So the Falcons play the Vikings this weekend. This is another game that looks remarkably easy on paper but is likely to be anything but once the first kickoff booms into the afternoon sky. This is both because the Vikings can sneak up on you and because the Falcons make everything harder than it needs to be.
So the Falcons come in with a chance to run their record to 7-4 against a team potentially playing with a hobbled Adrian Peterson, or even no Adrian Peterson at all. They'll have to shut down a dynamic weapon in the passing game, hold off one of the league's best pass rushers and quit making dumb mistakes to pull it off.
That's possible, but there are a fair number of questions going into the 1 p.m. tilt. As always, I'm here to break them down like a drunken dancing robot at a cardboard box factory.
After the jump, one big question, three smaller ones and a prediction for the game.
The Big Question
Will Adrian Peterson play?
A lot hinges on this. A healthy Adrian Peterson is a load even for one of the league's best run defenses, and it opens up the Vikings offense considerably. If the Falcons are accounting for Adrian Peterson around the edges instead of Toby Gerhart up the middle, it's going to be a lot tougher for them to sell out on coverage and trust the line to make a stop.
Of course, a hobbled Peterson will probably struggle mightily against the Falcons, who have been downright dominant in the run-stopping department thus far in 2011. I also don't fear Gerhart until the goal line, where the Falcons are not so great at stopping power backs from doing their thing. A full healthy Peterson still scares the bejeesus out of me.
That's because he's already headed for a Hall of Fame career, assuming he can remain healthy and productive. With just 186 carries in 2011, he has 872 yards, 11 touchdowns and a 4.7 yards per carry average. For his career, those numbers are 1,384 carries for 6,654 yards, 63 touchdowns and a 4.8 average. He's just 26 years old.
The Vikings aren't going to tip their hand any earlier than they have to, so this is likely to remain a question until about an hour before game time. Keep a close eye on that injury report.
Three Smaller Questions
Question One: Will Christian Ponder get Percy Harvin involved?
Harvin is a dynamic playmaker. He's hurt frequently, I'll grant you, but he can line up at any wide receiver slot and even take carries out of the backfield. His speed and shiftiness are legendary, and his ability to turn short passes into long gains is exactly the kind of thing that keeps Brian Van Gorder up at night.
The Vikings have been unusually unwilling to get him involved in the offense. Even when he's in, struggling rookie quarterback Christan Ponder hasn't been able to get him the ball consistently. If Peterson is out, this is my major defensive concern.
Question Two: Will the Falcons hold back Jared Allen?
Allen has been one of the league's best pass rushers for years now, and he's continuing to do great things in 2011. He grades out well in advanced metrics, has 14 sacks to his name and even has four pass deflections on the line. That makes Allen incredibly dangerous.
The Falcons will have to think long and hard about whether to start Will Svitek or Sam Baker in this one. Svitek has acquitted himself well at left tackle, but Baker has more experience and has faced off against Allen before. I'd go with Svitek or an actual brick wall, but hey. Not my call.
Question Three: Will the Falcons passing game lead them to victory?
The Vikings are just 28th against the pass in 2011. They've been quite stout against the run and will probably give Michael Turner fits, but this is a great opportunity for Matt Ryan.
If Ryan can play as well as he did against the Titans--and maybe get Julio Jones back--the Falcons could drop some serious artillery on the Vikings' secondary. Let's hope.
I think the Falcons will end up winning, even if they make it just a bit more difficult than it would seem to need to be. Let's go with 27-17, Falcons.