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Five things to watch when Falcons travel to Chicago for Week 17 clash with the Bears

Atlanta is coming off their most complete performance to date. Can that performance linger into a new week? 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Falcons are coming off their most dominant and complete performance to date after a Week 16 win over the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday.

They'll look to expound upon that performance as they travel up to Chicago for a New Year's Eve clash with the Bears.

Here are your five things to watch when they do.


1. Healthy status

The Falcons will travel up to Chicago with a healthy lineup this weekend. The only player who was listed as questionable on Friday's game report was Kaleb McGary.

The Falcons starting right tackle has missed the last three games with a knee injury. Storm Norton has slotted into his place and performed well in an expanded role.

Everyone else? They're good to go. That includes Lorenzo Carter, David Onyemata, Taylor Heinicke, Drew Dalman, Chris Lindstrom and Jake Matthews, who were limited in practice this week.

As far as game reports go, this is the healthiest the Falcons have been in a while.

2. A golden opportunity

As Terrin Waack pointed out in her Thursday Falcons Daily, the Falcons have a significant opportunity they can try to take advantage of in Chicago this Sunday.

The Bears may be one of the best in the league when stopping the run, but a defensive weakness they have shown through 15 games in 2023 can be found in the red zone.

Chicago ranks last in the league in red-zone defense, allowing opponents to score touchdowns on 72.5% of their red-zone appearances.

As an offense, Atlanta hasn't found itself where it ideally wants to be in terms of touchdown production, particularly inside the 20-yard line. The Falcons rank in the bottom half of the league in red-zone production, coming in at 26th with a 48.8% touchdown conversion rate.

If the math continues to math, though, perhaps the Falcons can see an uptick in their red-zone offensive production against the Bears this weekend.

Atlanta Falcons running back Tyler Allgeier #25

3. Rookies on the rise

The last few weeks have seen expanding playing time and production for nearly the entirety of the Falcons 2023 rookie class.

Bijan Robinson could find himself in contention for Rookie of the Year honors as he continues to hunt for franchise records. Matthew Bergeron has been an important (and overlooked) cog in the Falcons offensive line this year, showcasing a consistency the Falcons have been craving at the left guard position.

The steep increase of quality play from Falcons rookie defenders, though, is where the real magic has happened the last few weeks.

Clark Phillips III has emerged as a starter opposite A.J. Terrell at cornerback. So, has safety DeMarcco Hellams, who slots in alongside Jessie Bates III in the back. Both rookies havw been key tacklers and playmakers in the last two games, especially. Head coach Arthur Smith even gave Phillips a compliment during his weekly pressers, saying Wednesday that Phillips does some things on tape that just make you smile.

More than just about anyone, though, edge rusher Zach Harrison has settled into his role as his live reps accumulate.

Since Week 14, Harrison's stat line stands out with eight tackles, seven quarterback pressures, three sacks and one pass defended. Like all of the Falcons rookies, the evolution of Harrison can't be missed.

4. Building blocks

It may have taken 16 weeks, but Atlanta finally put together a team-win Sunday to be proud of. In their decisive win over the Colts, there was little about the play of the Falcons to complain about.

On defense, the Falcons set a season-high with six sacks. Bates set a career-high interception count when he picked off Gardner Minshew. Calais Campbell said postgame that the defensive performance was one that looked like "what it's supposed to."

On offense, Taylor Heinicke lead the unit to one of the most productive days on the year. Atlanta totaled 406 yards of offense, averaging a whopping 7.1 yards per play in the first half. By the end of the game, the Falcons rushing attack was averaging nearly six yards per rush; their highest average since Week 5 of 2020. It was a performance that -- like the defense -- operated a lot like how you thought this offense would when you looked at it on paper in the preseason.

Finally, there was special teams, and Younghoe Koo was back to his reliable self, connecting on five field goals that helped Atlanta acheive its 19-point margin of victory.

In all, this was the best the Falcons have looked all year, from top to bottom, from beginning to end. The question remains, though: Was this a one-off? Or are the Falcons trending in the right direction even with the season coming to a close? A complete and dominant performance in Chicago could change the way we look at this team.

5. Still a chance

The Falcons will need a little help and a little luck to find themselves atop the NFC South at the end of the regular season, but it's not impossible yet.

Realistically, the Bucs are one win away from taking the crown. According to the New York Times playoff simulator, Tampa Bay has an 82% chance of winning the division and making the playoffs. The Falcons -- as of Friday afternoon -- sit at a 12% chance.

There are a bunch of different ways to crunch the numbers, so we won't list those out in totality in this article. But in summary: If the Bucs beat the Saints this weekend, they clinch the division regardless of what the Falcons do in Chicago. If the Bucs lose, Atlanta lives to fight another week in the division.

So, what do you -- as a Falcons fan -- need to know this week? Well, you may hate to read this, but if you want the Falcons to have postseason life, you need the Saints to win in Week 17.

In order to claim a wild-card spot, the Falcons must win out with victories over the Bears and Saints and then get lots of help from several teams over the next two weeks.

Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch for the game against the Chicago Bears.

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