Preparing for the playoffs is anything but ordinary.
With just 12 teams remaining, the microscope zooms in just a bit closer. Media attention becomes more focused. Fans become more frenzied. The pressure amps up.
If so much is different, it's a wonder anything can stay the same, but that's exactly how head coach Mike Smith is approaching the week of preparation.
Coaches tend to be creatures of habit as a rule, and Smith certainly is a fan of routine. Because of where the Falcons were selected to play in the weekend TV schedule for the first round of the playoffs, Atlanta will have the advantage of going about business as usual during the week as they've become accustomed to playing games at 1 p.m. on Sundays.
The week has already been structured the same, with the players having voluntary workouts Monday and an off-day Tuesday. The Falcons will ramp practice and preparations up Wednesday with a long day of meetings, film and on-field work. They'll do the same Thursday before things settle down Friday for the backslide into Sunday.
During the Monday and Tuesday down time for players, the coaching staff put in — and continues to put in — long hours getting ready for the week. In Smith's staff meeting Monday, he brought in a notebook that included all the things he thought the Falcons could learn from in previous playoff appearances and how the staff will go about preparing.
"In terms of the actual scheduling, we're not going to change that but there are some things that we definitely are going to do a little bit differently," Smith said during his Monday news conference. "The rules of engagement are a little bit different with the new collective bargaining agreement that you have to deal with but we're looking at starting our preparation on Wednesday like we would normally do. But there are a few tweaks. Again, you learn and you write down things that you need to improve on and we have done that and it's something that we've already been talking about as a staff."
And if Smith was looking for anything extra to help the Falcons prepare for Sunday's Wild Card game, he'll likely get it Wednesday.
The weather at MetLife Stadium this time of year can be anything but predictable, but as of right now, temperatures are expected to be in the mid-to-upper 40s for the 1 p.m. kickoff Sunday, according to Weather.com. In Flowery Branch on Wednesday, for the Falcons' biggest day of preparations, the high is expected to be 46.
"I don't think weather right now. We're out six days, but I don't believe weather's going to be an issue," Smith said. "It looks like it's going to be a good day. Of course, that can change. Weathermen don't have to be right."
But after two one-and-done appearances in the playoffs, Smith is hoping he's right about getting the Falcons ready for Sunday. The Falcons' experience preparing for the Packers last year taught Smith a lot about this time of year.
Last year, the Falcons earned the No. 1 seed in the NFC and a bye in the first round of the playoffs. The bye went off without a hitch, but the Sunday night before the Falcons were supposed to return to Flowery Branch for preparations, a freak Southern snowstorm hit Atlanta, dumping a few inches of snow and coating the roads with ice. The Falcons did their best to work around the unexpected elements, but it made the week anything but ordinary.
This year, Smith doesn't have to worry about planning for an extra week without football and, as of right now, there's no sign of blizzard-like conditions in or around Atlanta, meaning everything about this week — despite all the added hoopla that comes with the playoffs — will be as ordinary as possible.
"Glad we're going to be playing on Sunday, giving us a seven-day week which is a normal 'week' in the NFL," Smith said. "Now, we've not had a bunch of normal weeks this season with some Monday night and Sunday and Thursday games, but it's the sequencing that we're most accustomed to and if you're a coach, you want to have 16 of them kicked off at one o'clock in the afternoon on Sunday."
Lucky for the Falcons, the only one that matters right now does.