FLOWERY BRANCH – The Ravens used a relentless second-half rushing attack to defeat the Buccaneers 27-22 on “Thursday Night Football.” The result moved the Falcons into sole possession of first place in the NFC South.
The Falcons (3-4) host the Panthers (2-5) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“The quickest way into the playoffs is to win your division, and you need to win divisional games,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said Monday. “Obviously, we didn’t against New Orleans or Tampa, and this is a big game. Especially at home.”
The Bucs dropped to 3-5 on the season. The Saints (2-5) host the Raiders (2-4) at 1 p.m. Sunday in New Orleans.
A Falcons win over the Panthers would gave them a full-game lead over the Bucs and a two-game lead over the Panthers with nine games to play.
The Falcons have not been over .500 since the end of the 2017 season, their last trip to the playoffs.
The Falcons, who are playing the season with a record amount ($77.4 million) in dead salary-cap space after moving from lucrative contracts of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Deion Jones and others, were projected to win only two games by a USA Today pundit. The over-and-under win total was placed at 4.5 games by Las Vegas oddsmakers. The Falcons already have wins over the Browns and 49ers, who were projected playoff teams and a road win over the surprising Seahawks.
“The whole goal is to keep improving and we’re lucky,” Smith said. “Some years you’re right, you get down and a team is running away with your division at 6-1, but luckily, we’re all in this pack right here. It’s an unique opportunity for sure. But that the reality of it. You’ve got to be aware of it and it also gives you perspective.”
Over the Falcons’ final 10 games, they play only two teams – Chargers (4-3) and Ravens (5-3) – who currently have a winning record.
Here’s the remaining schedule and the team’s records:
Oct. 30 vs. Carolina (2-5)
Nov. 6 vs. Los Angeles Chargers (4-3)
Nov. 10 at Carolina (2-5)
Nov. 20 vs. Chicago (3-4)
Nov. 27 at Washington (3-4)
Dec. 4 vs. Pittsburgh (2-5)
Dec. 18 at New Orleans (2-5)
Dec. 24 at Baltimore (5-3)
Jan. 1 vs. Arizona, (3-4)
Jan. 8 vs. Tampa Bay (3-5)
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