This is a big game. A very big game. A gigantic game.
The Falcons will have to beat contenders all year to hang around into the post-season, and the Denver Broncos certainly fit the bill. They have Peyton Manning, a host of talented wide receivers and a quality defense, which should at minimum keep them in the playoff hunt in the shaky AFC West. It might get them a lot further than that.
So it's incumbent on the Falcons to not only jump out to an early lead in the NFC South, but take out these kinds of teams on the way. A 2-0 would feel awfully good come next Tuesday, don't you think?
In that spirit—and because I'm chomping at the bit for Monday night—let's run down the four biggest matchups in the game ahead. After the jump, we'll take them one by one.
Chris Owens vs. Broncos Receivers
Peyton Manning is too good to be contained fully, and no doubt he'll have some success finding Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker when they're matched up against the likes of Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson. The wild card here, though, is Chris Owens.
If Owens plays well, his blazing speed should allow him to take care of the slot and keep up with Decker, who is a shrewd route runner, when called upon. That can only help. If he plays poorly, however, Manning will simply abuse him. He's too good and too smart not to take advantage of a clear mismatch like that.
So let's hope he can play well, eh?
John Abraham vs. Peyton Manning
If there's one truism in the NFL that matters for this matchup, it's this: The only way to stop an elite quarterback is by hitting him.
Manning will need to be brought down, hit and pressured for the Falcons to have a true chance of slowing him down, no matter how good the coverage is. That responsibility falls heaviest on the shoulders of The Predator, as he's the team's best pass rusher even in his mid-30's. The Falcons need to find a way to get him in the backfield so he can wreak havoc, because there's nobody with better instincts and closing ability on this football team.
Julio Jones vs. Champ Bailey
I've been debating whether Bailey can shut down Jones over at Mile High Report, and to no one's surprise we differ a little bit on the outcome.
Suffice to say that Jones playing well against one of the better cornerbacks in league history would make life easier for every other receiver on the field, and it would certainly make things easier on Ryan. The Broncos count on Bailey shutting down his guy every week so they can focus their assets elsewhere. Jones having a big game would put the Falcons in a good place, period.
The Offensive Line vs. Broncos Pass Rushers
You can't underestimate this defense. They can rush the passer, cover receivers and cause problems in the ground game. That's why the Falcons' offensive line will surely be sorely tested.
If the Falcons protect Ryan, they can ensure he will have time to make the tough throws, march the Falcons downfield and score. If they don't, they're in serious trouble. Sometimes, it's as simple as that.
What matchups will you be watching?