Welcome to Straight from the 'Beek! It's Tuesday on a short week as the Falcons are busy preparing for Saturday's wild-card showdown against the Rams in Los Angeles. And you've got plenty of questions – so let's get right to them. Just remember, all opinions you see in this space are mine, unless otherwise noted.
Robert from Ellenwood, GA
What scenario would have to play out for the Falcons to have a playoff game at home?
Matt: There are no scenarios, Robert. Due to the fact that the Falcons are the sixth seed – the lowest-seeded team in the NFC – they will not host a single game. They will be the road team in the wild-card round and for as long as they continue to survive and advance. And in case you're wondering if there's a chance they'd be the home team in the Super Bowl should they make it to Minneapolis, the answer is no. Since AFC teams are the home team in even-numbered years and this will be Super Bowl LII, the eventual AFC champs will be the designated home team. The NFC is home during odd-numbered years. For what it's worth, Super Bowl LIII will be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and the Falcons could be the home team if they were to make it.
And how about this little nugget? Regardless of which team makes it, the home team might want to consider wearing their white jerseys. Why? Teams in white jerseys have won 12 of the past 13 Super Bowls.
Omar in Orange, CA
Hey Beek. Happy New Year! So happy for the team that they made it to the playoffs. They deserve it. Also, happy that as a long-time fan in Southern California, I can see them in a big game like this. Already got my tickets for Saturday! My question is, how much do you think playing on the road and outdoors will affect the team? If they win, they go to Philly. I think it will help the brotherhood aspect of the team and create an 'us against everybody' mentality that will serve them well. Your thoughts?
Matt: The Falcons were just as good on the road (5-3) as they were at home (5-3) this season, Omar. As far as playing outside goes, the Falcons were 4-2 this season. The won on the road against the Bears, Jets, Seahawks and Buccaneers. The lost outside on the road against the Patriots and Panthers. So, based on those results, I don't think they'll be affected in an adverse way. It'll come down to how they play on the field against the Rams.
Emerson from Greensboro, NC
Do you think Steve Sarkisian will cut back on the toss runs and focus more on running out of a shotgun formation? Go Falcons!
Matt: I don't expect the Falcons offensive coordinator to change his philosophy at all once the postseason starts, Emerson. I think you'll see the Falcons try to take advantage and exploit any type of mismatches and run the same offense they've been running all season long.
Tony from Redding, CA
Happy new year to you, Beek, and all of Falcons nation! Finally, a pretty good performance on both sides of ball. That was the best performance of the season so far, and I'm glad when it mattered most they responded. I've been saying all year that Steve Sarkisian needs to get running backs more involved in the passing game and Freeman's nine catches were huge! I believe if he keeps that up in playoffs it will be key to getting on to the next round. Looks like we will probably be without Taylor Gabriel for a while so Justin Hardy is gonna have to step up. I think he's very talented and will be up to task. Special teams are gonna be key going forward too, and we're gonna have to play better there. That's been a bit subpar this year but very fixable issues. As far as the Rams game goes, I really believe this team matches up well with them. We should be able to run the ball against the Rams and keeping Aaron Donald out of our backfield will be huge. Might be good idea to give Wes Schweitzer some help on passing downs when he lines up over him. I believe that defensively if we shut down Todd Gurley we will win this game, and I think our defense is peaking at the right time. Gotta cut down on pre-snap penalties and we're due to get some calls our way. The last couple weeks the refs have not been kind to us. Lol! Looking forward to next Saturday! Hope 2018 is great to you and yours, Beek! Thanks again for this awesome column! GO FALCONS!
Matt: Hey, Tony. You're right about Freeman – he was targeted 11 times – just as many times as Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu during the Panthers game – and he caught nine passes for 85 yards and a touchdown. He was an integral part of the Falcons' success on Sunday and that should give the Rams plenty to think about come Saturday. I think the rest of your comments are on point, and thanks for writing. Happy new year to you, too!
Jim from Roswell, GA
Hey Beek, happy new year! Hope all is well. I think our defense has looked good all season and they have kept us in every game, but with all the inconsistencies our offense has shown throughout the season such as bad red zone efficiency and dropped balls/interceptions, my question is, do you think this offense can find their swagger in the playoffs? Even with how good Matt Bryant has been playing, we can't rely on him to score the majority of our points in the playoffs. Thanks again Beek for all you do.
Matt: Hey, Jim. A couple of thoughts based off your comments. The Falcons are not the same team as they were last year – and what I mean is, they're built different and playing different. Their defense is playing much better this season and, as a result, they can rely on them more. They aren't giving up a ton of points and being forced to score a ton more to pull out wins. Some are calling this team a defensive team, but I just think they're more balanced. I think they have a swagger, but have been inconsistent, too, at times. And you're right about Bryant – he's certainly a reliable weapon, but you're not going to survive and advance without scoring touchdowns in the red zone – even with the Falcons defense playing so well.
Joe from Shelby, NC
It was great to see Andy Levitre return. Our offensive line is so much better with him in there. The Falcons took the ball right down the field the first series. As soon as he went out, our running game stopped. I sure hope that he is ready to go against the Rams. The Rams aren't good against the run, and with Levitre in, the Falcons can keep the Rams offense on the sideline. Atlanta really needs him in this game.
Matt: Hey, Joe. We will find out more about Levitre's status this week. There's no question that teams want to be at full strength heading into the postseason, but it's tough this time of year.
Marcus from Savannah, GA
Beek. I agree, one game at a time, can't look past any team. I would add that through the inconsistency, we made it in. And now that we are in, we have a clean slate and have a chance to make a deep run. Completely different team from last year. Can show that they can compete and are a force.
Matt: That's everything in a nutshell, Marcus.
Maniyu from Honolulu, HI
Happy New Year, Beek!!! Solid win on Sunday wrapped up 2017 beautifully. Our defense seems to really be clicking. I'm generally just curious about your take on the matchup with the Rams. We haven't lost to a team with a rookie quarterback in quite a while (2016 maybe?), but most of our wins against 'contenders' this year have come when the opposing team was missing one or more key players (i.e., Stewart on Sunday). What do you think that does for our chances against a healthy (and rested) Rams team? Also, our defense has done a good job of containing explosive, multi-faceted running backs – like Alvin Kamara. Does Todd Gurley do anything different that we should be especially concerned about on Saturday night? Thanks for all you do! Aloha.
Matt: Don't underestimate the Rams, Maniyu. First, Jared Goff is not a rookie quarterback – he just completed his second season, which was far better than his rookie campaign. After going 0-7, completing 112 of 205 passes for 1,089 yards and throwing just five touchdown passes in 2016, Goff made a huge turnaround in 2017. Goff, who sat out the final game of the season, led the Rams to an 11-4 record, completed 296 of 477 passes for 3,804 yards and tossed 28 touchdown passes under new coach Sean McVay. And you mentioned Gurley – he's also coming off his best year in the league, running for 1,305 yards and scoring 13 touchdowns on the ground. When the Rams get the running game going, they're tough to beat. He also sat out the Rams' final game of the season, but in the four games they lost with him in the lineup, Gurley did not rush for more than 100 yards in each. So limiting the third-year back out of Georgia will be likely be huge key for the Falcons.