5 Bold Predictions for Atlanta Falcons' Week 17 Matchup
In fact, it's time to see the Falcons do something shocking and play against a playoff team like they actually belong there themselves. While Bill Parcells believes teams are what their record shows they are, his comment couldn't be more off when applied to this year's Falcons.
This is a Falcons team that, if healthy, would be playing in a de facto NFC South Championship game here. Unfortunately, they have to find something they can use for positives in the 2014 season. The best way for them to do that is to get crazy in the final game.
But what might that be? Follow along for five bold predictions in the Falcons' final game of 2013.
Matt Ryan Will Throw for 3 Touchdowns and over 300 Yards
Over the last two games, Matt Ryan has thrown completed more than 76 percent of his passes. In the road loss to the Panthers in early November, Ryan completed 74 percent of his throws but wound up throwing a trio of interceptions.
Against San Francisco, Ryan had one of his best games of the season. He looked like he had finally figured out how to navigate a muddled pocket on the road in hostile conditions. While he did throw a pair of interceptions, one was a Hail Mary on the game's final play, and the other was NaVorro Bowman's interception on a pass intended for Harry Douglas that was broken up by Niners corner Tramaine Brock.
Ryan should play better against the more familiar opponent this time around. His new-found pocket presence combined with Roddy White's return to full health and Tony Gonzalez in his final game should provide Ryan with the ideal mix for a 300-yard, three-touchdown afternoon.
Gonzalez Will Pass Isaac Bruce for 4th All Time in Yards Receiving
Tony Gonzalez is retiring right after the Falcons game with Carolina. Though this game against Carolina might be a good opportunity for the Falcons to get a closer look at reserve tight end Levine Toilolo, they need to send out the best ever in a way that he truly deserves.
Gonzalez needs 107 receiving yards to pass Isaac Bruce for No. 4 overall in receiving yards all time. And honestly, the Falcons should try to get him the 222 yards it would take for him to pass Randy Moss for No. 3 on that list.
However, these are bold predictions, not insane predictions. It would be tough to see a guy going against Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis in his final game as a pro gaining more than 120 yards. Even if that man is the best tight end to ever strap on NFL pads.
Matt Ryan Will Get Sacked No More Than Once
This may not be extremely bold considering that in the first matchup of the season Matt Ryan was sacked just one time and hit just twice on top of that. However, the Falcons have three completely different starters along the offensive line from the first game with the Panthers.
On top of that, Lamar Holmes is now playing left tackle instead of right tackle. The entire right side of the line is different with Harland Gunn as the starting right guard, Ryan Schraeder the starting right tackle and Joe Hawley the center.
On the bright side, Hawley and Schraeder have been the best center and right tackle the Falcons have employed in 2013. Those two have helped Gunn ease into the starting role at right guard.
When game-planning the Week 17 matchup with Carolina, the Falcons have to look at what they did to succeed against the 49ers. By having backs chip on the edges and help pick up blitzes, Atlanta should hold the talented Panthers pass rush at bay like it did the first time.
The Falcons Defensive Line Will Sack Cam Newton at Least Three Times
Not just the defense as a whole, but the Falcons front four alone should sack the mobile Newton at least three times. He's tough to take down, but Mike Nolan has been bringing more pressure in the past two games, and the Falcons have done well versus mobile quarterbacks with their pass rush this year.
Newton should have an experience similar to the first game when he was sacked twice and hit four times on top of that. However, don't expect guys like Jonathan Massaquoi to miss him as many times in the backfield as he did in that first meeting.
Massaquoi is starting to come into his own and could be a dangerous pass-rusher in 2014. With Atlanta having few competent defensive tackles, expect Jonathan Babineaux to play his more natural interior spot as opposed to the 5-technique he's been playing the past two seasons.
Add in Malliciah Goodman and Stansly Maponga—who should see more snaps because of depth issues at defensive tackle—and the Falcons should finally see some improvement from their young defensive line in the form of pass-rush pressure.
The Falcons Will Intercept Cam Newton Three Times
In the first Panthers-Falcons matchup, Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford each intercepted Cam Newton. With the game being in Atlanta, Newton could have trouble with crowd noise, and Mike Nolan could dial up pressure to confuse the third-year QB and force him into a turnover or two.
Trufant has made exceptional progress during the last few games, and safety William Moore has finally turned it on towards the end of the season. Add in a linebacking corps playing its pass coverages more efficiently and a more effective pass rush and Atlanta could force Newton into making some poor decisions.
Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has also been varying up the coverages the past few games. This will be tough for a guy like Newton, because he likes to read keys in coverages before the snap, and Atlanta's defense is excellent at disguising its intentions.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, College Football NFL and NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.