Matt Ryan leads NFC South champion Falcons into playoffs
OFFENSE - OVERALL (2), RUSH (5), PASS (3)
DEFENSE - OVERALL (25), RUSH (17), PASS (28)
INDIVIDUAL STATISTICAL LEADERS
PASSING - Matt Ryan 4,944 yards, 38 TDs, 7 INT
RUSHING - Devonta Freeman 1,079 yards, 11 TDs; Tevin Coleman, 520, 4
RECEIVING - Julio Jones 83 catches, 1,409 yards, 6 TDs; Mohamed Sanu, 59, 653, 4; Freeman, 54, 462, 2
INTERCEPTIONS - Deion Jones 3; Ricardo Allen 2; Robert Alford 2; Jalen Collins 2
SACKS - Vic Beasley 15 +; Adrian Clayborn 4 +; Grady Jarrett 3
In second week, no one could have known Falcons' 35-28 win at Oakland was matchup of teams who would tie for second-best records in respective conferences. Ryan passed for 396 yards and three touchdowns and Jones had 106 yards receiving. It was first of three straight road wins for Atlanta.
Falcons blew 17-point lead in 33-30 overtime home loss to San Diego on Oct. 23. It was Atlanta's second straight defeat. Freeman was stopped on fourth-and-1 run from Atlanta 43 to set up Chargers' winning drive capped by Josh Lambo's 42-yard field goal in overtime. Atlanta lost despite Jones' nine catches for 174 yards.
THEY CAN WIN IT ALL IF ...
Defense can overcome deficiencies with big plays. Pass defense has ranked near bottom of league all season and lost top cornerback Desmond Trufant to season-ending shoulder injury in November. Beasley led NFL in sacks in breakout second season, and his big plays can help make up for sometimes-vulnerable secondary.
THEY CAN LOSE THEIR FIRST GAME IF ...
Freeman and Tevin Coleman can't find running room. Falcons' offense has boasted strong balance most of season, as Freeman and Coleman combined to run for almost 1,600 yards. That balance helped Ryan bounce back from bad 2015 to set career highs for yards passing and touchdowns. Falcons were held under 60 yards rushing in losses to Tampa Bay, Seattle and Philadelphia.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL