Welcome to a crucial week for the Falcons, a team that now arguably has a crucial game every single week thanks to their two previous painful losses. The Falcons are only a game out of first place in the division, and they get to play the Saints at the Georgia Dome next week. If they win this week and the Saints lose, that's a tie game with very, very big implications for the division. So the Falcons simply have to beat the Ravens. How hard can that be?
Probably pretty difficult. Let's go ahead and try the Wing Edge again after a hiatus, shall we?
The O: On one side of the equation, you have Michael Vick, Warrick Dunn, and Alge Crumpler. On the other side of the equation, you have Steve McNair, Jamal Lewis, and Todd Heap. Those matchups may have heavily favored the Ravens as recently as a couple years ago, but now this is a clear advantage for the Falcons. The Ravens have very little play potential behind a fairly inconsistent McNair, who plays with a lot of heart but is visibly declining. Derrick Mason and Heap are his two best targets, and Demetrius Williams is an emerging playmaker. The problem will be getting the ball to them: DeAngelo Hall is clearly a better cornerback than Mason is a receiver, and Jimmy Williams matches up favorably with Demetrius, as well. The Ravens can't count on too much from Jamal Lewis, who is a shell of his former self. On the other side of the field, the Falcons should be poised for a big game. If Greg Knapp leaves Vick in the pocket again this week, I'm going to kidnap him and force him to listen to Vanilla Ice mixtapes until he admits he was wrong. If Vick gets going on his rollouts, that'll open up the field a little for Dunn and possibly Norwood, who will otherwise simply have to grind the game out. If Crumpler is limited this weekend, Jenkins and Lelie are going to have to step up big time, and Jenkins is going to have an especially difficult time doing so against Chris McAllister. Still, this matchup clearly favors Atlanta.
The Wing Edge: Atlanta by a wide margin.
The D: Just as the Falcons are clearly the superior offensive team, the Ravens are clearly the superior defensive team. Bart Scott is a monster, Terell Suggs is strong, Ray Lewis is declining (and also hurt, therefore a non-factor in this game) and the secondary is perfectly capable of messily devouring mediocre wide receivers. To win this game, the Ravens have to simply put the clamps down, force Vick to stay in the pocket, and shut down the run. Their cringe-worthy offense has been lucky enough this year to put together a couple touchdowns. If the Ravens can't press their advantage, they're in serious trouble. On the other side of the field, the Falcons will have to avoid pass rushing too much, simply because the personnel is not available at this time. Kerney and Abraham are out, Coleman and Grady Jackson are hurting, and the linebackers are going to have to pick up the slack for the line. The replacements may very well perform admirably, but there's no way to know until kickoff. The secondary is beginning to resemble Frankenstein's monster, but at least Jimmy Williams looks pretty capable. The Ravens don't have a lot of elite playmakers (or any, you could argue), so the Falcons simply have to play a good man to man and force McNair to make some bad throws. The Ravens are clearly the defensive powerhouse, however.
The Wing Edge: The Ravens by a good margin.
The ST: The Ravens have some decent blocking for their special teams unit, but nothing else about it screams remarkable. Sam Koch is a young, capable punter who is prone to making some dubby kicks, and Matt Stover is extremely reliable from all distances this season but still doesn't have a long distance leg that I would fear. He could account for plenty of the scoring on Sunday, however. On the other side, the Falcons will need some good field position in order to get drives moving, so it's on the return team to make sure it happens. Koenen should be fine on punts, and whatever kind of pudding they're giving Morten, it's clearly working. Still, slight favorite to Baltimore.
The Wing Edge: Ravens by a slight margin.
Overall Wing Edge: Baltimore, of course. They've simply played like the better team all year, although you could argue that they've been monstrously lucky (and I would). If the Ravens play their game, however, it's going to be very difficult for the Falcons to win this.
Prediction: Defying common sense once again, I'm going to say the Falcons by a handful of points. In case you're wondering, no, I'm not going to pick them to win every game for the rest of the year...as far as you know. What are your predictions?