The guess here is that the Atlanta Falcons won't let us linger in suspense. After these next three games, we should know if they're playoff-bound or ... well, bound for that place where Falcons teams go after fooling us for a while. They play the Packers at the Dome on Sunday. Then they visit Tampa for a Thursday night game. Then they head for Philadelphia.
After that, the bye week arrives. By then, we should know something. If the Falcons can win two of these three, they'll be 6-4 with four home games remaining. If one of the two victories is over the Buccaneers, they'll have strengthened their already-strong position in the NFC South. (Key point: The Bucs, who won here on Opening Day, would no longer hold the tiebreaker over the Falcons.)
Those final six games aren't easy: Cardinals and Chiefs here, Rams way out there, 49ers here (OK, that one should be easy), Panthers in Charlotte on Christmas Eve, Saints here on New Year's Day. But only one of those six teams is above. 500. If they can be 6-4 with those six remaining, they should be fine.
If they lose two of the next three, the outlook isn't as sunny. That would make four losses in five games for a team that -- stop me if you've heard this -- collapsed at a similar stage last year. That would make them 5-5 after being 4-1. That would give doubters even more reason to doubt.
Sunday's game is intriguing. The Packers have run out of running backs. (With Eddie Lacy and James Starks hurt, they traded for Knile Davis, who'd had one carry this season with the Chiefs.) Aaron Rodgers ranks 21st among NFL quarterbacks in passer rating. Green Bay is coming off a four-game Lambeau run that saw them beat the Lions, the Giants and the Bears but lose by two touchdowns to the Cowboys.
A lot of folks look at the Packers and think, "They've got Rodgers, so they'll be fine." And they might. Green Bay has made the playoffs six years running. But only once since its Super Bowl season of 2010 -- that included the epic 48-21 demolition of the Falcons in the division round -- has it reached the NFC title game.
After two excruciating losses, this would be a nice game for the Falcons to win, especially since they have to play again four days later. I'm thinking they will. Win, I mean.
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