Atlanta Falcons: What You Need to Know Headed into Week 12

Al BruceContributor INovember 18, 2013

Nov 17, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Antone Smith (35) runs the ball in for a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Atlanta Falcons 41-28. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Falcons' head coach Mike Smith got right to the point when discussing his team's mindset in the aftermath of Sunday's 41-28 loss to the Bucs when he spoke with reporters on Monday.  “We’ve got to move past yesterday’s game very quickly," Smith said via AtlantaFalcons.com.  "As I said yesterday, it was unacceptable the way we played.  We’ve got to focus now on the New Orleans Saints, on a short week."

Perhaps a short week is the sort of remedy that this ailing Falcons team needs on the heels of its fourth consecutive loss.  In a season that began with Super Bowl aspirations, Atlanta will suddenly be playing the role of spoiler when the 8-2 New Orleans Saints roll into the Georgia Dome on Thursday night.

We'll begin our abbreviated game-week coverage with our weekly look at the updated NFC South standings and the Falcons injury report before touching on the biggest issue facing the Falcons this week.

 

NFC South Standings

NFC South Standings
TeamRecordvs. NFC Southvs. NFCWeek 12 Opponent
New Orleans Saints8-22-06-0at Falcons
Carolina Panthers7-32-06-2at Dolphins
Tampa Bay Buccaneers2-81-31-6at Lions
Atlanta Falcons2-81-32-4vs. Saints
NFL.com

The Falcons' loss to the Bucs dropped them to last place since Tampa currently has a better record against common opponents (i.e. they beat Miami) than Atlanta does.  The Saints can officially eliminate the Falcons from the divisional race with a win in Atlanta on Thursday night.

Speaking of the Saints, they were able maintain their one-game lead over the Panthers with a come-from-behind win over their old nemesis, the San Francisco 49ers, on Sunday.  If you recall, the 49ers knocked the Saints out of the playoffs after the 2011 season in what would end up being the last meaningful game that Saints coach Sean Payton would spend on the sideline until he returned for New Orleans' 23-17 Week 1 win over the Falcons this season.

The Panthers proved that last week's win at San Francisco wasn't a fluke by beating Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in a thriller on Monday Night Football.  Don't be shocked if Atlanta's Week 14 Sunday Night Football game against the Packers gets flexed out of that slot in favor of that week's Panthers-Saints game.

Elsewhere, the Bucs will look to win their third straight game this week at Detroit.

 

Injury Report

Injury Report
PlayerInjuryWeek 12 Status
Mike JohnsonLegOut for Season
Kroy BiermannAchillesOut for Season
Bradie EwingShoulderOut for Season
Julio JonesFootOut for Season
Sam BakerKneeOut for Season
Corey PetersKneeTBD
Tony GonzalezToeTBD
Malliciah GoodmanCalfTBD
AtlantaFalcons.com, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, ESPN.com and NFL.com

The Falcons welcomed linebacker Sean Weatherspoon back from the injury report against the Bucs, but unfortunately the result on the scoreboard remained the same.  Atlanta will need more of a boost from its defensive leader if it wants to pull off an upset on Thursday night against New Orleans.

Starting defensive tackle Corey Peters left the Tampa game with a knee injury that has been nagging him, but Mike Smith didn't give an indication as to his status for Thursday's game when he spoke on Monday.

Even if Peters can play, the Falcons will need to keep fresh bodies in the game at defensive tackle to take on the Saints' talented offensive guard tandem of Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans. 

As Daniel Cox of AtlantaFalcons.com pointed out, backup defensive tackle Travian Robertson has seen increased playing time in the last two games:

 

After 7 inactives in 8 games this season, DT Travian Robertson has played 18 snaps in two straight games. #ATLvsTB

— Daniel Cox (@FalconsDCox) November 18, 2013

 

Roberston may be in line for even more playing time this week given Peters' status and Atlanta's need to stay fresh along the defensive line.

 

Biggest Question Facing the Falcons This Week

The biggest question facing the Falcons this week is whether or not this team believes in itself anymore.  Atlanta hasn't just lost four games in a row, but it's also been beaten by double digits in all four of those losses.  Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez certainly recognizes that this team's confidence may have taken a dent during this losing streak, via ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure:

The only thing you can do is go out there and work to get out of it. It’s confidence right now. It’s not about talent. It’s not about anything else except confidence; knowing that we can go out there and get the job done. If you don’t have confidence, then things are going to be bad for you. And that’s with anything you do in life.

Despite what their record may say, the Falcons can draw a small measure of confidence from the fact that they played the Saints tough in New Orleans back in Week 1, as well as the fact that the last four games that these two teams have played at the Georgia Dome have all been tight affairs. 

The Falcons may not be able to achieve all of the goals they set before this season started anymore, but they still control the manner in which they finish this season.  Take a look at how Carolina finished last season if you don't think that teams can carry momentum from a stretch run into the following season.

Thursday night's game against the Saints presents the Falcons with an opportunity to get rid of some of the stink that's been festering around this team since this 2013 campaign began, because in Atlanta a win over New Orleans is probably worth two wins over any other team.

If the Falcons are going to stand a chance, they'll need veteran leaders like Tony Gonzalez to help this team find its confidence.