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Falcons still breathing in the NFC Wild Card race

David Allio/Icon Sportswire

It may seem absolutely ridiculous to think that the Atlanta Falcons are still a contender in the NFC Wild Card race. Despite a six-game losing streak and winning just one game over its last eight matchups, 6-7 Atlanta is currently the No. 8 seed in the NFC behind Tampa Bay and current No. 5 seed Seattle and No. 6 seed Minnesota.

The Falcons season isn’t over just yet with a road matchup against Jacksonville on tap for Sunday before home meetings with division rivals Carolina and New Orleans to end the regular season slate. Atlanta will need luck and then some to have a chance at the postseason, but never say never in this day and age in the NFL.

Fresh off a 38-0 shutout loss in Carolina, the Falcons will face a Jaguars squad that is hungry for an AFC South title at 5-8 sitting one game out of first place behind 6-7 Indianapolis and Houston. Jacksonville scored a season-high 51 points last week in a 51-16 thrashing of the Colts at EverBank Field last week.

With a first-year head coach in Dan Quinn and a new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons have faced plenty of adversity with a new look coaching staff and a revamped defensive group. Through the first five games of the season, Atlanta was a perfect 5-0 as it averaged an impressive 30.6 points per game.

29 November 2015: Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) drops back to pass in first half action of the Minnesota Vikings at Atlanta Falcons game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire)

29 November 2015: Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) drops back to pass in first half action of the Minnesota Vikings at Atlanta Falcons game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire)

However, the Falcons are now ranked only 19th in total scoring (21.5 points per game) despite being the No. 7 team in terms of total offense (376.4 yards per game).  It’s been a brutal six-game stretch as Quinn’s team was outscored by 18 prior to the 38-point loss last Sunday against the undefeated Panthers. Atlanta has scored just 20 points in two of its last eight games and hasn’t reached the 30-point mark since Week 4 against Houston.

“(Knowing) the belief I have in the system and players when it get challenged, I’m as motivated to get our football right as I’ve ever been in my entire life,” Quinn said via AtlantaFalcons.com, “and I can’t wait to get back out here with this team. … It tests you in certain ways to make sure you want to play the exact style that the club envisioned that it’d have. So when you don’t, man, it tests you. I know what we’re capable of playing like, so when we don’t—yeah, it digs at you hard. And that’s why I’m so anxious to get back out there with them.”

You have to believe this group will look a whole lot different next season regardless of how these final three games play out. Matt Ryan’s confidence has looked bleak at times while Julio Jones is really the only vertical pass catching weapon offensively for the Falcons outside of versatile back Devonta Freeman.

Defensively, Atlanta has looked better at times, but sacks aren’t coming enough as Quinn’s defense ranks dead least with just 15 total on the year. Rookie linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. leads this defense with three sacks while safety Ricardo Allen has three of the team’s 14 interceptions. The Falcons defense is allowing 22.7 points and just under 349 total yards per game.

No more excuses can be made this Sunday if Atlanta wants to turn this sinking ship around. It starts with the quarterback and the lack of a pass rush. Both aspects have to be better if the Falcons want a prayer at the playoffs. It may look bleak, but don’t rule them out just yet.

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