Don't sleep on this game.
The Falcons are 4-2 and on paper are a stronger team than the Cincinnati Bengals, who have struggled through their season to date. When you look at a little more closely, you find that these Bengals have struggled offensively in much the same manner the Falcons have. Their secondary is stronger than the Falcons', but their defensive line has been putrid throughout the season. They're not great, but they're not as bad as they look.
The Falcons could use some momentum going into the bye week, and a 5-2 record would put them in great shape to make a run at the NFC South once they get back from vacation. That's why this is still an important game. As with any important game, I aim to fill you in on the matchups that will come to define this week's tilt. As with most posts, I ask you to follow along after the jump.
What are you waiting for?
Falcons Receivers vs. Bengals Secondary
The Falcons' offense has sputtered at times this season, and the Bengals' secondary is a tough one. That's a combination I'm not fond of.
Chief among the Falcons' concerns is Leon Hall, one of the better corners in the league. Roddy White has proven to be virtually impossible to cover for four quarters, but Hall is extremely capable in coverage and the Bengals can give him a little help. We may see a dip in Roddy's numbers.
To pick up the slack, the Falcons will have to run Michael Jenkins (who also has a tough matchup), Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez downfield and offer up a credible threat. I'm told by the fine folks at Cincy Jungle that the linebacking corps in Cincinnati can't cover opposing tight ends worth a damn, so it may be Gonzo's turn to shine.
Falcons Pass Defense vs. Bengals Receivers
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned about Cedric Benson, but having Dunta out changes the dynamic of the passing game a bit. No longer am I supremely confident that Dunta's presence will force a couple of sloppy Carson Palmer passes into Brent Grime's waiting hands. Now I'm only pretty confident.
Look, nobody's arguing that Palmer is going to kill the Falcons. Chad Ochocinco has been quiet in 2010 and Terrell Owens has abused bad cornerbacks, but we already know Chris Owens is capable of slowing him down. The Falcons do have to watch out for both of those guys AND rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham, who is rapidly emerging as one of the best players at his position in the AFC. Did I mention the Falcons are down Dunta?
Yes, the Bengals have enough weapons to make up for the inevitable farty throws that Palmer makes, even if they are collectively two million years old. The Falcons will just have to prove they're up to covering them. You know what would help? Our next matchup.
Falcons Pass Rush vs. Bengals Offensive Line
Palmer can't make any throws if John Abraham, Kroy Biermann, Jonathan Babineaux, Peria Jerry, Vance Walker, Corey Peters, Chauncey Davis, Jamaal Anderson, Lawrence Sidbury, Mike Peterson, Stephen Nicholas, Curtis Lofton, Mike Smith, Josh Mallard and the production team for Sonic the Hedgehog 2 are all tucking him in to the turf and telling him a bedtime story.
In five games, Palmer's been sacked seven times, and he's being asked to sit behind his offensive line for an inordinately long time. The Falcons have to make the Bengals pay for asking Palmer to dawdle. They cannot afford to fumph (yes, I just used the non-word FUMPH) like they did against an Eagles line that was supposed to be awful.
The Falcons have proven they can slow down running backs this season, so they now need to apply considerable pressure to Palmer to take him out of the game. Do both—for once—and you got yourself a Bengals offense that's incapable of making a dent on the scoreboard. That would certainly help.
Turnelling vs. Bengals Defensive Front Seven
Yes, this a lazy matchup. No, I don't care.
Fact is, the Bengals aren't great at stopping the run. The Falcons have two big, bruising backs who can wear down a defense. This isn't rocket science.