For the second consecutive week, the Falcons are playing a team with a reputation for playing stellar defense, with an offense that isn’t nearly as impactful. The difference is that the Chiefs are arguably a less productive defense, albeit still a dangerous one, and their offense is demonstrably less effective than Arizona’s.
That has led many to feel more confident about this victory than they would have heading into the year, and to be honest, that feels like a fair thing. Atlanta’s offense has been so good and their defense just good enough to earn them seven victories so far, and this is one of the weakest offenses they’ll face all year.
For all that, I imagine this one will stay close. I do expect Atlanta to win, and I do expect the following three matchups to make a difference.
Julio Jones vs. Marcus Peters
As is the case on a weekly basis, the Chiefs have to stop Julio Jones. Just because that has been less of a talk task over the last couple of weeks doesn’t mean that Julio’s skills have diminished, or that the difficulty of slowing down the NFL’s best receiver has lessened.
This week, Julio draws a particularly interesting matchup. Matt Ryan has thrown just six interceptions this year, one of them off of Julio’s hands a week ago, but the Falcons are about to face the most opportunistic cornerback you’ll see this year. Marcus Peters is a bit of a gambler, but he has 13 interceptions and 41 pass deflections over his first two seasons in the league. That likely means that Julio’s going to burn him a handful of times, but he could very well come down with a costly pick against the Falcons if Ryan’s willing to challenge him throughout the day. I’m hopeful that Julio gets on track in a big way, but Atlanta does need to be wary about one of the league’s most dynamic young cornerbacks.
Spencer Ware vs. Falcons defense
Ware is not the most potent back the Falcons will face this year, but he’s a genuine bruiser running behind a solid offensive line, which makes him a dangerous foe. Ware’s averaging 4.7 yards per carry on the season (and 5.0 for his career), and he’s perfectly capable of rumbling for 10-20 yards if you can’t get him down on first contact. At 5’10” and 229 pounds, he’s like a leaner, slightly less effective Michael Turner in terms of his running style and physicality.
The Falcons have struggled when they face teams that block well and backs that may not immediately fall down when a stiff breeze hits them, so Ware is a legitimate concern, and the man most likely to key this offense.
A bonus mention to Travis Kelce versus De’Vondre Campbell, which should be a good battle and one of the few effective ways Kansas City will be able to move the ball through the air. Campbell has not been a slouch of late, for what it’s worth.
Ryan Schraeder vs. Justin Houston
Schraeder has faced a murderer’s row of pass rushers this season, but Houston is arguably his toughest challenge yet. Arguably the most terrifying pass rusher in the NFL, Houston has the athleticism, advanced toolkit, and desire to kill quarterbacks that makes even the most hardened tackle pee a little.
Given that, the Falcons’ offensive line is going to have their hands full, and Schraeder is the man most likely to deal with Houston on a given play. With that responsibility comes many hardships, including protecting Matt Ryan from harm through four quarters, which may be an impossibility matched up against Houston. Chances are the gifted defender is going to get to Ryan a couple of times, at least, but the offense is good enough to weather that if Schraeder can largely keep his quarterback clean.
If Schraeder is able to hold Justin Houston in check and the Falcons pass the ball effectively, good things are going to happen. Obviously.