To get ready for Saturday's game, I exchanged five questions with Dave Choate from The Falcoholic, SB Nation's Atlanta Falcons blog. My answers to his questions can be found later over at TF, and his answers to my questions are below.
1. As it stands right now, the Falcons are the best team in the NFC based strictly on the standings. In general, do you think they are the best team in the NFC with two weeks left in the regular season?
I think they are. I understand the cases being made for the 49ers, because they just beat the Patriots and they have a scary defense. Ditto the Packers and Seahawks. I think those teams may look more impressive in stretches than the Falcons, but ultimately Atlanta has 12 wins and just put a beating on the defending Super Bowl champions. They have talent on both sides of the ball and they are hell to play at the Georgia Dome, where they'll likely be for the length of the playoffs. I know their playoff history has scared people off the bandwagon all season long, but I do think they're the team to beat.
2. What makes the Falcons so good as a team, and what gives you some cause for concern?
There's just so much talent. They have a ton of weapons in the passing game and Jacquizz Rodgers is a threat out of the backfield. Their secondary has been top-notch this season and the pass rush is extremely underrated, posting relatively low sack totals but forcing quarterbacks into bad throws.
I am concerned about how the blocking is going to hold up into the playoffs. The interior of the line has really struggled to keep the pocket clean for Matt Ryan and block effectively for Michael Turner. Both times the Falcons have lost this season, the blocking played a significant role.
3. On the year, Matt Ryan has thrown for 4,202 yards, 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Do you think he has elevated himself to the top level of quarterbacks in the NFL, or does he still have some room for improvement?
I think you would like to see him cut down on the interceptions and do better when faced with pressure, but I do think he's on the cusp of being there. He's definitely playing stellar football this season, and when he's on, he's as good as almost anyone else in the NFL. If that blocking holds up, I think he'll continue to ascend.
4. Roddy White and Julio Jones each have more than 1,000 yards receiving this season. Is this the best one-two receiver combo in the NFL right now?
I've heard various arguments for who is better, but I think it's the best tandem. You guys have the best No. 1 receiver in the NFL and there are other teams with enormous talent at receiver, but you'd be hard-pressed to find two scarier wide receivers on the same team. When they're on the field together with Tony Gonzalez, it's tough to slow the Falcons down.
5. The biggest question surrounding the Falcons is this: Can they win in the playoffs? No matter how good of a regular season they have, that will be the question they face going into the postseason until they show they can win playoff games. Do you think this is the year they silence their doubters and make a run in the playoffs?
I think they can. We've been through this many times in the past with teams like the Colts of the Manning era, where the narrative is "talk to me when they win in the playoffs." The Falcons need to do so to be taken seriously, but I do think this is a better football team than they've put on the field in the last four years of the Mike Smith era. I don't know that they'll make the Super Bowl -- cue "talk to me when they win in the Super Bowl" -- but I think they can make a deep run in 2012.
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