Fun fact: each week of the 2013 NFL season so far, the Falcons have had to take on an undefeated team. Both the Saints and the Falcons were undefeated in week one, obviously, although the Saints maintain that designation heading into their matchup with Miami this Monday night. In week two, the Rams were coming off of a week one win over the Arizona Cardinals, but left Atlanta with one in the loss column. The Miami Dolphins are now 3-0 after last week's victory over the Falcons, and the New England Patriots are bringing their 3-0 record to the Georgia Dome for Sunday Night Football.
Last year, the Patriots, like the Falcons, made it to their conference championship game, and, like the Falcons, lost at home to the team that would go on to appear in the Super Bowl. The Patriots are a team that is consistently in the playoff hunt. Their head coach, Bill Belichick, is one of the best in the league, as is their quarterback, Tom Brady. The Patriots aren't pushovers. The good news is, neither are the Falcons.
While the Patriots are currently undefeated, you have to look objectively at the teams they've played to date. They defeated the 1-2 Buffalo Bills in a close 23-21 matchup. They beat the New York Jets, who are 2-1 but were a train wreck last season, 13-10, and they beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are the opposite of undefeated, 23-3.
And, the Patriots offense has looked very different so far this season than it has in years past. During the offseason, the Patriots parted ways with one of Brady's favorite go-to receivers, Wes Welker, who is settling in just fine in Denver. Tight end Aaron Hernandez got in a little bit of trouble that's keeping him off the field, probably forever, and tight end Rob Gronkowski has been dealing with complications from a broken arm suffered last season as well as a back injury, and his status seems to be in flux for Sunday's game.
The new-look offensive roster may be impacting the Patriots' passing game, too. Brady's average passing yards per game through three games is his lowest since 2008, when he spent most of the season on injured reserve. The Patriots are moving the ball pretty effectively on the ground, averaging 122.7 yards per game, but Atlanta's defense has been pretty stout against the run.
New England's defense has been solid against the pass, but bear in mind that they have been solid against two rookie quarterbacks and Josh Freeman. It remains to be seen if they can maintain the level coverage that has allowed just 188.3 passing yards per game so far against Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the rest of the Falcons offense. Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling may have a chance to have an impact on the game against the New England defense, currently ranked 24th in the league against the run.
One of the key storylines heading into this week's game is Thomas Dimitroff's connection to Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. Dimitroff was the head of college scouting for the Patriots prior to accepting the general manager position with the Falcons, and Dimitroff's scouting and personnel strategies have evolved from the standards Belichick has developed over the years. If Julio Jones has a big day, and he very well could, it will be particularly funny, because Belichick thought the draft day trade to acquire Jones was a terrible idea. Needless to say, Belichick was wrong.
A key statistic heading into Sunday's game is the average points scored by each team so far this season. Atlanta is averaging 23.7 points per game, and New England has averaged 19.7 points per game against what would, at this point in the season, appear to be weaker teams than Atlanta has played thus far. Combine that with Matt Ryan and Mike Smith's stellar record at home, as well as their record after a loss, and things are looking good for Atlanta on Sunday.