The Atlanta Falcons haven’t played a true home game at the Georgia Dome in six weeks.
But on Sunday, they return home to host the 6-4 Cleveland Browns.
At 4-6, the Falcons are leading the NFC South. They’re riding a two-game winning streak with back-to-back road wins over division foes. In fact, all four of the Falcons’ wins have come within the division.
On the other hand, the Browns are tied for last in the AFC North. Their 6-4 record being good for last place shows just how cringeworthy the NFC South has been this season.
Atlanta will have its hands full as Cleveland’s star wide receiver Josh Gordon is slated to make his return.
Gordon was suspended for the first 10 games of the season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. The Browns assert they will have the wide receiver on a snap count in his first game action this season. However, with the type of athlete Gordon is and the explosiveness he can bring to Cleveland’s offense, it’s hard to imagine the Browns will actually monitor his snaps.
Even if he were to operate on a snap count, Gordon is still fully capable of wreaking havoc on Atlanta’s defense. Last season, he ran through secondaries, totaling 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns on 87 receptions. Gordon’s 18.9 yards per catch average ranked second among qualified receivers.
Desmond Trufant will draw the assignment of shadowing Gordon. Trufant has built upon his solid rookie campaign with a more impressive sophomore outing, and thus, the Falcons are comfortable with him following the opposing team’s best receiver.
Atlanta lost two key players last week against the Carolina Panthers: starting cornerback Robert Alford and running back Antone Smith, who was tied for the team lead in touchdowns with five. Also of note: none of Smith’s touchdowns were less than 38 yards.
Alford is expected to miss up to the four weeks with a broken wrist, but Smith is out for the remainder of the season after breaking his leg.
The two players add to the laundry list of injuries the Falcons have this season.
On the other side, the Browns could be without linebackers Jabaal Sheard and Karlos Dansby along with tight end Jordan Cameron.
While Atlanta is coming off a road victory, Cleveland is looking to rebound from a 23-7 home loss to the Houston Texans. In that game, the Browns’ 30th ranked rushing defense was victimized as the Texans piled up 213 yards. Atlanta should be able to find success with the run game, too.
Cleveland’s offense ranks in the middle of the pack, but those rankings could improve against an Atlanta defense that ranks last in the league in both total yardage and passing yards.
It’s hard to pick against the Falcons at home. Not having had a home game in six weeks means they should come out fired up against the Browns. I’m sticking with my prediction and taking Atlanta to get their first win outside the division and improve to just one game under .500.