Playing in the NFC South has made the Falcons’ schedule tougher than most in recent years. Having to the face the NFC East and AFC North this season only adds to the difficulty level.
Atlanta was faced with a similarly tough slate in 2017 and came out 10-6. With the 13th toughest schedule based on last year’s records, the Falcons have to hope for that same bit of good fortune this year. The six games against the Saints, Panthers and Bucs don’t give much room for error, and having to play the Steelers, Eagles and Packers only adds pressure. Such a tough schedule makes games against teams like the Cardinals and Ravens even more critical.
Bottom line: The breaks are few and far between for Atlanta. From top to bottom, start to finish, there are tough matchups throughout the year. The Falcons are a great team in their own right, though, and despite having to play a number of playoff teams from a year ago and a few that could make a run this year, Atlanta should be in good position to continue its recent success. Record prediction: 11-5
The Capitals played their most physical game of the series, registering 39 hits and wearing down the Lightning in a 3-0 victory to force a Game 7 on Wednesday in Tampa.
“That’s one area where we have an edge is our size and physical play. Over the course of a seven-game series, it’s something we talk about. Take those opportunities. Don’t get out of position. Try to wear them down when we can,” said Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik, who tied with forward Tom Wilson with a game-high six hits.
“It’s desperation, really. If you don’t win tonight, you’re not moving on. So you try to empty the tank as much as you can.”
The hitting didn’t necessarily determine the victor — T.J. Oshie’s power-play goal, two penalty kills against the Lightning and Braden Holtby’s 24-save performance for his first shutout of the season were more paramount — but it did alter what the Lightning did, as some apprehension and choppiness entered their offensive game. It was symptomatic of the Capitals’ overall play in Game 6, which exhibited more energy, speed and determination than their opponents could muster.