This Thanksgiving, I sat within the crowded walls of Ford Field in Detroit and watched as the Packers, after being held in check for two quarters, simply ran away with the game and soundly beat a playoff-caliber Lions team 27-15. With that win, all those Cheeseheads residing up in the bleak northern wastes of America see their "discount double-check" QB and his unimaginative "signature move" improve to 11-0. Regardless of my feelings however, I'll still admit: they are a fantastic football team. What's more, they are a resilient football team, much like the Falcons.
Though I could hardly stand to see the Pack down yet another team this season, their somewhat improbable Superbowl run last season reminded me of something, something that gives me hope for these Falcons. The one aspect people often overlook in football is the mental one, and this plays a huge role in Atlanta.
The Falcons are a team that makes its living by playing an ultra-disciplined, mistake-free brand of football. An always superb rushing attackalong with a defense that has allowed next to nothing in the running game have created a perhaps unsavory reputation across the league. Some say they play "dirty." If you were to ask Mike Smith, he'd simply smile and say they play hard and execute well.
Under Smitty & Co., the Falcons haven't quite become the sort of team that runs away with games. You don't have to look far back to see that (i.e. last week's 20-3 lead becoming a narrow 23-17 win). Yet this entire season, they've won ugly multiple times and couldn't care less. They've battled through injuries to Ovie Mughelli, Julio Jones, Sam Baker, Jonathan Babineaux, William Moore and a number of others.
Even more important in shaping a team poised for a late season push to the playoffs is gelling at the right time. Building a self-sustaining momentum at the right time. Given the Falcons' upcoming slate of games for the heart of the holiday season, that should be more than feasible. Check out who's left on the schedule:
Week 12: Minnesota Vikings (2-8)
This is a team that- although they've lost many a close contest- only holds wins over Arizona and Carolina on the season. The Falcons will get Dome-field advantage, and it's looking very plausible that the Vikes will be without star running back Adrian Peterson for this one.
Week 13: at Houston Texans (7-3)
Not an easy team by any means, but on the bright side they will now have Matt Leinart manning the helm on offense instead of Matt Schaub. Bit of a downgrade right there. As long as the Falcons' second-ranked rush defense holds Arian Foster in check, the Falcons have a great shot at winning.
Week 14: at Carolina Panthers (2-8)
We've been here before, and we pretty much know what to expect: Cam Newton and not much else. The offensive line has had its share of injuries, and the defense- particularly when defending the run- has been rather shoddy this season (again because of injuries). Though this team has talent, they just can't seem to wins. But let's not forget that Cammy Cam is still a growing QB. Five picks against the Lions speaks for itself.
Week 15: Jacksonville Jaguars (3-7)
Smitty's former team has had a rough go of things in 2010. While Maurice Jones-Drew is still a great weapon for the offense, Blaine Gabbert understandably still displays inconsistencies befitting of a first-year starter. Like Carolina, the defense has been sorely lacking at times and at this point in the season, they're likely playing for pride.
Weeks 16 and 17: at New Orleans Saints (7-3), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-6)
While an away game against the 'Aints could get tricky, a home contest with the Bucs absolutely appears to be winnable. One victory out these two matchups should hopefully be all the Falcons require anyways.
The point? Four of the remaining six games come against sub-.500 teams, some with significant injuries. The Falcons, who sit behind a couple of teams in the NFC wild card race, seem primed to string together some wins and enter the postseason looking strong.
For more, check out SB Nation's Falcons blog The Falcoholic.