A win over the Detroit Lions on Saturday secured home-field advantage throughout the playoffs for the Atlanta Falcons, giving them the fast track to representing the NFC in the Super Bowl. Atlanta is a formidable squad, going undefeated at home in 2012.
It won its first three home contests over the Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers and Oakland Raiders by a combined 11 points. Its second two, against the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals, were won by a combined 10 points. Then Atlanta beat the New Orleans Saints by 10 and shut out the New York Giants en route to a 34-0 thrashing.
The home momentum is building for the Falcons.
ESPN’s NFL Playoff Machine projects (with Power Rankings as the matchup-deciding criteria) the following NFC seeding setup:
How far will the Falcons make it in the playoffs?
1. Atlanta Falcons
For the sake of simplicity, let’s say that the higher-seeded teams in games which Atlanta does not participate win their respective playoff matchups. The Falcons would be paired with the Washington Redskins in the divisional round and, should they advance, the San Francisco 49ers in the conference championship game.
As dynamic as Washington’s offense is with rookie Robert Griffin III at the helm, the Falcons are a terrible matchup for the Redskins defense. Washington’s 30th-ranked pass defense is not equipped to deal with the likes of Tony Gonzalez, Julio Jones and Roddy White. Matt Ryan (31 TD, 14 INT in 2012) should pick it apart.
San Francisco is a much tougher matchup for the Falcons, but it helps Atlanta that a potential clash between the two would take place in the Georgia Dome. The contrasting styles actually favors the 49ers under neutral conditions by virtue of San Francisco’s ability to successfully run the football as well as defend at a topflight level.
But the game wouldn’t be in neutral conditions—it would be in Atlanta.
The 49ers have also had more frequent lapses of inconsistency than have the Falcons. Atlanta’s combined losses (to the Saints and Panthers) totaled 14 points. San Francisco lost by 11 to the Minnesota Vikings in Minnesota and 23 to the New York Giants at home. It also tied (at home) and lost (on the road) to the St. Louis Rams in overtime.
San Francisco’s wins over the New England Patriots (41-34), Buffalo Bills (45-3), New York Jets (34-0) and Chicago Bears (32-7) are as impressive as almost anyone’s wins this year. But San Francisco has been dominated at times, whereas the Falcons have not—especially in Atlanta.
For more NFL analysis, follow Jamal on Twitter: Follow @StatManJ