Although the Atlanta Falcons got their butts kicked in Cincinnati last week, don’t count them out as playoff contenders in the NFC South.
The Falcons, up to last Sunday, had turned into one of the NFL’s more pleasant surprises, a team clearly in rebuild mode ahead of schedule and toting the rock at prolific rates.
Even without quarterback Matt Ryan leading the charge, head coach Arthur Smith has found in QB Marcus Mariota a capable starter that can lead a run-first attack that had been giving opponents headaches for weeks.
While guys like Tyler Allgeier and Caleb Huntley aren’t household names, those two running backs and Mariota gashed the snakebit San Francisco 49ers on the ground in Atlanta’s surprise 28-14 win two weeks ago. Rusher and touchdown machine Cordarrelle Patterson should return soon from injured reserve, too.
The Falcons’ defense didn’t do much to slow down the Bengals, but they’ve outperformed expectations this season with defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, cornerback A.J. Terrell and budding rookie outside linebacker Arnold Ebiketie all contributing game-changing moments. Second-year safety Richie Grant and defensive tackle Ta’Quon Graham have both performed admirably, too.
The NFC South is a relative dumpster fire in 2022, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fledgling with an aging Tom Brady, the Carolina Panthers having just fired head coach Matt Rhule and the New Orleans Saints struggling with life after Sean Payton.
The Falcons also have the league’s easiest schedule per DVOA through the rest of the year, including two games against the Panthers within three weeks.