Falcons a formidable favorite
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It feels premature to write about the NFC playoffs until my favorite team, the Green Bay Packers, beat the Chicago Bears next Sunday and clinch the final NFC playoff spot. And while I'd pick the Packers over any other post-season opponent, they haven't earned anything yet, and I'm keeping them out of this discussion.
I'm also not writing about who I expect to win the NFC championship. In a single elimination format anything can happen. While it's helped some NFC teams in recent years to earn home-field advantage and a first-round bye (Buccaneers, Eagles, Seahawks, Bears and Saints), some teams have been a complete surprise (Panthers, Giants and Cardinals). It's anyone's game once the playoffs begin.
Instead, I'm looking at the most dangerous team. The team that no one wants to face in the playoffs. And I'm coming up with...the Atlanta Falcons?
There is a lot to like about the Falcons. They have one of the best offenses in the NFC with a much improved defense from last season. Unless they trip over the 50 yard line next Sunday when they host the awful Panthers, they'll also have a first-round bye and home field throughout the playoffs. Another rarely noticed fact is that the Falcons are very healthy, with only four players on injured reserve and not one of those players has started a game this season. And their fans seemed to make a lot of noise in support last Sunday, despite the losing results to the Saints.
Speaking of those Saints, they are a close second to the Falcons. Their defense is playing better than the Falcons, and their offense looks even better with the return of running back Pierre Thomas. They too have stayed healthy (not that it mattered last season when they dealt with numerous injuries) and of their nine players on injured reserve, only one player has started a single game. If the playoff seeding were switched between the Falcons and Saints, I'd choose the Saints except they won't be as well rested and they don't have a kick returner as dynamic as Eric Weems is for the Falcons (unless Reggie Bush can salvage his season with an impressive playoff run).
Why not the Bears? They'll have a bye week, at least one home playoff game and still possess a tough defense. But their offense has been one of the worst this season. Why not the Eagles? They have a dangerous offense (but one that looks a lot less dangerous if you shut down WR DeSean Jackson as the Vikings did on Tuesday night), but they won't have a week off, and they have a defense that has been shredded by injuries. Why not [insert NFC West team here]? Because that team might not even have a winning record.
The Falcons' combination of solid offense, average defense and one dynamic kick returner is far from the most dangerous team the NFC has ever seen, but it's the best the conference has to offer this season.
December 29, 2010; 10:29 AM ET
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