After loss, Falcons to fight for final NFC playoff berth

Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution Quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons will clinch the final NFC playoff spot with a victory against Carolina on Sunday or a loss by Seattle, which faces Arizona.

The NFL wants to make it to a New Year’s Eve party, too.

 

So, for the first time since 1977 when there was a 14-game schedule, there will be no Sunday primetime game to close the regular season.

However, the Falcons’ regular-season finale against the Carolina Panthers has been moved to 4:25 p.m. Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Falcons’ regular-season finale is essentially a “win or go home” de facto playoff game.

“We felt that both from a competitive standpoint and from a fan perspective, the most fair thing to do is to schedule all Week 17 games in either the 1 p.m. or 4:25 p.m. windows,” NFL senior vice president of broadcasting Howard Katz said. “This ensures that we do not have a matchup on Sunday Night Football on New Year’s Eve that because of earlier results has no playoff implications for one or both of the competing teams.”

The Falcons (9-6) must defeat the Panthers (11-4) to earn the sixth and final NFC playoff berth. If the Falcons, the defending NFC champions, lose and Seattle (9-6) defeats Arizona (7-8) at home, the Seahawks will earn the final spot. Both teams are favored in their home finales.

“For us, it’s pretty clear what’s in front of us,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “We have to play better than we did (against the Saints.)”

Carolina can still win the NFC South by combining a victory at MBS with a Saints loss to Tampa Bay. New Orleans has the tiebreaker with Carolina by virtue of sweeping the season series.

The Panthers defeated the Falcons 20-17 on Nov. 5 in Charlotte

“There is nothing magical about playing football,” Falcons center Alex Mack said. “It’s about 11 guys doing the right thing, hopefully at the same time. That’s not what we did (against the Saints). It’s good to have control of our future.”

After the disappointing loss to the Saints, the Falcons were trying to mentally move on to Carolina.

“We understood what was at stake, a chance to solidify a spot the playoffs,” linebacker Vic Beasley said. “We were unable to do that. We look forward to going against Carolina, now.”

Philadelphia, Minnesota, New Orleans, Los Angeles Rams and Carolina have wrapped up the top five seeds.

“It’s motivation just to be in the playoffs,” Beasley said.

The Falcons need to play mistake-free football against the Panthers, who have won three consecutive games and seven of their past eight.

“You can’t make mistakes,” Ryan said. “We made too many of them (against the Saints.) I thought we did some good things in terms of moving the ball, but weren’t consistent enough with keeping it going. That’s something that we have to correct.”

The Falcons’ offense, which lead the league in points last season under the direction of Kyle Shanahan, has been slowed under first-year NFL coordinator Steve Sarkisian.

They’ll need an offensive explosion to get past Carolina and will certainly need some improved scoring production if they plan to advance in the playoffs.

“I certainly was surprised that we did not have more points (against the Saints),” Quinn said. “To have two of those (drives) where we were down inside the 2- and 3-yard line and not come away with points in that one was the factor, for sure.”

Quinn wants to eliminate the turnovers against the Panthers. The Falcons had two on Sunday.

“There is no chance to make any points out of it,” Quinn said. “That part we can do better moving forward. I thought that it was a really good play by Deion (Jones) of creating (a turnover) coming out of the half. We talked about let’s go out and see if we can knock one (a turnover) out and see if we can make one go. Confidence-wise of the team, we know that we have a good group.”

No losing team in the Super Bowl has made it back to the game since the Buffalo Bills in 1991.

The Falcons can try to change the tide of history, but first they need a victory over Carolina or a Seattle loss to Arizona.

“As a competitor, that’s the life we live,” Quinn said. “We know what is there. That’s why we are still excited.”

 

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