After playing three of their last four games at home, the Atlanta Falcons are alone atop the NFC with a 9-2 record. It is nearly impossible to hear someone talk about this team without mention of Atlanta's 5-0 record in the Georgia Dome this season, or how, under Matt Ryan, they're 19-1 at home since 2008.
You also hear quite frequently, 'Yeah, they're good at home, but not so much on the road.'
As I look at this team, having watched each and every game, I simply do not see this. The Falcons are 3-2 on the road this season and 5-2 over their last seven away games. Their road games include the Steelers, Eagles, Saints, Browns, and Rams. These five teams are pretty good this season, putting together a combined 18-11 home record. In fact, the 'worst' of these teams, the Browns, have played pretty solid football including wins at New Orleans, and at home against the New England Patriots.
Opening week of the 2010 season, the Falcons traveled to Pittsburgh for a game that lived up to the billing. The Falcons and Steelers had a defensive battle go into overtime before Rashard Mendenhall broke off a 50 yard run to end the game. What people don't mention, is that the Falcons were a Matt Bryant missed field goal away from winning this game. Make no mistake, Matt Bryant has been red hot converting 24 of 27 field goal attempts. With his play this season, if he had the kick in Pittsburgh to do all over again, the Falcons might be the NFL's only 10 win team thus far.
Will the Atlanta Falcons clinch home field advantage?
Two weeks later the 1-1 Falcons traveled to division rival, and the Super Bowl Champion, New Orleans Saints for what would turn out to be their second overtime game in the first three weeks of the season. A game that might have been the statement game for this Falcons team, they kicked a game winning field goal in overtime (thanks to Matt Bryant) to put themselves at 2-1. They did this in the hostile Louisiana Superdome, where the Saints are 16-6 since 2008.
The Falcons' next road game would come in Week Five against the Cleveland Browns. It's easy to look at the opponent and dismiss the win saying, "Oh, it's just the Browns." After what the Browns did against both New Orleans and New England, most people would agree that despite their record, this is a team that plays tough football.
The Atlanta Falcons' defense had one of their best showings all season, holding Peyton Hillis to just 28 yards on 10 carries. His lowest yardage of the season. They also had three sacks and forced three turnovers, including a Kroy Biermann interception that he took back for a touchdown. Add in Michael Turner's 140-yard performance, and the Atlanta Falcons looked pretty good for a team with a reputation for struggling on the road.
Following a solid win against the Browns, Atlanta traveled back to Pennsylvania where they received their second loss of the season. In a game that was controlled by Philadelphia from beginning to end, there were very few positives in this game for the Falcons. Trailing by 14 points at the end of the first quarter, the Atlanta Falcons were unable to ever get back into the game.
After losing to the Eagles in Week Six, the Falcons have run off five straight victories, the longest active win streak in the NFL. This included their fifth road game of the season against the St. Louis Rams. Entering into this matchup, the Rams were 4-1 at home, only to be completely outplayed by Atlanta in every facet of the game. Matt Ryan and company racked up 391 yards of total offense and 34 points, as the defense held Sam Bradford and Steven Jackson in check.
Recently on NFL Network's NFC Playbook, Michael Lombardi said the key to their match up against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be the performance of the run defense against LeGarrette Blount. He said that Atlanta's rush defense was good at home, but implied that they had struggled on the road.
Most would take this statement as gospel truth, but the stats don't lie.
When looking at Atlanta's rush defense, they actually appear to have played better defense on the road than at home. At this point in the season, the Falcons rank sixth against the run, giving up 93.7 yards per game. In their five road games, the defense has given up 91.8 yards per game, and only Rashard Mendenhall in Week One has gone for over 100 yards against this stout defense. In fact, aside from Mendenhall's 50 yard touchdown in overtime and Desean Jackson's 31-yard end around, Atlanta has shut down every run game they have faced on the road.
On the other side, Michael Turner has been absolutely stellar this season when playing away from home. Turner is averaging 94.4 yards per game, including three 100 yard games away from home. This may not bode well for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as Turner rushed for 107 yards and 2 TD when they played earlier in the season. If Turner is truly better away than he is at home, he could have a big day against Tampa's 27th ranked rush defense as he helps the Falcons to their 10th win of the season, and fourth on the road.
After 12 weeks of this NFL season, the Falcons are one of 11 teams with winning road records. With three road games left to play in their last five games, this team will have to win on the road if they want to secure home field advantage. Despite what you may hear, the Atlanta Falcons are not just a good home team, they're pretty good on the road too.