It’s division leader versus division leader as the Atlanta Falcons host the Arizona Cardinals, who have the best record in the NFC at 9-2.
On the other hand, the 4-7 Falcons made NFL history by being the first team to ever lead a division while being three games under .500.
Both teams are coming off losses. Atlanta fell to the Cleveland Browns 26-24 last week in the Georgia Dome after clock mismanagement, and Arizona was blown out 19-3 by the Seattle Seahawks in CenturyLink Field.
The Cardinals rank second in the league in points allowed per game with 17.7. On the ground, they only allow 84.5 yards, good for third in the league.
It should be a good matchup in the air with Julio Jones and Roddy White facing off against Antonio Cromartie and Patrick Peterson.
Jones and White have combined for 128 receptions, 1,642 yards, and nine touchdowns. Cromartie and Peterson together have five interceptions and a touchdown.
Matt Ryan has struggled mightily against Arizona over the past two years. Last season, he threw for 301 yards, one touchdown, and four interceptions as Atlanta lost 27-13. In 2012, he threw for 301 yards, no touchdowns, and five interceptions, but the Falcons won that game 23-19, in large part to the Cardinals’ abysmal offense.
Atlanta’s chance at winning here will again be dependent upon that 2012 Cardinals offense. Drew Stanton has played in six games this season – starting five of them – and has thrown for five touchdowns and three interceptions. What can work in the Falcons’ favor is the fact Stanton has completed just 53.6 percent of his passes.
On the ground, the Cardinals rank 31st in the league with 78.4 yards per game. The Falcons have a slight edge there with 93.1 rushing yards per game, good for 26th.
Cardinals running back Andre Ellington has averaged a paltry 3.3 yards per carry on the season. However, he had probably the best game of his two-year career last season when he faced Atlanta, piling up 154 yards on just 15 carries, including an 80-yard touchdown. That was the only time Ellington has posted a 100-yard rushing game.
It’s hard to pick the Falcons here. The Cardinals have had Ryan’s number for the past two matchups, and Atlanta isn’t playing good football overall. Going against my before-season predictions, I think the Cardinals win this game.