The Atlanta Falcons are 1-1 after two games, but an argument can be made they are now in the driver's seat in the NFC South. Not only did the Falcons beat the Philadelphia Eagles 24-20 on Sunday night, but a big injury suffered by the defending division champions has changed the outlook moving forward.
Following a disappointing showing in a 28-16 loss in Minnesota in Week 1, it was critical for Dan Quinn's team to regroup and find a way to beat Philadelphia at home on "Sunday Night Football." The Falcons and Eagles are quite familiar with each other, as Sunday's game represented the third between the teams over the last three seasons with the previous two going down to the wire.
After losing to Philadelphia 15-10 in the Divisional Round of the playoffs two seasons ago and 18-12 in the 2018 season opener, Atlanta was looking to finally beat the Eagles, especially with this game on the Falcons' home turf.
Once again, the game came down to the final minutes but this time it was Atlanta making the necessary plays to win, beating Philadelphia 24-20. It wasn't a pretty victory as Matt Ryan threw three interceptions and the team committed 10 penalties, but a win is a win and this one was huge for the Falcons.
The win, coupled with New Orleans' loss to the Los Angeles Rams also produced a three-way tie atop the NFC South. Yes, it's still really early, but the bigger loss the Saints suffered on Sunday has already changed the landscape in the division.
Drew Brees is scheduled to undergo surgery in the near future to repair the ligament he tore in his thumb in the loss to the Rams. He is expected to miss anywhere from six to eight weeks. Teddy Bridgewater will take over for New Orleans and while he may be the highest-paid backup QB in the NFL, Bridgewater is no future Hall of Famer. Without Brees, the Saints will be a different team and one that doesn't look near as dangerous right now.
Bridgewater will have plenty of opportunities to show that he's just as capable of leading the Saints, but Atlanta also now has an opportunity to put some distance between them and the rest of the NFC South over these next several weeks. Depending on Brees' recovery, he could be back under center by the time these teams meet for the first time in Week 10 (second matchup is in Week 13), but the Saints' upcoming schedule is not easy. New Orleans is in Seattle this Sunday and goes back home to host Dallas for "Sunday Night Football" in Week 4. After that, it's home against Tampa Bay, road games at Jacksonville and Chicago, and then home vs. Arizona leading up to the Saints' Week 9 bye.
Meanwhile, Atlanta goes to Indianapolis this week, hosts Tennessee, has road dates with Houston and Arizona, and then home games with the Rams and Seahawks prior to their Week 9 bye. So it will be interesting to see how the standings look once we get into late October.
That's not to say that Tampa Bay and Carolina should be discounted, but both teams have their own questions related to their quarterbacks and appear to be several steps behind their division counterparts. The gap could narrow with New Orleans having to make a quarterback change.
With Brees out of the picture, Atlanta has the best quarterback in the division, although he needs to cut down on his mistakes (NFL-leading five INTs). As a team, the Falcons need to run the ball better (65 rushing ypg), tighten up on third down (allowed 50 percent conversion rate thus far), and clean up things when it comes to penalties.
But the bottom line is that Atlanta won a game it really needed to and watched as the defending division champion suffered a loss in the standings and to their lineup. It's only Week 3, but opportunity is already knocking for the Falcons. It's now up to them to take advantage.