Happy new year and welcome to Straight from the 'Beek! The Falcons are heading back to the postseason following Sunday's big win over the Panthers and you've got lots of questions. Just remember, all opinions you see in this space are mine, unless otherwise noted.
So let's get started.
Ray from Asheville, NC
Happy New Year, Beek. Great win for the Falcons! In my opinion that was the best they've played as a complete team this season. Great timing as we head into the playoffs. Containing Todd Gurley, playing penalty-free football, and giving Matty Ice time are keys to the game. What do you think are the keys to a Falcons win? Can't wait to see our Falcons in the Coliseum!
Matt: Thanks, Ray! Indeed, it was a huge win against a Panthers team that had a lot to play for when the game started. I thought the Falcons defense played particularly well – and watching that unit evolve into a top-10 unit has been one of the biggest storylines of this team's season. I think your three keys to the Rams game are on point, but I think you overlooked a big one: keeping defensive tackle Aaron Donald from wreaking havoc will be a daunting task. He's perhaps the best interior defensive lineman in the league right now and can hurt teams in the running and passing game by collapsing the pocket and disrupting timing.
Jeffrey from Hephzibah, GA
Since we made the playoffs, do people still consider us to have the Super Bowl hangover.
Matt: Jeffrey, if you've been reading this space since August, you know how I feel about the term "Super Bowl hangover." And just in case you haven't, I don't believe in it. As I've said (repeatedly), this is a completely different team from the 2016 version. Different players, different coaches, different schedule, different chemistry, different weather, different cities – different everything. Are some of the players more experienced from having gone through the Super Bowl run? Yes, but even that makes this year's team different from last year's! So, to answer your question, I do not think there is any sort of Super Bowl hangover. Are there people who will say one exists? Absolutely. There are some people who will say anything. And there are trolls on the internet who will say things just to anger people, too, like it's some sort of sport. You have to ignore the noise, Jeffrey. And this team has done just that: ignored the noise and made it back to the postseason.
Jerry from Statesboro, GA
Hey, Beek! Did I call it or did I call it? I said very early in the season that we would go 10-6 and take the final wild-card spot. However, I will give you this: YOU told the Beekers that we would go 4-2 in the NFC South. Dang we're good ... lol. Anyway, HOW ABOUT OUR DEFENSE! Robert Alford looked like a Pro Bowler. Now to my questions. I know we won't know until around Wednesday but, did you notice the number of Falcons limping with leg injuries or wincing in pain from other injuries? Question 2. I don't think the Rams are ready for our physical defense, do you? I think the Rams as a whole are too young and inexperienced to go deep in the playoffs. If we go up early, they will fold. We are mentally tougher and that will be the determining factor. RISE UP, BIRD NATION ... and PECK 'EM, BEEKERS! LOL
Matt: Hey, Jerry. Yes, I did predict the Falcons would go 4-2 in the NFC South, figuring they'd split with New Orleans and drop one to the Panthers or Buccaneers. I also predicted they'd go 12-4 during the regular season, too. I wasn't too far off, because they could've easily beaten the Dolphins and Bills. But what matters most right now is that the Falcons are in the postseason – and I think the NFC is wide open. These games will come down to executing, eliminating mistakes and which team can make the big plays, including clutch kicks. Regarding your first question, I really don't want to speculate as to the seriousness of any injuries until we hear something official from the team. As far as your second question is concerned, I would not underestimate any team come playoff time, Jerry. And I would not look too far into the Week 17 result against the 49ers, either. Los Angeles sat several key players for their final game. That all said, I do think the Falcons have a lot of veteran players and their postseason experiences from a year ago will serve them well heading into the playoffs.
Gus from Gaithersburg, MD
Beek, I'm so happy. Not just because we're in the playoffs, but also because the NFC South made a statement by putting three teams into the playoffs. AFC, who? I'm so glad we're in the playoffs. We're gonna be a wrecking ball in the postseason and got nothing to lose. It's a great day to be a Falcons fan and I wanna extend my thank you to you for keeping us calm and prepared. Go Falcons!
Matt: Hey there, Gus. Thanks for the kind words. Victory Monday is definitely a little sweeter today for Falcons fans! The Falcons ended up finishing 4-2 in the NFC South and 9-3 against the rest of the NFC. That's darn good. The Saints and the Panthers finished 8-4 and 7-5, respectively, against NFC foes and were a combined 7-1 against non-conference opponents. Yes, that's pretty good, too. For whatever reason, the Falcons did struggle against AFC East teams, going 1-3. Their lone win was against the Jets.
Ricardo from Olympia Heights, FL
BEEK! Did you even celebrate New Year's Eve? You keep working and working! How much do you think last year's Super Bowl run will help our Falcons? Or do you think experience is overrated?
Matt: Hey there, Ricardo. Ha! Thanks for your concern, sir, and happy new year! Since you asked, I was able to spend some quality time with my family late Sunday night as the ball dropped in New York City to ring in the new year. Always fun, always special. As to your question, I think the experience of having gone through the playoffs and making a Super Bowl run last year will definitely serve this team well – in the locker room, at practice and during games. There are a lot of veterans on this team who will likely set the tone and make sure this team is focused. You can't put a price on having "been there, done that." Now, that all said, players make plays – and the Falcons will still need to execute at a high level in order to advance.
Nikko from Atlanta, GA
Give me one New Year's resolution for yourself and one for our Falcons.
Matt: Hey, Nikko! I'll start with the Falcons. If I had to think of one resolution for the Falcons, it would be consistency. Everyone knows how talented and experienced this team is, but they've been inconsistent at times – and it's hurt them. Whether it be in the passing game with dropped passes early on in the season or with untimely or pre-snap penalties, the Falcons have been their own worst enemies at times. The good news is that those things are correctable and, by and large, the Falcons have evolved and improved. As for me, that's an easy one. Since moving to Atlanta and starting my new position here seven months ago, I've gotten away from eating right, sleeping right, going to the gym – my daily routine. That's all changing in 2018. I will drop 30 pounds and fit into my clothes again, Nikko. Happy new year, bud.
Steven from Raleigh, NC
Hi, Matt. Why can't Dontari Poe line up every time there in a goal line situation?
Matt: Hey, Steven. Well, technically, he could if that's what the coaches wanted to do – and, of course, Poe was open to it. But, remember, he is the Falcons starting defensive tackle, and a pretty good one at that.
Coop from Atlanta, GA
What a regular season for the defending NFC champs! Now it's time to dance! How much do you think last season's playoff experience will carry this team moving forward in the playoffs? And how far will this team go? I say #SB52.
Matt: I said earlier and I'll say it again: Experience matters, Coop. You can't put a price on it or simulate it, either. It will help the Falcons, especially as they prepare for the Rams and play that first game. But, at the end of the day, it comes down to executing, limiting mistakes – and talent. And the latter can sometimes trump a mistake or two, but not often. As far as how far the Falcons will go, I'm not going there. If a team starts looking past an opponent in the playoffs, they'll get beat. Plain and simple. It's one game at a time now – survive and advance.