The Vikings' next opponent, the Atlanta Falcons, are 6-4, but they are on a tear of late. Comparing their first five games to their last five shows the significant difference and how hot they are.
A year ago, the Atlanta Falcons
were 13-3 and the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. Expectations were high in Georgia that the Falcons would go back to the Super Bowl for the first time since knocking off the Vikings in 1998. Then a wild card from Green Bay rolled into town and ended that dream quickly.
As the Vikings head into Atlanta this weekend, the Falcons outwardly have the look of a team that is middle of the road. They're 6-4 and, if the playoffs were to start today, they would be on the outside looking in. However, this is the tale of two seasons for the Falcons – the first five games and the last five games. The team has done an about-face that has been impressive in its effectiveness.
Through five games, the Falcons were 2-3 and going nowhere fast. All three losses were conference defeats (to the Bears, Bucs and Packers) and their only wins were by four points over the struggling Eagles and two points over Seattle. They were far from impressive.
How bad was it? They had been outscored 130-104 and, like the Vikings, the third quarter was their undoing, being outscored 61-13. Their defense was allowing opponents to convert 46.3 percent of third downs and opponents had a one-minute edge in time of possession – a harsh indictment of a run-first team. Opponents had outgained the Falcons by more than 40 yards a game.
They were 2-3 for a reason.
Now, they are 6-4 for a reason – they have made the needed corrections and have turned their season around. It's a dramatic switch that has happened mid-stream and quietly turned the Falcons into one of the more dominant teams in the league.
How distinct is the turnaround? Consider the following:
In their first five games, the Falcons had an average time of possession of 29:33. In the last five games, their average time of possession has been 34:39 – an improvement of more than five minutes a game.
In the first five games, opponents converted third downs at a rate of 46.3 percent (31 of 67). In the last five games, the Falcons have allowed conversions on 25 of 65 chances (38.7 percent).
In the first five games, Atlanta was outgained by 225 yards – an average of 45 yards a game. In the last five games, the Falcons have outgained their opponents by 520 yards – an average of 104 yards a game.
In the first five games, the Falcons offense averaged 338 yards a game. In the last five, they have averaged 400 yards a game.
In the first five games, Atlanta's defense allowed 383 yards a game. In the last five, they have allowed 297 yards a game.
In the first five games, the Falcons' rushing game averaged 99 yards a game. In the last five, they have averaged 142 yards a game.
In the first five games, the Falcons defense allowed an average of 294 yards a game. In the last five games, they have allowed 214 yards a game.
In the first five games, quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked 14 times. In the last five games, he's been sacked five times.
In the first five games, the Falcons had 10 turnovers (six interceptions, four lost fumbles). In the last five games, they have had five turnovers (four interceptions, one lost fumble.).
In the first five games, the Falcons outscored their opponents 24-13 in the first quarter of games. In the last five games, they have outscored their opponents 41-9 in the first quarter.
In the first five games, kicker Matt Bryant scored 32 points (11 extra points and seven field goals). In the last five games, he has scored 47 points (14 extra points and 11 field goals).
In the first five games, opposing quarterbacks had a combined passer rating of 97.1, throwing nine touchdowns with six interceptions. In the last five games, they have had a passer rating of 75.9, throwing five touchdowns with five interceptions.
The Falcons have flown under the radar, much in the same way the Packers did last season when they quietly got on a roll and started building momentum. In the last five games, the only loss the Falcons have had has been an overtime loss to the Saints in which they effectively gave the game away when they went on a fourth-and-inches play inside their own 30-yard line and failed to pick it up. If not for that gaffe, they could well be on a five-game winning streak and would be getting a lot more attention than they are.
Don't be mistaken. After a slow start, the Falcons are the hottest team in the league this side of Green Bay and the Vikings will definitely have their work cut out for them if they are to avoid their ninth loss in 11 games. Most 6-4 teams have problems, but this Atlanta team may be the best 6-4 team in the league and, when the playoffs do start in January, don't be surprised to see a Falcons-Packers rematch up at Lambeau Field.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.