With consecutive games against Green Bay and Pittsburgh on the horizon, earning a victory this week will be crucial for Atlanta. It's weird to say a 4-7 team is in a "must-win" situation, but that may in fact be the case.
Yes, the Cardinals are 9-2, but they are vulnerable. Starting QB Carson Palmer is out for the year with a torn ACL. Darnell Dockett is on the shelf, as well. Larry Fitzgerald is listed as questionable and will be a gametime decision. Our old friend John Abraham is on IR and may never play again.
Here are four key matchups to watch as Atlanta goes for its fifth W of the season.
Drew Stanton vs. Atlanta's secondary
Drew Stanton, Palmer's replacement, really struggled last Sunday -- completing just 14 of 26 passes for 149 yards. Quite a difference from his performance a week prior, when he racked up 306 passing yards and two touchdowns.
No defense gives up more yards per game than the Falcons(409.9) and few are worse at rushing the passer. Undoubtedly, Stanton has a lot working in his favor.
Atlanta will have to be especially careful not to give up lots of big plays. The deep pass is one of Stanton's strengths, as evident by his 48-yard TD pass on Nov. 9:
Perhaps William Moore can give Mike Nolan's unit a boost. Moore, who is listed as probable, hasn't played since Week 4.
Julio Jones vs. Patrick Peterson
With Roddy White dinged up, the Falcons need Julio Jones to have a big game. That's easier said than done when Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie are on the other side of the ball.
A heated rivalry exists between Peterson and Jones, who were drafted fifth and sixth overall in 2011, respectively. Jones had just 33 receiving yards during their last meeting in 2012.
Calais Campbell vs. Jake Matthews
Calais Campbell is one of the more underrated players in the NFL. The defensive end has six sacks on the year in nine games, five of which have come in November. As Dockett, Abraham and others have been forced out, Campbell has been the one to step up.
It will be up to Jake Matthews to slow down the University of Miami product. Matthews has faced more adversity than most of us predicted, but he has improved of late: the rookie's Pro Football Focus grades, which bottomed out in Baltimore, have slowly climbed upward. His -0.4 overall rating last week was his best mark of the season.
Matt Ryan vs. Todd Bowles' defense
Though Matt Ryan has won two of three versus the Cardinals, he's completed just 59.71 percent of passes in those contests, along with four touchdowns and nine interceptions. Who could forget the 2012 game when Atlanta beat Arizona in spite of Ryan's five picks?
The veteran QB didn't look great last week and will need to rebound on Sunday. That will be difficult to accomplish against Todd Bowles' defense: Bowles is among the best and most creative coordinators in the NFL, and is now compensated accordingly.
What matchups will you be watching?