Had Tony Romo and Dez Bryant been healthy—and I've typed this a lot this week—the Cowboys and Falcons might have looked fairly similar. The Cowboys would have had arguably the better ground game, offensive line and defense, sure, but they would have been willing and capable of airing it out.
With those injuries, the team's paths diverge, particularly when you remember that the Falcons will be without starting running back Tevin Coleman. Let's explore how each team can win.
On offense, the Falcons have to be able to establish enough of a run to keep the Dallas defense honest. Their secondary has been surprisingly effective thus far for a supposed weakness, so the Falcons probably won't be able to just toss the football all up day and find success. Unless Matt Ryan goes to Julio Jones, of course.
That means Devonta Freeman and perhaps Terron Ward need to run well, and that the blocking needs to be good enough. I'm not anticipating an excellent Falcons attack on the ground, but they need to be able to at least put the Falcons in third and short situations.
Once the run is established, the Falcons just need to be as crisp in the passing game as they were against the Giants. If Roddy White can find more success than he did against New York,it'll help the whole passing game, but he may be matched up with the surprisingly effective nickel cornerback Tyler Patmon.
On defense, they have to bottle up Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden, and try to keep Terrance Williams in check. If they can do that, the offense is only going to be so effective with Brandon Weeden at the helm.
On, and it might help to win the special teams battle, which shouldn't be difficult given how talented the unit is.
Dallas has a tougher road, here, but the roadmap for a win is still pretty clear.
They have to establish the run and lean heavily on it, unless Weeden has some real magic in him. Randle is a perfectly decent back with the potential to grind out a good game, and McFadden still has life in his legs, so it's not outlandish to think the Cowboys can pull that off. Atlanta's run defense is very stout, though, so it's no lock.
Weeden has to be careful with the football. He's not so awful that Atlanta's going to get gimme turnovers from him, but he'll need to largely the manage the game and not doom Dallas with multiple interceptions.
On the defensive side of the ball, Dallas just has to be aggressive, put some pressure on Matt Ryan, and have their oddly effective secondary hold up for another week. Julio Jones will eat, of course, but Dallas can force a turnover or two and grind out a close win if their defense is up to the task. That's honestly what I worry about most.
How do you envision the Falcons (or Cowboys) winning this game?