The Falcons were off this week, and they saw mixed results in the Sunday NFL games that affect their standing. Their already-small odds to win the NFC South diminished further when Carolina and New Orleans both won. Those games, plus others in the NFC, reduced the Falcons' playoff odds in the FiveThirtyEight model from 28 to 23 percent.
But the Falcons (3-4) remain squarely in the mix for a Wild Card. Win at Washington (5-2) on Sunday and the Falcons would be, at worst, one of nine NFC teams with four victories or more. Their chances would improve significantly if they win and other results go their way: Detroit (3-4) beats Minnesota (4-3-1), Seattle (4-3) loses to the Los Angeles Chargers and the Tennessee beats Dallas (3-4).
The Falcons have a good shot to win at Washington. FiveThirtyEight gives them a 45 percent chance. Bookmakers made Washington a three-point favorite to open but early betting moved it down to Washington -1.5 which, not coincidentally, is the same spread as FiveThirtyEight. Washington's offense is nothing special, and neither is the defense after Football Outsider makes its adjustments for situation and opponent.
I mentioned this the other day and, after watching Sunday's NFL games, it's worth repeating: The Falcons have an edge because Matt Ryan is their quarterback. In the NFC, only Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees are on or above his level. Russell Wilson might still be. Cam Newton was sharp against Baltimore on Sunday but the question, as always, is can he sustain it?
Look elsewhere in the NFL and you see a lot of middling-to-bad quarterbacks. The Falcons don’t have to worry about their guy. It’s why, despite bad injury luck, they need to make something of this season, which figures to be one of three or four left in Ryan’s prime if his good injury luck holds.
Some veteran quarterbacks once viewed as future franchise types have reached plateaus below that level. Marcus Mariota, Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill come immediately to mind. Derek Carr was third in MVP voting behind Ryan and Tom Brady in 2016 but hasn’t been the same since. Matthew Stafford has been better since he was awful in the opener, but he’s been stuck on pretty good for three or four years now.
Most of the Next Generation QBs have backslid.
Dak Prescott has had diminishing returns in Dallas since a strong rookie season. More ugly turnovers by Jameis Winston on Sunday got him pulled for Ryan Fitzpatrick. Blake Bortles, benched last week, started again but looked no better. After a hot start Browns rookie Baker Mayfield is finding out that, eventually, the NFL figures you out and you must respond. Houston’s DeShaun Watson was great in a Thursday victory over Miami but that’s an anomaly for the year.
There’s a small group of veteran QBs still playing at an elite level. Ryan is on the list along with Rodgers, Brees, Tom Brady and Philip Rivers. You’d have to make a case to convince me to include any others.
The Falcons will make their playoff push with Ryan, a very good quarterback. That’s a luxury in the NFL.