Good morning! Welcome to The Cover 9@9 blog. It’s our weekly blog of nine things at 9 a.m. Wednesday that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons (9-6). The defending NFC champion Falcons are set to face the Carolina Panthers (11-4) at 4:25 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
1. FREEMAN WILL BOUNCE BACK. Running back Devonta Freeman will bounce back from a poor performance when the Falcons face the Panthers on Sunday.
Freeman had his worst game as a Falcons against the Saints on Sunday. In addition to two penalties, he had a horrible fumble on the one-yard line.
He also was stopped on another fourth-and-goal from the Saints’ 1 yard line, but that was on the offensive line’s porous blocking on the play.
Freeman faced the music and the media after the game. He had a bad fumble against the Saints in 2014 and was no where to be found after that one.
He’s matured and plans to be accountable.
The Falcons need Freeman to turn in a big game against the Panthers, who boast the sixth-best run defense (89.9 yards per game) in the league.
Freeman rushed 11 times for 46 yards in the previous meeting with the Panthers this season, which included a 20-yard run.
Before the un-Freeman-like showing against the Saints, he had 46 carries for 217 yards, two touchdowns and five receptions in the previous two games.
Bouncing back in a football game will not be a big deal for Freeman, who had a rough upbringing in Miami’s projects in the Liberty City neighborhood.
The area grew out of old “Jim Crow” laws and restrictive housing covenants that barred African Americans from living in many areas of Miami.
“Growing up,” Freeman told Schultz. “Seeing things in the neighborhood I was in. Watching my momma. Watching my grandma and my auntie, may they rest in peace. I feel like my childhood prepared me for everything that’s coming my way now.
“At the time, I couldn’t see why I was going through this. I couldn’t see why there wasn’t food all the time. I couldn’t see why we didn’t have some of the best Christmases. When I had to walk four miles to school. When my grandma had to walk through the projects with a big purse and no type of protection, just to go to work, back and forth.”
Violence was always around the corner.
“Just being in shootouts,” Freeman said. “Being in the middle of the ‘O,’ as we used to call it. It was like a big ‘O’ in the middle of the projects, where we played football. There was a dice game over here. There were guys selling drugs over there. A shootout just started over there. And we were playing football. You start thinking: To get out of this, what are you going to do? I had to have tunnel vision. I had to have discipline.”
So, playing better in a football game shouldn’t be that big of a deal.
2. FALCONS PLAYOFF SCENARIOS: Atlanta clinches a playoff berth with:
1) ATL win OR
2) SEA loss OR
3) ATL tie + SEA tie
3. PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES: The Falcons (74.9 percent chance of making the playoffs) and Seahawks (25.1 percent) are in contention for the final wild card berth and the Falcons will earn the sixth seed with a win or a Seahawks loss, according to makeNFLplayoffs.com.
In the NFC, the Eagles have clinched the division and the top seed. The Vikings have clinched their division and have a 93.7 percent chance of earning the second seed and a first-round bye. The only way the Vikings would fall to the third seed is if they lost, the Panthers won and Saints lost. The Rams have clinched their division and with a win will be the third seed, but with a loss have a 75 percent chance of falling to the fourth seed. The Saints will win the division with a win or a Panthers loss. If The Saints lose and the Panthers win, the New Orleans will fall to the fifth seed and Carolina could be as high as a second seed or low as a fourth seed.
4. SERIES HISTORY: This will be the 46th meeting. The Falcons lead the series 27-18 and have won three of the last four meetings. The Panthers won the previous meeting 20-17 on Nov. 5.
5. OFFENSE OFFLINE: The Falcons amassed just 331 yards against the Saints. It was their third-lowest output of the season. The Falcons had 279 yards against Seattle on Nov. 20 and 275 yards against the Vikings on Dec. 3.
6. TOILOLO UPDATE: Falcons tight end Levin Toilolo suffered a knee injury and did not return against the Saints. He’s availability for the regular-season finale is in doubt.
7. 2018 OPPONENTS SET: The Falcons are locked into finishing third in the NFC South this season and their opponents for 2018 are set.
The Falcons will face the third-place finishes from the NFC West (Arizona) and NFC North (Green Bay).
The Falcons will also face opponents from the NFC East (Philadelphia, Dallas, Washington and New York Giants) and AFC North (Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cleveland and Cincinnati).
In addition to New Orleans, Carolina and Tampa Bay, the Falcon will road games at Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Green Bay, and Washington (Landover, Md.).
In addition to New Orleans, Carolina and Tampa Bay, the home games will include Cincinnati, Arizona, Dallas, New York Gians and Ravens, with the possibility of one of the games being played in London.
8. SACK A-TAKK: Rookie defensive end Takkarist McKinley played just 22 snaps (33 percent) against the Saints. He did not have any stats. McKinley has six sacks on the season and is tied with Aundray Bruce for the second-most sacks by a rookie in team history.
9. DEPTH CHART: The Falcons released their official depth chart for the Panthers game on Tuesday.
Here’s the official depth chart for the Panthers game:
WR 11 Julio Jones, 14 Justin Hardy, 19 Andre Roberts
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 74 Ty Sambrailo
LG 67 Andy Levitre, 63 Ben Garland, 64 Sean Harlow
C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland
RG 71 Wes Schweitzer, 63 Ben Garland
RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 68 Austin Pasztor
TE 81 Austin Hooper, 80 Levine Toilolo, 85 Eric Saubert
WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Taylor Gabriel, 17 Marvin Hall, 15 Nick Williams
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 28 Terron Ward
FB 40 Derrick Coleman
DE 50 Brooks Reed, 99 Adrian Clayborn, 98 Takk McKinley
DT 92 Dontari Poe, 79 Ahtyba Rubin
DT 97 Grady Jarrett
DE 91 Courtney Upshaw, 90 Derrick Shelby
LB 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 53 LaRoy Reynolds
LB 45 Deion Jones, 56 Sean Weatherspoon
LB 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 42 Duke Riley, 36 Kemal Ishmael
CB 23 Robert Alford, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson
CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 34 Brian Poole, 35 Leon McFadden
NB 34 Brian Poole, 37 Ricardo Allen
S 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Damontae Kazee
S 22 Keanu Neal, 20 Sharrod Neasman
K 3 Matt Bryant
KO 5 Matt Bosher
P 5 Matt Bosher
KR 19 Andre Roberts, 14 Justin Hardy
PR 19 Andre Roberts, 18 Taylor Gabriel
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher