When you have two sub-.500 NFL teams matching up, who wins?
If you're advocating for the Jaguars, you're simply hoping their defense is decent and their high-powered offense keeps chugging along, because the Falcons aren't good enough to stop them if they're clicking. If you're the Falcons, you're essentially hoping that all the team's awful trends reverse in a whiplash-inducing display of mighty competence. Let's take a look at what paths these two teams might take to victory.
Unlike the Panthers game, this isn't a borderline impossible win, just an unlikely one.
Offensively, Atlanta needs to return to what made them briefly terrific earlier in the season, but they'll be doing so minus Leonard Hankerson. Matt Ryan needs to be able to spread the ball around, and Kyle Shanahan needs to work on developing a gameplan that allows him to get rid of the ball extremely quickly to compensate for crumbling protection. A lot of that depends on Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Justin Hardy being able to get open, but it's not an impossible task. If Jacob Tamme can get involved, that would be helpful, and the Jaguars' defense hasn't completely shut down tight ends, at least.
So much of that quick passing attack is going to rely on getting the ground game going for the first time in weeks. Jacksonville is pretty stout up front and Atlanta has shown no aptitude for getting Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman to the second level. Springing them, even a handful of times, would force Jacksonville back on its heels a little bit. I'll say it now: If Jacksonville can simply tee off on Matt Ryan because there's no threat of the run, Atlanta won't score much.
Defensively, the task is taller. Jacksonville has been rolling of late, and they're fresh off a 51 point game against the admittedly subpar Colts defense. Blake Bortles can challenge defenses deep with his arm, and Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, and Julius Thomas can all make plays downfield. Atlanta's cornerbacks can, assuming Robert Alford isn't smarting from last week, at least slow Robinson and Hurns. They don't have an answer for a healthy Julius Thomas, however, with Ricardo Allen, Kemal Ishmael, and Nate Stupar being asked to do the job. Expect a ton of passes to Thomas to exploit soft spots in Atlanta's defense, and Richard Smith and Raheem Morris will need to cook up some way to take those throws away. If you can remove those top three options, this passing attack becomes much less intimidating.
While not many share this opinion, I'm much more optimistic about the Falcons returning to their strong defense on the ground. They've been gashed the last three weeks, but Jacksonville will be offering up Denard Robinson instead of T.J. Yeldon, and while Robinson is quick and can be deadly in space, he doesn't offer the same kind of battering power Yeldon brings to the table. If the Falcons can keep him from getting to the edge, they'll probably be able to keep things relatively quiet.
In short, then, Atlanta's good if the offense revives and they can stop big plays, or everything they didn't do against Carolina.
If Blake Bortles can air it out, they win. The Falcons' pass rush isn't going to threaten him all that much, if we're being honest, so the Falcons will be heavily reliant on takeaways. Bortles has a reputation as a gambler because he is a bit of a gambler, willing to make the 50/50 throws other quarterbacks shy away from. If you can pick a couple of those passes, you're suddenly in business. If Bortles is converting those throws, however, chances are this one gets out of hand rapidly.
Getting Robinson going on the ground would help a great deal, and I expect Jacksonville to aggressively test the Falcons' run defense early. Achieve balance and you've got this.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Jaguars are well-positioned to exploit Atlanta's weakness on the middle of the offensive line. Sen'Derrick Marks
is effective is on injured reserve Dave you idiot, Roy Miller is solid, and Andre Branch can occasionally careen his way into the backfield, as well. If the Falcons can improve their pass protection this week, things are going to go south quickly. They're stout enough to slow down Atlanta's ground game, as well.
The wild card here is the one you'd expect. The Jaguars do not have a shutdown cornerback, though Davon House is a quality player, and Julio Jones is always a threat. The Jaguars will scheme to take him out of the game, I'm sure, but Julio should be able to get open deep a few times if Ryan has the time and inclination to make those throws.
In summary, though, Jacksonville seems well-equipped to win this game in their house. We'll have to hope that perception is not reality.