I’ll be blunt: This is the scariest game left on the calendar for me. I’m always confident about Atlanta’s ability to hang with teams in the division, even if they tend to be nailbiters. I’m considerably less confident about triumphing over this Vikings team, since they’re a 9-2, impressive football team, and I’ve had this one circled as a loss since the schedule first came out.
That said, Atlanta is capable of winning this football game. They just have to play a terrific game without many of the characteristic lapses that have dogged them throughout the season. Here’s one reason I feel good about this game, and one reason I definitely am concerned.
One reason to be confident: A resurgent passing attack
The Vikings have a physical, quality secondary that is certainly capable of matching up with the Falcons, at least in spurts. If these were the Falcons we saw earlier this year, I’d consider that a marked advantage for Minnesota.
Fortunately, these are not the September or especially October Falcons. These are the Falcons have gotten their rhythm and confidence back, and they’ve finally started utilizing their weapons properly. The result has been the kind of gaudy numbers you’d expect from this passing attack, and the scoring output to match.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes actually matches up quite well against Julio Jones, but the reason I don’t worry are because A) Julio is an alien and B) Atlanta has the weapons to ensure they’ll feast elsewhere. They need to at least gesture at balancing by running the football, but I’m oddly confident they’ll find success through the air. The Falcons really do appear to have turned the corner on offense, and it should add up to a competitive game, at minimum.
One reason to worry: Being thin at cornerback
A year ago, the Falcons largely weathered the loss of Desmond Trufant because they had unexpectedly good performances from the likes of Jalen Collins, C.J. Goodwin, and Deji Olatoye, plus the expected terrific performances from Robert Alford and Brian Poole. With Trufant out this week, however, the Falcons have a lot more to worry about.
Start with the fact that Brian Poole is clearly still dealing with a back injury, which may have a small but important impact on his ability to play a full, quality game. Add the fact that both Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are amazingly good at changing directions, which has always been one of the few things Poole struggles with. And then look at this cornerback depth chart and realize that Collins and Olatoye are gone, replaced by C.J. Goodwin (who will be the third cornerback instead of the fourth one, which matters) and Blidi Wreh-Wilson (who has experience but hasn’t played much for the Falcons).
That group has the talent to get it done, but the Vikings are a rough matchup, and if Poole is less than 100% Atlanta’s going to be operating from a severe disadvantage. Couple that with their tendency to scuffle against quality rushing attacks and you’ve got a recipe for a game where the Vikings may be able to put up 30 points. I don’t have to tell you that puts an enormous amount of pressure on the offense to get things done.