Falcons fans hoping for a strong turnout in home finale against Panthers, talk playoffs

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Good morning and welcome to Straight from the 'Beek! The Falcons are preparing for their regular-season finale against the rival 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 right to them.

Shaun from Hinesville, GA

Hope you had a good holiday, Beek. My question is, as a die-hard Falcons fan, should we expect a very loud Mercedes-Benz Stadium against Carolina knowing that our playoff lives are at stake? Also, I have to admit I'm nervous about this game because of the inconsistencies of the offense. Your thoughts? And by the way, Beek, thank you for allowing us fans to have a voice. Much appreciated bro.

Matt: Shaun, technically this game is not a playoff game, but it definitely has the feel of one. Win and they're in. They'll move on to the postseason. Should they lose and the Seahawks beat the Cardinals, then Atlanta will be eliminated. So, yes, much is at stake on Sunday. The Panthers also have a shot at winning the NFC South crown with a win and, if other things fall their way (i.e., losses by the Vikings, Saints and Rams), they can earn the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. So they'll be plenty motivated. The Falcons should be fine on offense as long as they eliminate the mistakes and turnovers – and those have hurt them at different times throughout the season. To answer your other question, I'd certainly hope Falcons fans show up in droves to support them in such a huge game. Sure it's New Year's Eve, but the 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff is early enough in the day for people to still celebrate the holiday later on. Thanks for reading, Shaun.


Charles from Atlanta, GA

Hi again Beek! I, too, give you kudos for a great column, but even more so for so eloquently answering the tough questions, some even bordering on being ridiculous. This has been a trying year for our team and things just seem a little off. Passes just a little off, blocks just a little late, drops on passes that were not perfect, good but inconsistent play calling. When watching, you expect that impending offensive explosion that hasn't happened! With the defense being so improved, we would a dangerous team to face in the playoffs! What factors do you think have influenced the offensive performance? And do you think it is correctable?

Matt: Hey, Charles. Sure, it's been an up-and-down year, but the Falcons have been in every single game – which is all you can ask for as a fan. No two seasons will ever be the same, either. That all said, this team could easily be 11-4 or 12-3 right now if it weren't for some untimely penalties, dropped or deflected passes resulting in turnovers. But, as I mentioned in Tuesday's SFTB, we could play the "what if" game all day long with every single team – and it's a fruitless exercise, to be honest. I get a lot of emails complaining about the play calling, too. People have to stop and ask themselves one thing: Did that play call cause the player to fumble? To miss a block? To move before the snap? To drop a pass? Fans understandably get upset with the ultimate results, but should also realize that it's a series of events (or plays) that lead to a loss or a game being much closer than it should have been. Now, is every play call the best one given the defense? No, not every time. But it all comes down to execution in the end. And that's on the players. The good news, Charles, is that the Falcons are in a position to clinch a postseason berth and once they're in, anything can happen.


Brock from Windsor, SC

Hi Beek, love the page man keep it up! This is not so much a question as it is an attempt at a suggestion. Not that Sark's play calls have been horrible, although some have been questionable, why not take a look back at the tapes of what Shanahan had the Falcons did last season that had us clicking? I would study that hard. He laid down the blueprint that had this offense in position to win the Super Bowl and should have won the Super Bowl. Secondly, we all have noticed that Matty Ice is off this year, that's a fact. He took that hit against the 49ers in the championship game years ago and hasn't been the same since, although last year he was on point. That makes us wonder if that shoulder has been aggravated again? The 2015 season, there was a plethora of questions about that shoulder, he was off like he is now. We have a team that is set to win now, the defense has greatly improved and the offense took a step back. I just hope with it all on the line here soon that the sleeping giant that they are as an offense is awakened not that it's do or die, win you're in. Thanks, Beek!

Matt: Hey, Brock. When the Falcons were preparing all offseason long and into training camp, what do you think they watched? When Steve Sarkisian came on board to learn the offense – the players, the terminology, etc. – what do you think he watched? Of course they studied and analyzed each and every snap from last season – to see what worked in certain situations and what did not. More importantly, what do you think opposing defensive coordinators and coaches have studied and watched all offseason long in order to prepare for this season? Every single snap the Falcons played last season. Atlanta's offense was unstoppable at times last season. Part of it is the scheme and system and the other part of it is the talent on the field – the players executing it. That all said, the Falcons' offense has been pretty good this season. They're among the league leaders in yards per play, for example. I could go through the season, game by game, and break things down but I won't. The good news is that they're in position to clinch a playoff berth. And once you're in, no one will care anymore about how the Falcons got in – only that they're in. And should they make a run and win it all, it will make for an incredible story. We'll all be talking (and writing) about how this team continued to evolve, fight, persevere … not nit-pick at its perceived shortcomings.


JP from Allen, TX

Thanks for this column. I imagine it's tough to deal with the downers. I'm a Falcons fan forever. You're right in so many ways. And I hate thinking about last year but ... what will it take for Matt Ryan to feel confident again?

Matt: Hey, JP. I think if you watch Matt Ryan during press conferences during the week and following games, you'll quickly pick up on the fact that he's quite confident and positive. He believes in his teammates and coaches – and he never throws any of them under the proverbial bus. In short, he's a leader and a pretty good teammate who leads by example. And I think that shows on the field of play, too. I don't think he shies away from making the tough throws into tight windows at all, something you'd see from a quarterback who's timid or from someone who can't make those types of throws. What I'm saying is I don't think you should worry about Matt Ryan's confidence, JP.


Clay from Enterprise, AL

Do the Falcons have any kind of chance of playing at home in the playoffs?

Matt: At this point, no. The best they can do is earn the sixth seed, which means they'll be on the road. Depending on how the other games shake out, there are four different possible opponents they could face in the wild-card round: the Rams, Saints, Panthers and Vikings.


Jose from Bakersfield, CA

Thank you for all you do. I think the team is inconsistent just like our fan base. I haven't seen the stadium even a little full this year. We must start with our fans to come together and root for this team. And my question is, do you think that this being our last game of the season that our fans would pull together and cheer for this awesome team? Let's finish strong and make playoffs.

Matt: Hey, Jose. The size of crowds at the Falcons home games has been a topic of conversation here all season long, as you probably know. Regardless, I'd hope the Falcons fans would show up for this all-important game.


Scott from Smyrna, GA

Beek, a couple thoughts: First of all, huge fan and avid believer in this franchise! I think Mr. Blank is a great owner and we should all be thankful he is the Falcons owner. Each year Mr. Blank seems to dial in on areas of need. It could be a coach or a player, but his focus is on winning and improving. He seems to have his finger on the pulse and works through Thomas Dimitroff and Dan Quinn. Second, unfortunately I do not believe our team can go deep in the playoffs should they somehow beat Carolina. Here's why. Talent is there, same as last year, same O-line, but the timing and execution has been off all year. It's truly amazing to see the lack of production but it's really a total offensive breakdown, not just one player. I also don't believe this has anything to do with Sark as mental mistakes, dropped passes and lack of timing seem to happen at each position and that is mostly at the feet of the players. Finally, my question: do you believe that the Falcons have enough vocal leadership on this team? I believe we have quality players, but it seems that many are the quiet-leader type. Football is about emotion and sometimes I'd like to see a player call a players-only meeting or challenge one another to be the best they can be. I'd like your thoughts on these and your answer to my question. Happy new year and go Falcons!

Matt: Hey, Scott. I agree with your points on how the Falcons have approached building this team. If you get a minute, check out these profiles I wrote on how Dimitroff and Quinn have worked together in building this team. And I also agree with your point that there is plenty of talent in place, on both sides of the ball. Have there been mistakes and inconsistencies along the way? Yes, and every team faces its own set of challenges throughout the course of a season, whether it be overcoming a season-ending injury to a key player, a suspension, mistakes, etc. To answer your question, yes, I think there is plenty of vocal leaders on this team – the three pillars of this team are Ball, Battle and Brotherhood. These guys do hold each other accountable, but you won't see anyone throw someone under the bus on the field or to the media.


Wes from Huntsville, AL

Hey Matt! I have both an observation and a question. I know you love to be positive and talk about when the Falcons do good things. If I give you stats that aren't so good, you will reply with good stats. I love optimism, and I want to stay positive. But you are right about one thing: Atlanta is a different team this year. You can tell me about how they still can make the playoffs and everything, but let's be honest. Atlanta is a good team, but they really can't sustain a deep playoff run the way they have been playing. Basically, I don't see Atlanta making the Super Bowl this year unless they change things. Here's the question: What can they change this season to create explosive plays, and where do you see Atlanta trying to improve in the off season? Maybe depth for the offensive line, and possibly help in the cornerback position?

Matt: Hey now, Wes. Not every stat I drop in here is to put a positive spin on things. I've noted countless times in this space that I think this team is built to win now. They reached the Super Bowl last season and improved the defense during the offseason. Has everything gone their way this season? No, but they're in a position to make the playoffs in an extremely competitive league. There's a fine line between winning and losing in the NFL. How else do you explain how a team like the Rams can look so abysmal one year and so dominant the next with virtually the same players? That said, every team has weaknesses. That's always going to be the case in the salary cap era – you can't pay everyone and have great depth at every position. Just like the Falcons did last offseason, they'll address different areas on this team. Let's wait and see how this thing shakes out before we start listing the greatest areas of need. I will say this much, though: You can never have enough great pass rushers, cover corners and big, athletic offensive linemen.


Nicole from Atlanta, GA

Hi Matt, how can the Falcons limit Cam's running? if they do this, I think they win the game. Thanks.

Matt: Hey, Nicole. Cam Newton's running ability is definitely an area of concern this week. If you recall, Newton was the Panthers' leading rusher when the Falcons faced Carolina in Week 9. Newton ran nine times for 86 yards and a touchdown in what turned out to be a very close game – a 20-17 Panthers win.


Tony from Redding, CA

Hello, Beek. First I would like to say I hope you and all the Beekers our there had a great Christmas! Now on to the rant. Last week I posted that if the Falcons didn't play their best two games of the year, it wouldn't turn out well and they sure didn't show up in New Orleans. Albeit the officiating was horrible! The holding call against Mathews early was not even close to a hold and it didn't get any better from there. This offense has mostly been ineffective for the most part, aside from Ryan not playing up to his or our standards this year. Ryan and Sark are not clicking. He did get Julio involved this week and had a couple Gabriel sightings but the running backs are nowhere near as involved in the passing game as they should be. Also, the crossing route that Julio runs when teams are playing zone is unstoppable, yet we only run it a couple times a game and it works every time we do! I hope the boys show up this week and not only win but make a statement that we belong in the playoffs. I hope we don't back into playoffs because of a Seahawks loss! I think if we have any chance to make some noise in the playoffs it starts this week, and if we do back in as much as I hate to say it I think it'll be one game and done! What's your thought Beek? As always, you're doing an amazing job with this forum! Go Falcons!!!!

Matt: Hey, Tony. Thanks for reading and for your comments, bud. I agree with your one point: it would be far better to win and get in vs. backing into the playoffs because of a Seahawks loss.


Felix from Atlanta, GA

If we go back to last game against the Panthers, what if Julio Jones did catch that TD?

Matt: Well, we can play that "what if" game all we want … but chances are the Falcons win that game. Ninety-nine times out of 100 Jones catches that ball. Sometimes it happens, but that's not why the Falcons lost that game.


John Vidalia, GA

This is a great column but ... If you disagree with my assessment that the Falcons are stuck in preseason mode then how do you explain not using Poe or at least Coleman in the goal line short yardage situations on Sunday? This was game 15 with the division on the line and we again experiment with a deep tailback and no fullback, which hasn't worked all year. Ryan is not a threat so the defense torpedoed Freeman twice with no Poe or fullback. This is beyond obvious. What is Sark going to say, "OK, now we are in game 16 and we plan to use Poe or Coleman when we are at the goal line?" I bought seats and tickets to watch an ongoing preseason type experiment with an obviously stubborn coach who would rather lose than look at the Falcons own game film? Patriots at the goal line, Saints twice at the goal line. Come on, man. Dropped passes or not, we could have won. Sorry, the team and fans deserve better. Your thoughts?

Matt: I think the Falcons believe in Devonta Freeman, John. They pay him like a No. 1 tailback and use him like one, too. And Freeman rarely fumbles – just look at his career numbers. I have no problem with handing him the ball there. When the Falcons did not call Freeman's number near the goal line earlier in the season, fans went were up in arms and upset. But let's be honest here. That was only part of the reason why the Falcons lost to the Saints. The 10 penalties for 91 yards – including four of them of the pre-snap variety – hurt a lot. And so did going 2 of 13 on third down. It's not one play call or on one player, John.


Richard from Mt. Pleasant, TN

Did anyone really think the Falcons would do anything this year? I said before the season started the Falcons could go 14-2, 12-4 or 4-12. Atlanta sports teams find ways to lose. The Falcons are pitiful.

Matt: So you thought the Falcons could have the best record in the entire league, one of the worst or something in between? Got it. Regardless, it's how you finish, Richard. Just ask the 13-3 Cowboys from a year ago. And the Falcons are alive and well this season – on the brink of clinching a postseason berth. If that's pitiful, I'll take it.


Anthony from Fort Mill, SC

Hi Beek, I really enjoy your responses to all the fans!! Makes for some interesting reading. I have been a Falcons fan since the organization began in the 60's. Showing my age a little here. There is no doubt the Falcons have the talent on defense and on offense. This time of year, during any season teams are playing at a higher level than they were at the beginning of the season. A lot of the Falcons fans don't get the fact that in some of these games, a win or loss comes down to just a few plays being made or not made. My question to you is, do you think with the Falcons not quite playing their best ball yet have enough left in their mindset, heart and soul to pull one out against the Panthers? I think this time of year I think that this is what it all comes down to. Example: The Seattle vs. Dallas game. That was all pure heart, soul, and mindset for that Seattle team. A game they should have lost due to all the injuries. Happy New Year!!

Matt: Thanks, Anthony. And yes, I do think the Falcons can win against the Panthers on Sunday. And you are absolutely correct: wins and losses often do come down to a series of plays. Happy new year, sir.


Chris from Stonewall, MS

First off hope you and your family had a great Christmas, and want to thank you for all your writings and my question is, if we lose to Carolina and the Seahawks win against Arizona, we're out, right? And I understand Sark is a first-year guy and has made some pretty good calls and then not so good. Do you think by next year he will do a better job as in making our offense look better and move faster with better chemistry?

Matt: Thanks, Chris. Merry Christmas and happy new year to you, too. Yes, if the Falcons lose and the Seahawks win, Atlanta is out. And yes again, I think another year should only help Steve Sarkisian and the Falcons offense.

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