and Cowboys are 3-1 and 3-2, respectively. Since the Giants have already split their head-to-head season series with both teams, if they were to finish tied with either Redskins or Cowboys at 9-7, their weaker divisional record could keep them out of the postseason.
Given the Giants' struggles with the AFC North this season (1-2, with losses to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati), New York's best bet to win at least two of their final three games is to win Sunday in Atlanta and at home in Week 17 against the Eagles.
All season, Falcons fans and Falcons critics have shared one common belief about this team; no matter how many games these 2012 Falcons win, the season will be an epic failure if they are one and done in the playoffs again this January.
You can't be held prisoner by the standings when evaluating how important Sunday's game is for the Falcons. This team will be measured solely by what it does in the playoffs.
That's why this game against the defending Super Bowl champs is a gift.
“I don’t think they came to play. We did. We were hungry. I think we just wanted it more than they did.”
There's no doubt that the Falcons are hungry for a playoff win and a spot at the NFC's adult table with the likes of the Giants, Packers, and 49ers.
If the Falcons want to go into January with the confidence and momentum that they will need for a serious playoff run, they have to want to win this Sunday more than a Giants team that wants and needs to win to secure its playoff spot.
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