The Atlanta Falcons (5-0) look for their sixth victory this Sunday versus the Oakland Raiders (1-3).
A win Sunday would put Mike Smith at 49 wins, tying him with Dan Reeves for most wins as head coach in team history.
The Falcons are coming off a 24-17 victory against the Washington Redskins in the nation’s capital, whereas the Raiders have had extra time to prepare for this match-up with a bye week. In Week 4, the Raiders were crushed 37-6 by the Denver Broncos in Mile High Stadium.
For Atlanta’s struggling run defense (ranked 27th), Oakland presents a cure: the Raiders’ rushing offense is currently ranked last in the league at just 60.8 yards per game. Darren McFadden is usually one of the better running backs in the league. However, he’s been held to only 35 rushing yards in three of Oakland’s four games.
The Falcons have had to rally to pull out their last two wins. In the first three games, no such adversity was presented as the Falcons never trailed.
The success Atlanta has had to start this season can largely be contributed to the play of quarterback Matt Ryan. Through five weeks, Ryan has thrown 13 touchdowns to three interceptions. His 1,507 yards rank third in the league, and he’s completing 68.3 percent of his passes.
At 36, tight end Tony Gonzalez leads both the team and the league in receptions with 39. He also has 388 yards and four touchdowns after the monster game against the Redskins last week (13 receptions, 123 yards, one touchdown). Gonzalez needs just one touchdown reception to have 100 for his career. There’s a good chance he’ll get that touchdown versus the Raiders: in 23 games against Oakland, Gonzalez has 110 receptions for 1,473 yards and eight touchdowns.
After being held to just one catch for 30 yards versus the Carolina Panthers in Week 4, Julio Jones caught 10 passes for 94 yards and a touchdown against the Redskins last week. On the season, Julio has four touchdowns on 26 receptions for 313 yards.
Atlanta’s potent passing game should show no signs of slowing down against Oakland’s 28th ranked pass defense. To make matters worse, the Raiders can’t get off the field on third down: opposing offenses convert third downs 53.3 percent of the time.
Oakland’s offense hasn’t looked much better than the defense. In the Week 4 blowout at Denver, Oakland amassed just 237 total yards.
On a positive note for the Raiders, the bye week couldn’t have come at a better time. Starting wide receiver Darius Heyward-Bey returns after being knocked out on a vicious hit versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. Across from Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore should be a bit healthier after nursing a hamstring injury to start the season.
Combining the speed of Heyward-Bey and Moore with quarterback Carson Palmer’s big arm could spell a bit of trouble for the Falcons. In two career games against the Falcons, Palmer has thrown for 548 yards, five touchdowns, and no interceptions. However, he’s 0-2 in those games.
On the season, Palmer has thrown for 1,081 yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions.
The two teams last met in 2008, with the Falcons blanking the Raiders 24-0.
This Sunday’s game could be just as ugly for the Raiders. The Falcons are heading into the bye week following this game, and they want to go into their break on a high note. The Raiders also haven’t won a game on the East Coast since 2009.
I predict the Falcons improve to 6-0 on the season and 3-0 in the Georgia Dome.
Points Scored: 29.6 (6th)
Total Offense: 376.4 (12th)
Passing Offense: 281.6 (7th)
Rushing Offense: 94.8 (21st)
Points Allowed: 18.6 (8th)
Total Defense: 345.8 (17th)
Passing Defense: 203.0 (7th)
Rushing Defense: 142.8 (27th)
Points Scored: 16.8 (29th)
Total Offense: 318.8 (25th)
Passing Offense: 258.0 (12th)
Rushing Offense: 60.8 (32nd)
Points Allowed: 31.2 (30th)
Total Defense: 411.5 (25th)
Passing Defense: 283.0 (28th)
Rushing Defense: 128.5 (24th)