After a huge division win over the New Orleans Saints, the Atlanta Falcons travel up to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals.
If the Falcons offense picks up where it left off, the Bengals could be in for a long day.
While Cincinnati boasts a deep cornerback stable with Adam Jones, Leon Hall, and Terence Newman, they can’t all cover Devin Hester, Harry Douglas, Julio Jones, and Roddy White. If cornerback Darqueze Dennard, the Bengals’ first-round draft pick, is fully recovered from his hip injury, he’ll give extra help in defending the Falcons’ weapons.
Up front, Cincinnati’s defensive line, led by standouts Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins (if he plays), could present problems for Atlanta. The Falcons allowed just one sack against the Saints, but the Bengals could present a greater challenge, particularly if rookie left tackle Jake Matthews is held out while he recovers from a non-serious ankle injury.
How the Falcons defense handles a lesser offense will be key in this matchup. Although the defense did generate two key turnovers in last week’s victory, it had an overall difficult time slowing Drew Brees and the Saints offense.
Andy Dalton and Cincinnati’s offense aren’t nearly as prolific as New Orleans’. That’s not to say the Bengals offense doesn’t have weapons. A.J. Green is one of the league’s best receivers, and last week against the Baltimore Ravens, he caught six passes for 131 yards including a 77-yard touchdown that ultimately gave the Bengals the win.
There’s also second-year player Giovani Bernard, who accounted for 110 yards (48 rushing; 62 receiving). His involvement in the running game as well as the receiving game could present some matchup problems for Atlanta’s defense.
And although he had just four touches in the season opener, rookie Jeremy Hill’s role as the “thunder” to Bernard’s “lightning” could be a bigger factor on Sunday.
Whereas Brees is one of the league’s best under pressure, Dalton is on the other end of the spectrum. Putting pressure on Dalton will force him to make ill-advised throws, and that’s precisely what the Falcons need him to do.
Atlanta had a significant amount of trouble putting pressure on Brees. And while the Falcons pass rush was nonexistent, the Saints have a better offensive line than the Bengals.
What could prove to be beneficial to Atlanta is the absence of the aforementioned defensive tackle Atkins, tight end Tyler Eifert and linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
Atkins left last week’s game on a cart and was thought to be dehydrated. However, the defensive tackle showed up on the injury report with an issue related to his feet. Eifert suffered a dislocated elbow and was subsequently placed on injured reserve – designated to return. Burfict led the league in tackles last season with 171, but he suffered a concussion. His status for Sunday’s game is uncertain.
Despite the Bengals’ injuries, I’m sticking with my season predictions and giving Cincinnati the nod in this one. If the Falcons were at home I’d lean in their direction, but the Bengals went 8-0 at home last year. They’re a completely different team when in their own stadium.
Follow me on Twitter @projectjax.