The 5 o’clock club is published Wednesday to Saturday during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.
Left for dead early
At the end of week 5, the Atlanta Falcons were being left for dead moldering at the bottom of the NFC South with a 1-4 record.
Of course, the Falcons’ losses have come against some pretty damned good teams: Eagles, Saints, Bengals and Steelers. Those four teams have a combined W-L record of 19-10-1, and three of the four are in either first or second place in their divisions (the Eagles being the exception).
A revival of sorts
Wins against the Buccaneers and Giants in consecutive weeks before a Week 8 bye have renewed the hope of Atlanta fans. The confidence level measured by the FanPulse surveys showed a 15% increase from Week 7 to Week 8, and an overall jump of 31% from Week 6 to Week 8, with confidence rising from 19% to its current level of 50%.
However only 42% of Falcons fans surveyed in the BYE week believed that their team would be going to the playoffs this season.
Of course, the two wins in Weeks 6 & 7 came against teams with a combined W-L record of 4-11, with the Buccaneers losing 4 out of their last 5 games.
Still, the Falcons beat the Panthers (a division rival) in Week 2, and Atlanta has a reputation for being able to put up points offensively in a hurry. But, is that reputation really well-deserved?
The Falcons are ranked 7th in yards per game
The Falcons are certainly capable of pushing the ball up and down the field. But they rank only 11th in scoring, which is good, but Atlanta’s 27 points per game is far cry from the 33.4 points per game being racked up by Drew Brees and the Saints, the last team that managed to hang a loss on the Redskins.
11th in Points per game
There’s a fair question to be asked here about the defenses the Falcons have faced. How good have the Falcons opponents been at preventing points from being scored?
Well, the overall rankings for points per game given up for the Falcons’ 7 opponents are: 7th, 11th, 16th, 21st, 23rd, 29th and 32nd. That’s not exactly a murderer’s row of tough defenses, with a median of 21st and average of 20th.
The Redskins, currently ranked 5th overall at 19.1 points per game, will be the best-ranked defense the Falcons have faced this year. The next best was the Eagles, ranked 7th, who beat the Falcons 18-12.
3rd in Passing Yards Per Game
The Falcons have excelled at passing this year, though they rank just 30th in rushing yards per game on offense, and their top running back, Devonta Freeman, has just been placed on IR.
Can the Redskins compete with Atlanta?
There seems to be an opportunity for the Redskins to follow a successful game script that has been working well so far, where they completely shut down the running game of the Falcons, then unleash the Dhogs to attack, harass and harry Matt Ryan in order to disrupt the Falcon passing attack. If it works against the Falcons like it has worked against every opponent except the Saints, then the Falcons may find themselves struggling to score over 21 points.
It seems unlikely that the Falcons’ 30th ranked scoring defense will keep the Redskins from getting their usual average of 21 points per game; on the other hand, there seems to be a very good chance that the Redskins will be able to shave a touchdown off of the Falcons average of 27 points per game.
All in all, this looks like a good matchup, that should see the Redskins slight favorites at home. I checked one website quickly and found the Redskins favored at -1, which seems about right. I don’t think the Falcons fans yet understand or believe what the Redskins defense is capable of.
But they will.
Of course, the Falcons fans may not see it quite the same way I do.
Reading through the Falcoholic website, a couple of things become clear.
- Falcons fans believe that a loss to the Redskins this Sunday would almost certainly spell the end of their playoff hopes, as it would drop them to 3-5 overall, and would give the Redskins the head-to-head advantage that we enjoy against the Packers and Panthers at the moment. The Falcons fans feel that a win on the road against Washington this week would keep them alive at 4-4.
- Falcons fans don’t think the Redskins are the better team. The website is filled with references that I believe D.J. Swearinger would characterize as “disrespectful”. Falcoholic articles suggest that the Redskins “are not as good as their record suggests.” Another article remarks that “Washington is not a 5-2 football team” despite incontrovertible evidence to the contrary.
Let’s take a peek into the thoughts of Falcons fans as we gear up for this Sunday’s important conference game against the 3rd place team from the NFC South.
Washington has been one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses thus far in 2018, but they also have one of the league’s worst offenses. The net result has been a lot of close, ugly wins, and they’re sort of the opposite of the Falcons in that regard. The reason Washington has been able to win is as throwback as it comes—Adrian Peterson gnawing on the clock like a dog on a ticking bone, and a defensive front that can and does routinely make life hell for opposing quarterbacks.
Washington’s biggest weakness is their inability to make up ground if they fall behind, as Alex Smith has pulled into his shell even further and the weaponry is lacking. The team has been able to make up for it by playing solid-to-strong defense and forcing plenty of turnovers, with four interceptions and five recovered fumbles out of ten forced. They’re not nearly as good as their record suggests, but they’re the strongest opponent the Falcons have faced in a couple of weeks and the defense could be legitimately problematic for an offensive line that has shown itself to be incapable of holding up against strong attacks.
Washington is not a 5-2 football team, if we’re going by talent or even production alone, but here they sit. A remarkably stingy defense keyed by a talented 3-4 front and opportunistic secondary have gotten them this far, and that’s a concern against an Atlanta team that is a juggernaut on offense but has struggled mightily to block effectively.
The Saints have a massive, nigh-insurmountable lead in the division, and the Panthers are picking up steam in a hurry, making the NFC South seem pretty well-fortified.
The opportunity to get out in front of some of the other teams on this list is real, however. The Seahawks have found their footing but remain a team with some pretty glaring weaknesses, while the Eagles, Packers and Vikings have all struggled off and on throughout the year.
The good news for Atlanta, if you’re keen to hear it, is that they have games left against Washington, New Orleans, Carolina, Dallas and Green Bay, allowing them to dent all of those teams’ playoff chances with wins while helping their own. The bad news is that there’s still nine teams in front of them at the moment, and none of them are truly obvious candidates to fall off outside of Washington.
The 2018 NFL trade deadline came and went without any Falcons deals, which also came as no surprise. At his press conference yesterday, Coach Quinn indicated that Atlanta had no plans to add or subtract personnel via trade before the deadline, and were confident heading into the rest of the season with their existing squad. They signed former 49er Zane Beadles as an extra body on the offensive line, but there were no splashy trades as we reached the deadline.
The Redskins currently have a 5-2 record, and the next two games are against the Falcons (3-4) this week, and the Buccaneers (3-4) in Week 10, both from the NFC South. What will the Redskins W-L record be by the end of Week 10?
This poll is closed