1. Many of the "experts" say the Falcons are a weak 9-1 team but I've always gone with Bill Parcells motto of "You are what your record says you are." What say you?
I think it's a 9-1 football team, and what matters is that they'll almost certainly be playoff bound at the end of the year. That's not to say I don't have very real concerns about this football team—the ground game, the run defense, the overly conservative play calling that seems to crop up time and time again—but it's clear that there's enough talent here to win and win often. I just hope they can find the consistency we've been looking for.
2. The Falcons are ranked 26th against the run and face the Dougernaught - Doug Martin (he hates the Muscle Hamster stuff). Can they slow Martin down?
No. LaRod Stephens-Howling ran for over 100 yards against the run defense a week ago, and unless everyone suddenly starts tackling well it's more or less a lost cause. I expect Martin to put up an easy 100 yards on this defense and score at least once. The key for the Falcons will be forcing turnovers and slowing down Josh Freeman and the passing attack enough to win despite that.
3. We know Matty Ice isn't one for a lot of turnovers - what the heck happened last week?
A lot of bad luck and plenty of bad performance. Three of his interceptions were tipped or bobbled by a receiver, which more or less takes them out of his hands. The other two were godawful throws thanks to pressure up the middle from a tenacious Cardinals front seven that collapsed the pocket all day. Ryan stands tall in the pocket against the rush off the edge, but the interior push definitely puts him off his game.
4. The Falcons are uncharacteristically terrible running the football this year. What's happened with Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers?
The offensive line is blocking poorly most of the time. That means the holes that open up aren't as large as they used to be, and Michael Turner in particular no longer has the first step to hit them while they're open. Given his relative lack of vision, his inability to catch the football and the fact that he's been useless in short yardage and you have a recipe for a disastrous ground game. Rodgers and Jason Snelling are also struggling behind this line.
5. We know Atlanta is a great regular season team but come playoff time they disappointed in the past. Assuming they make it in again, why will this year be different?
I think they have the right personnel and the right coaches to finally win some playoff games. In the past, the Falcons were built as a pounding rush-based offense that could occasionally sling the football. With a more wide-open offense and an undeniably more aggressive defense, I think they can make up deficits in a way they could not before and jump out to big early leads. They just have to play to the level they're capable of playing to.
Bonus: Who wins and why?
The Falcons, narrowly, by a score of say 35-31. I think it will be a high-scoring game, Doug Martin will be punishing and Matt Ryan will be able to sling. I think the difference will be a pick or two deep downfield on Josh Freeman throws to Vincent Jackson, not because I believe Freeman is interception-prone but because I believe the Falcons will be trying to take the deep ball away and succeeding.
Thanks so much to Dave for joining us and be sure to check out The Falcoholic to find out what the bad guys think of Sunday's game.