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Falcons clinch NFC South

The Dirty Birds land in the playoffs for the first time in four years.

San Francisco 49ers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Following a 33-16 victory against the Carolina Panthers in Week 16, the Atlanta Falcons improve to 10-5. With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ loss to the New Orleans Saints, the Falcons have clinched the NFC South, and Atlanta will represent the division in the playoffs.

Atlanta clinched a playoff bid minutes before clinching the division. The Oakland Raiders’ win over the Indianapolis Colts gave Atlanta a strength-of-victory tiebreaker over the Detroit Lions, and that secured the Falcons a spot in the postseason.

The Falcons could have also clinched the division with a tie against the Panthers and a Buccaneers loss.

The Falcons jumped out to an early lead against the Panthers, as Matt Ryan added touchdown passes to tight ends Joshua Perkins and D.J. Tialavea early in the game. Perkins and Tialavea were the twelfth and thirteenth receivers Ryan has hit for touchdowns this season, which is an NFL record.

While Atlanta’s defense gave up some big plays, as they have been prone to do this season, they mostly kept Cam Newton and company in check. The Falcons were aggressive, sacking Newton twice, and opportunistic, with two picks.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and receiver Julio Jones have had a great year for Atlanta. Heading into this matchup, Ryan had 4,336 passing yards to go along with 32 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has been orchestrating the Falcons’ high-powered offense all season.

Whenever the veteran quarterback needed a big play, Jones was his go-to option. Coming into Week 16, Jones registered 72 receptions for 1,253 yards and five touchdowns. Led by running back Devonta Freeman, Atlanta also has one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL.

Now that the Falcons are in the playoffs, they must focus on limiting big plays on defense. Indeed, the offense can light up the scoreboard, but the defense has problems stopping opposing offenses.

If Atlanta wants to have success in the playoffs, it must play better defense. The offense should be fine.