Each week, Falcons vice president of football communications Reggie Roberts sits down with an expert and talks about the Falcons as well as what's going on in the rest of the league. This week's expert is Yahoo Sports NFL writer Jason Cole.
Reggie Roberts: The Falcons, who still lead the NFC with a 12-3 record, fell Monday night to the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints, 17-14, at the Georgia Dome. How much of an affect will Monday night's loss have on head coach Mike Smith's Falcons?
Jason Cole: I don't think Mike Smith is a guy who easily gets flustered by one or two games that go the wrong way. He has a great understanding of playing percentages and how to manage end-game strategy. That's evident by the fact that the Falcons are 13-6 with Smith the past three years in games decided by six points or less. Three of those losses are to the Saints. While some people would say that means Sean Payton is better than Smith, it doesn't account for the gap in skill-position talent between the Falcons and Saints (New Orleans has had a much deeper receiving corps and a far more experienced quarterback over that three-year stretch). I think the Monday night loss is one of those games that bugs a coach because of the mistakes (the fumble at the goal line, in particular), but it doesn't shake the foundation of how he thinks.
RR: Give us your take on a team that no one is really talking about right now and that's Lovie Smith's Chicago Bears, who seemingly have flown under the radar for much of the 2010 season.
JC: The Bears are one of those teams I can't really figure out. I don't like the receiving corps. I don't like the offensive line. I think the quarterback is talented, but not really mentally tough. I think the defense has holes. Yet, they're kicking butt. They have milked every ounce of talent out of running back Matt Forte and Cutler has really picked up on what Mike Martz is teaching. Give offensive line coach Mike Tice a lot of credit for piecing together a decent offensive line out of what I thought was substandard talent. Maybe the real key to all of this is that Lovie Smith did a great job of bringing in smart, experienced coaches around him. He has three former head coaches (Martz, Tice and Rod Marinelli) in key roles. That's a lot of expertise and a lot of ideas.
RR: Let's switch over to the AFC. Mike Tomlin has his Steelers back in the postseason once again. Do the Steelers have enough offense to go into Foxboro and defeat the mighty New England Patriots should the two teams meet in the AFC Championship Game?
JC: For whatever reason, the Patriots own the Steelers and have for pretty much the entire decade. This goes back to the playoff victory in Pittsburgh in the 2001 season. It doesn't matter where they play, but the Steelers can't win this matchup right now. Somewhere along the line, Tom Brady figured out how to beat the Steelers' blitz scheme. He does an amazing job of manipulating the Steelers secondary, in particular the safeties (Troy Polamalu included). To me, the Steelers will be able to put up 20 points on the Patriots defense (which is still highly suspect), but I'm not sure the Pittsburgh defense can do enough to keep it close.
RR: What team has qualified for the postseason that you didn't have making the playoffs when the season began?
JC: Whichever team makes it from the NFC West. I didn't think either Seattle or St. Louis had a chance. I picked San Francisco and gave Arizona and outside shot before the season. That shows what I know. That said, Seattle is terrible and St. Louis has only a couple of players worth paying money to see (Sam Bradford and Steven Jackson). I honestly think that if you took the four teams from the NFC West and put together the best single roster from the current active rosters, I'm not sure you could win a playoff game. That's brutal.
RR: Give us your predictions for the matchups that will take place both in the AFC Championship Game and in the NFC Championship Game?
JC: AFC: Jets at Patriots. I think the Jets defense will get it together for two games before going to New England and having problems keeping New England under 27 points. I don't think we're going to see a repeat of the 45-3 game (that one just got out of control), but I don't think it's going to be that competitive.
NFC: Eagles at Falcons. Atlanta avoided seeing Vick earlier this season, but it won't happen twice. This is going to be crowning moment of Vick's season of redemption. As much as I respect how the Falcons play and as much as I think the Eagles are terribly inconsistent, I think Vick is going to lead them to a Super Bowl. It's too great a storyline.