Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings will be the first of a seven-game stretch in which the Atlanta Falcons play just one game in the Georgia Dome.
How the Falcons (2-1) perform in the coming weeks will serve as a good indication of what type of team they are. It could also serve as good setup for the back half of the season, as they’ll be at home for four of the final six games.
Atlanta’s coming off a dominating 56-14 performance over the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday night. The offense, after sputtering against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2, resembled how it looked against the New Orleans Saints to open the season. And they did so without Roddy White, who was declared inactive for the Bucs game.
More importantly, the defense broke out of its sack drought and notched three against the Bucs’ not-so-great offensive line.
The Falcons have another golden opportunity to get to the quarterback a few more times against the Vikings (1-2) as their line has allowed eight sacks. Left tackle Matt Kalil, the Vikings’ fourth overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, has had a rough start to the season.
Falcons’ rookie Jake Matthews returned to the starting lineup and protected Matt Ryan’s blindside well. It didn’t take long to see how much his Week 2 absence hurt the Falcons and what he means to the offense as a whole.
Teddy Bridgewater will get his first NFL start after Matt Cassel was placed on injured reserve with a broken foot. Going up against a rookie quarterback should always present an advantage for the opposing defense. With that said, Atlanta went 2-2 against rookie quarterbacks last season.
Young quarterbacks benefit greatly from a strong running game. Unfortunately for Bridgewater, he’s without Adrian Peterson, who is notoriously suspended until he takes care of the child abuse charges he’s facing.
Peterson’s shoes are difficult to fill for any running back. Current starter Mike Asiata has compiled just 81 yards on 27 carries this season; he has been more of a threat as a receiver, catching nine passes for 89 yards and a touchdown.
The Falcons held the Bucs to 64 yards on the ground. Theoretically, they should have no problem containing Asiata and the Vikings run game in a similar manner.
The Vikings passing offense will be without tight end Kyle Rudolph, but wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson is an explosive talent who can take a pass – or run – to the house on any given play. Bridgewater can use reliable veteran Greg Jennings, who leads the team with 12 receptions, as a safety blanket.
Minnesota ranks 28th in points scored with an average of 16.7 points scored per game and 29th in total offense with 273.0 yards per game. The Vikings defense, led by defensive end Everson Griffen and free safety Harrison Smith, is a few steps above the offense as it ranks ninth in points allowed per game with 18.7 and 11th in total yards allowed per game with 335.3.
Bridgewater may find success against the Falcons defense, but ultimately, I don’t believe neither he nor the Vikings defense can go toe-to-toe with Ryan and the Falcons’ number one ranked offense.
And thus, I’m predicting an Atlanta win in Minnesota, lifting them to a 3-1 record and remaining atop the NFC South.