Facing a schedule that was ranked the toughest in the National Football League, the Atlanta Falcons have posted a 6-3 record through nine weeks, including six wins in their last eight games. One would think that after beating the 7-2 Oakland Raiders, the 6-3 Denver Broncos and the defending NFC champ Carolina Panthers, the Falcons would see less-imposing opponents ahead.
But after a nine-week gauntlet, the test may get tougher over the next three games. Between now and Dec. 4, the Falcons only have three games, but they’re against three of the league’s eight best defenses.
It starts this Sunday with a road game in Philadelphia against the Eagles, who rank No. 6 in the NFL in scoring defense, allowing just 18 points per game. Then, after a bye week, they’ll have two games at home against the Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs, who rank No. 4 and No. 8, respectively, in scoring defense. None of their next three opponents are allowing more than 19 points per game.
(Also read: Defense shows improvement in win over Bucs)
One could argue that this means those defenses are going to get tested in new ways, too. If the Falcons can keep up their blistering pace of 34 points scored per game, all three of those defenses will have to face the No. 1 offense in the league.
But you know the old saying: good defense beats good offense.
If you’re looking for some good news, look to these opponents’ offenses. Only one of them has broken 200 points scored this season (for comparison, the Falcons have scored 305 points), and that’s the Eagles, who have looked considerably worse in recent games than at the beginning of the season. Defenses have figured out Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, and as a result, Philly has lost four of its last five.
Arizona and Kansas City have been even shakier on offense, so if the Falcons’ defense really is improving, they should be able to get off the field quickly, as they did Thursday night in Tampa, and give the offense plenty of chances to score on those stout defenses.
After these three games, the schedule will finally ease up, with four mediocre opponents to finish the season. The Falcons will finish with the Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Panthers and New Orleans Saints – four teams with a combined record of 11-21. If the Falcons can just go 2-1 over their next three games, a franchise that was just hoping to be on the good side of .500 this season could actually be looking at a first-round playoff bye.Follow @Sean_Breslin