Road to Super Bowl for NFC teams should go through Atlanta

Posted Dec. 20, 2010 @ 5:47 p.m.
Posted By Dan Parr

Back in Week 11, when the Falcons embarked on a five-game stretch that included four road matchups, some were wondering if they would struggle a bit and lose a game or two, setting up a pivotal Week 16 battle against the Saints in the race for the NFC South title. They were only a .500 team on the road at that point.

While the competition — St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Seattle — might not have been fierce, the Falcons responded to the doubters, however, and proved they can be a dominant team no matter where a game is held.

They didn't falter away from the comfort of the Georgia Dome — where Matt Ryan has a 19-1 record as a starter — and beat the Packers in their one home game during that stretch. The Falcons extended their league-best winning streak to eight games Sunday by defeating Seattle in Qwest Field.

Atlanta, which clinched a playoff spot with the win, outscored its opponent by an average of 14.5 points in the four road games.

Head coach Mike Smith's club should be the No. 1 seed in the NFC even if it loses to New Orleans next Monday night. As long as the Falcons beat the 2-12 Panthers at the Georgia Dome in Week 17, they will have home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

The PFW Spin

The team that was supposed to be shaky on the road probably isn't going to have to travel again this season, unless it advances to Super Bowl XLV in Dallas. They already have defeated the Saints in the Superdome this season and are capable of sweeping the defending Super Bowl champions on Monday night. Doing so would send a strong message to the rest of the league heading into the postseason.

If they don't clinch the No. 1 seed against New Orleans, they'll do it against the Panthers the following week.

There's no doubt that Smith would much rather lock up the top seed sooner rather than later. He would have the option of resting his starters for most, if not all, of Week 17 with the top spot secured.

Smith has been conscientious about giving certain veterans a day off from practice during the week to keep them fresh, so it would be no surprise if he took full advantage of the Falcons' situation and allowed his key players to recharge for a playoff run. If the Falcons lose to the Saints, they'll still get to rest during a first-round bye, barring a stunning loss to the Panthers.

Atlanta is in an enviable position after proving itself on the road.