Falcons-Steelers preview: Can Atlanta make the playoffs this season?

The Falcons haven’t been in a position to breathe simple all season.

9 of their 12 video games have been determined by one rating; 5 of these had been determined by three factors or fewer. They’ve had two alternatives to climb above .500 for the primary time since 2017, and so they’ve come up quick each occasions.

Now, after a last-minute loss to the Commanders, the Falcons discover themselves at 5-7 and with their season at a crossroads for what seems like the primary actual time.

Atlanta’s strategy this 12 months has not been sophisticated. Arthur Smith virtually laid it out within the first press convention of the 2022 offseason again in March:

“This can be a aggressive league. Our cost as a coach, we’re going to go on the market and compete and play higher crew soccer than we performed final 12 months and enhance. … I really feel good the place we’re at, however our cost is to not be caught on this limbo space. We’re going to construct this the correct means, and we’re going to be aggressive this 12 months.”

The Falcons have the second-least-expensive lively roster within the NFL, in response to Spotrac, but they’re at the moment inside putting distance of the division lead. With a playoff berth in sight, Atlanta’s focus has rightfully been on profitable every Sunday. To the crew’s credit score, they’ve had an opportunity to try this as a rule.

Because the losses have begun to outpace the wins, nevertheless, the requires youthful gamers like Desmond Ridder and Troy Andersen to tackle extra important roles develop a bit louder. And, after all, there’s that batch of crusaders able to throw within the towel every week within the title of a better draft decide.

Till now, it’s been simple to disregard that chatter as a result of the crew’s technique for staying afloat was so fascinating and efficient. A loss on Sunday, although, makes {that a} dialog value having.

FiveThirtyEight at the moment provides Atlanta a 17 p.c probability of reaching the playoffs, and a 14 p.c probability to win the division. A loss this weekend, coupled with a Buccaneers win, drops these numbers to six and 4 p.c, respectively.

Final weekend the Falcons had been barely saved by Tampa Bay’s loss to Cleveland, however the NFC South is at the moment so murky that one other defeat so quickly may transfer the Saints and Panthers again into this race with an opportunity to leapfrog Atlanta.

Following Sunday’s recreation towards the Steelers is the long-awaited bye week. If the Falcons drop one more recreation and the division image will get even murkier, maybe that off-week adjustments the calculus a little bit bit.

With every week to regulate enjoying time and roles for gamers throughout the roster, the Falcons may need the suitable time to get an actual analysis on some key items for the longer term over the ultimate 4 video games. The added time of the bye week would make this much less of an on-the-fly transition and (hopefully) extra of a calculated strategy.

This would come with giving Desmond Ridder a run at quarterback for the ultimate 4 video games. Even when he struggles in that stretch, the expertise of beginning an NFL recreation won’t be international to him because the potential starter in Yr 2. That’s worthwhile.

There’s, after all, an alternative choice for the Falcons, and it’s the one I’m positive they like. They might win on Sunday. A victory this weekend retains Atlanta within the combine, whatever the Buccaneers’ end result. The Falcons’ possibilities of reaching the postseason would enhance to 23 p.c if each groups win. If the Buccaneers lose, nevertheless, FiveThirtyEight boosts the Falcons’ probabilities to 33 p.c.

This can be a crew that’s constructed to scrap and claw and cling round. For that motive, I believe we’ll see an excellent model of the Falcons towards the Steelers.

A wholesome portion of this roster contains veteran gamers on one-year contracts. They’re out to show one thing, and extra importantly to make one thing of this chance. It’s not a straightforward factor to make the NFL playoffs, and a few of these gamers could not get as shut as this once more.

If the Falcons can return dwelling and safe a victory towards the Steelers, they’ll go into the bye week with an opportunity to relaxation and reload for a possible stretch run. The ultimate 4 video games – New Orleans (away), Baltimore (away), Arizona (dwelling) and Tampa Bay (dwelling) – aren’t a cakewalk, however they’re definitely winnable on a day Atlanta performs properly.

Staying in rivalry has long-term advantages as properly, regardless of any dialogue of the longer term centering principally round April draft picks and rookies. Like something troublesome, studying learn how to win late within the season takes observe. It takes expertise and repetition. Groups try to play their finest soccer this time of 12 months, and the great ones all have a dependable identification. It’s more durable to win these video games, particularly with the strain of the playoffs continuously current.

Higher to get publicity to that strain in a 12 months with comparatively low expectations than when the lights are a bit brighter.

For individuals who actually consider a few of the draft picks are able to tackle greater roles or that changes must be made, I believe these are coming win or lose. The bye week is a superb time to look below the hood. Smith has confused the significance of weekly self-scouting with right this moment’s information sources, however this can nonetheless be a welcome probability to make some adjustments.

Whether or not these adjustments are for the beginnings of a pivot to the following chapter or a fine-tuning for a photograph end depends upon Sunday.