The Atlanta Falcons lead the NFC South by 1 1/2 games over the Buccaneers, with whom they’ve split, and the Saints, against whom they’re 1-0. They’re 2 1/2 games ahead of the Panthers, against whom they’re also 1-0. Division-wise, Sunday’s loss in Philadelphia didn’t hurt all that much.
We say again: This year is not last year. The Falcons were also 6-4 after 10 games in 2015, but Carolina was then undefeated. Before Sunday’s games, Football Outsiders gave these Falcons an 86.1 percent chance of winning their division. They lost, but so did the Saints (on a blocked PAT that was returned for the winning points) and the Panthers (after blowing a 17-point lead). Only the Bucs helped themselves, but Tampa Bay entered play yesterday with a 1.2 percent chance of winning the South.
Which isn’t to say there wasn’t damage inflicted Sunday. The NFC teams most apt to claim the two Round 1 byes are the Cowboys, the Seahawks and the Falcons. All played difficult road games Sunday. Only the Falcons lost. Dallas won in Pittsburgh on Ezekiel Elliott’s touchdown run at 0:09. Seattle won at New England with a goal-line stand inside the final minute.
Dallas is 8-1, 2 1/2 games ahead of the Falcons. Seattle is 6-2-1, 1 1/2 games in front. The Seahawks’ tie with Arizona means there can be no tiebreaker with Atlanta, which they’d have held anyway due to beating the Falcons on Oct. 16. (This assumes Atlanta doesn’t tie somebody.) Had the Falcons prevailed in Seattle, they’d be a half-game in front. But they didn’t, and they aren’t.
Of the Seahawks’ seven remaining games, one is against a team that’s above .500 — Philadelphia on Sunday at CenturyLink Field. Of the Cowboys’ seven games, six are against teams with winning records. At some point, you’d figure a team dependent on a rookie quarterback and a rookie running back would experience a wobble, but this is sports and who knows anything?
The Falcons’ schedule is much easier — six games remaining, four at home, with only Kansas City above .500. Meaning: This isn’t nearly settled. But losing in Philly on a day when Dallas and Seattle won was a reversal.
So was this: Sunday’s 24-15 loss marked the first time the Falcons have scored fewer than 23 points. It marked the first time they’d managed fewer than 362 yards. (They had 303.) It marked the third time they’d been outgained. The Eagles had 429 yards, meaning the Falcons’ opponents have exceeded 400 yards as many times (four) as the Falcons themselves.
Only one NFL team has scored more than 300 points — the Falcons (with 320). Only three have yielded more than 280 points — the Falcons (283), the 49ers (likewise) and the Browns (301). The Niners and Browns are a collective 1-18. This isn’t company you want to keep.
Even as the Falcons were rising smartly from 0-1 to 6-3, we wondered what would happen if the raging offense had, ahem, an off-day. We just saw. The Falcons lost. Ten games and two drafts into Year 2 under the noted defensive man Dan Quinn, his defense ranks 26th in a 32-team league. He really does need to do something, don’t you think?