Home field has definitely been an advantage for these Atlanta Falcons. The numbers are undeniable: The Falcons are 4-0 at the Georgia Dome this season, have won five consecutive home games, are 17-3 at home under coach Mike Smith, and have a 17-1 home record in games started by quarterback Matt Ryan.
Steve Wyche: Although they're 17-1 behind Ryan, the main reason for the Falcons' success at the Georgia Dome stems from how they are built, not because of the crowd or atmosphere. Falcons fans can't compare to Seattle or New Orleans or Minnesota. They don't arrive until the second quarter so, in terms of intimidation or crowd noise, that isn't a factor. Atlanta simply is very comfortable playing at home. It is built for this dome. The roster is fast on both sides of the ball and since it's not overly noisy, they can get their offense going early, and that's huge. By having the confidence that they'll win at home, they rarely panic, which is key.
Jason La Canfora: The Falcons have a lot of things going for them, and that offense is particularly good at home -- where it's quiet, the track is fast and there are no elements. But despite their great success there under Smith, it's not as daunting, to me, as the domes in New Orleans or Indy. To me it's their fearsome, brutally physical defense that often ensures a true home-field advantage. But hey, a young QB doesn't go 17-1 to open his career at home and it just be a coincidence. Obviously something good is going on there.
Wyche: I would add the Falcons are a playoff team -- their schedule sets up nicely -- and nothing would mean more to them en route then establishing home-field advantage.
La Canfora: I called them as a Wild Card team before the season, and I feel the same way about them now. The Saints will win that division and hit their stride, but the Falcons have the offensive firepower to put a scare into anyone. Agreed, Steve, getting a home game would be huge, but I don't see it happening. The Falcons struggle with more physical teams -- particularly as they try to rebuild their defense -- and it will be an issue. The ability to defend the big play and compete with bigger, more talented offensive lines concerns me as well, with so many young defensive tackles in the mix.
Wyche: Over their final eight games, the four toughest games will be played at the Georgia Dome, including Thursday night's game vs. Baltimore. The players are approaching this game as a gauge of sorts to see if they can really play with the big boys. The Falcons beat the Saints, but you're right, the two other playoff-type teams they've faced -- the Steelers and Eagles -- were losses. And guess where they weren't played?
La Canfora: If you have to ask and wonder whether you can hang with the big boys, especially away from home, then you probably can't. But man, I like so much about the direction of this franchise from the GM to the coach to the cornerstone pieces like Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White and Sean Weatherspoon. I just feel they're a year away from being a true championship contender.