It is called the postseason or second season in many circles, because the month of January kicks off a brand new season in the NFL. It is one where who or what you were in the regular season is meaningless and trivial, a small footnote. Teams will be tested purely off their own merit, not their regular season achievements. Whether you finished with a 9-7 record or 13-3, you’re all the same when the second season begins: 0-0.
The Falcons have struggled in the second season, as it has been been seven years since they have won a game there. They are winless under the leadership of Mike Smith. What has been disheartening to Falcon fans is that each of those losses have gotten progressively worse. The Falcons intend to turn the tide this year, as they sport the best offense they’ve had in the Mike Smith Era, and a defense that has routinely stepped up in big games.
Having the best regular season record and the No. 1 seed is meaningful only in the sense that it means the Falcons will be playing at home. Two of their three postseason losses have come on the road, where the team has struggled throughout the Mike Smith Era. But that has changed this year. While the Falcons have a better record at home (7-1) than on the road (6-2) this year, the Falcons offense is better by 51.0 total yards per game, 3.4 points per game, and about 0.7 yards per play when traveling. The story is the opposite for the defense, surrendering 24.4 less yards per game, 3.4 less points per game, and about 0.4 less yards per play at home rather than on the road.
In past postseason games, the defense has struggled to get stops, create turnovers, and not surrender big plays to opposing teams. Mike Nolan will have this year’s unit charged to change that.
But the onus will likely rest on the team’s offense to play better at home than it has for much of the year. The offensive line has struggled when asked to play indoors for the most part this year. The lone exception being an outstanding performance against the New York Giants a few weeks back. They have also been able to generate some of their big plays at home, with a total of 25 explosive pass plays (for 20 or more yards) at home, while only 21 on the road.
If the Falcons intend to reverse their fortunes in this year’s second season, it will likely require them to be able to pass protect Ryan effectively in order to generate those big explosive passing plays. While it won’t be a tall order, it is something the Falcons have been inconsistent with during the regular season. But the beauty of the second season is that all gets thrown out the window. The Falcons will have their opportunity to showcase an explosive offense and opportunistic defense in the playoffs. What they did before won’t matter. It is all up to what they do going forward.