By Shawn Lealos
The Atlanta Falcons were able to hold on to their seeding and received a first round bye by winning their last four games. With that bye, the team gets a chance to rest and prepare for the postseason. With Matt Ryan receiving talk for an MVP award and the defense hoping to play well enough to finish strong, here is a look at the Falcons players rising and falling heading into the playoffs this season.
Rising: Matt Ryan, QB
Many experts thought that Matt Ryan was a strong contender for this year’s NFL MVP. His road to that award just got a huge boost when the Falcons quarterback was named first-team All-Pro, beating out Tom Brady for the spot. This makes sense because Ryan played four more games this season than Brady and the Patriots proved they could win, even without Brady at quarterback. The only time the first-team All-Pro quarterback didn’t win the MVP in recent memory was when Adrian Peterson won the award at running back.
Ryan finished strong this year. The Falcons won their final four games by scoring an average of 38.5 points in the wins. Ryan threw for 1,131 yards in those final four games with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions and a very impressive 74-percent completion percentage.
Rising: Julio Jones, WR
Julio Jones had nice numbers this season considering his injury problems. Jones finished with 83 receptions for 1,409 yards and six touchdowns. However, he missed two games and was limited for a few games with injury concerns. With that said, he has really come alive in the past few games. In his last three contests, Jones caught 18 passes for 269 yards. In more good news, the Falcons have really developed a strong receiver corps to make up for Jones’ injury problems, so there are a lot of players who can take pressure off him. This could be a huge playoff year for Julio Jones.
Falling: Dwight Freeney
Dwight Freeney was interviewed this past week and said that he will contemplate retirement in the offseason, but there is one thing that he wants to consider when making his decision. Freeney is sitting at 122.5 sacks over his career and wants to hit 130. However, he has only sacked the quarterback three times this season and hasn’t had a sack since Oct. 9. On top of that, he only has three tackles in his last 10 appearances. That is despite playing an average of 26 snaps a game through that time. Freeney might reemerge in the playoffs, but his regular season stats don’t justify much playing time.
Falling: Deion Jones
It’s not really fair because Deion Jones is a rookie, but he is also the linebacker who is responsible for many of the Atlanta defensive calls. The Falcons defense has a big problem when it comes to giving up touchdowns, and the reason is a lack of communication when it comes to the defense. Even in the last game of the season, where a loss would have dropped Atlanta to a wild card week game, the defense almost blew it when they let the Saints score 19 fourth quarter points. Jones needs to step up and really take control of this defense.