The 3-0 Falcons take on the 2-1 Bills on Sunday in the friendly (and mighty impressive) confines of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. This is a game that many of us had circled as a potential “trap”, before Buffalo appeared to be shipping away many of their good pieces in the offseason.
The once fearsome CB group is now down to rookie CB Tre’Davious White (who has been pretty good) and not much else after they let Stephon Gilmore walk and traded away Ronald Darby. 2016 second-round pick LB Reggie Ragland was also traded away. RB Mike Gillislee was allowed to leave to the Patriots, and back-up RB Jonathan Williams was cut. WR Sammy Watkins was traded and WR Robert Woods was also allowed to leave.
That series of events seemed to imply that the Bills were tanking for a high draft pick, but now they’ve gone and won two of their first three games. Who knows what they’re doing anymore. At any rate, let’s take a look at how these two teams compare statistically after three weeks.
Points/game: Falcons 29.0 (5th), Bills 16.7 (25th)
Total yards/game: Falcons 388.0 (4th), Bills 285.3 (26th)
Passing yards/game: Falcons 269.3 (6th), Bills 174.0 (29th)
Passing TDs: Falcons 4 (T-16th), Bills 4 (T-16th)
Rushing yards/game: Falcons 118.7 (9th), Bills 111.3 (12th)
Rushing TDs: Falcons 4 (T-5th), Bills 1 (T-21st)
Third Down Efficiency: Falcons 45% (7th), Bills 39% (15th)
Turnover Margin: Falcons -1 (T-20th), Bills +3 (T-5th)
Atlanta improved their offensive numbers a bit from Week 3 after an impressive showing against the Lions. They still aren’t quite up to last years ridiculous standards, but the Falcons appear to be a top-5 offense overall in 2017. Atlanta is 5th in points per game and 4th in total yards. They’ve showcased their balance again this year, with both the run (9th in yards, T-5th in TDs) and pass (6th in yards, T-16th in TDs) games in the top-10. The Falcons have actually been better this year on third down, converting 45% of their attempts (7th). After a three-turnover game against Detroit, the Falcons fell to -1 in TO margin (T-20th), but don’t expect that to be a trend.
The Bills appear to be among the worst offenses in the league through three weeks. They’re 25th in points and 26th in total yards. Buffalo’s passing game has been exceptionally limited, with only 174.0 yards per game (29th). They’ve been better running the ball (12th in yards), but are no where near the juggernaut on the ground they were in 2016. The Bills have been about league-average on third down (39% conversion rate, good for 15th) and have been exceptional in limiting turnovers (+3, T-5th). Offense is not their strength, and this is a team that could struggle if they find themselves in an early hole.
Points/game: Falcons 22 (18th), Bills 12.3 (1st)
Total yards/game: Falcons 330.7 (15th), Bills 278.3 (6th)
Passing yards/game: Falcons 245.7 (21st), Bills 203.0 (9th)
Passing TDs: Falcons 4 (T-9th), Bills 0 (1st)
Rushing yards/game: Falcons 85.0 (8th), Bills 75.3 (7th)
Rushing TDs: Falcons 2 (T-11th), Bills 2 (T-11th)
Third Down Efficiency: Falcons 34% (10th), Bills 39% (T-17th)
Sacks: Falcons 9 (T-10th), Bills 10 (T-6th)
The Falcons’ defense is already off to a much better statistical start than 2016. While they certainly aren’t among the best defenses in the NFL, they’re not the liability they were throughout much of last season. Atlanta is 18th in points per game and 15th in yards. They’re weakest in passing yards allowed (21st), but are better in stopping passing TDs (4, T-9th). Atlanta has been stout against the run, as they are 8th in yards and T-11th in TDs. They’re also surprisingly good on 3rd down, allowing only a 34% conversion rate (10th). The Falcons are also off to a good start with their pass rush, as their 9 sacks through 3 games are good for T-10th in the league.
Buffalo has the top defense in scoring through three weeks, and they’re top-10 in most other defensive statistics. They’re 6th in total yards, and have been slightly better against the run (7th in yards, T-11th in TDs) than the pass (9th in yards). However, they’ve allowed no passing TDs at all in 2017, which is pretty impressive. The Bills have been good at generating pressure with 10 sacks (T-6th), but have struggled on third downs (39% conversion rate, T-17th).
This should be a good game on Sunday that could be a little closer than normal due to the injury situations of both teams. The Bills defense has played well through the first three weeks, but I don’t think they’re anything close to the #1 defense in the NFL. Buffalo defeated the Jets in Week 1, then held Carolina to 9 points (and still lost), before beating up on Denver at home. None of those teams have offenses even remotely approaching the talent that the Falcons will showcase on Sunday.
The Bills defense has looked their best when playing with a lead, similar to how Carolina did in their magical 2015 season. I don’t think they’ll have much of an opportunity to do that on Sunday. If the game were in Buffalo, I think the Bills would’ve had a better chance of playing a close, ball-control style game. However, in Atlanta, it seems like the Falcons simply have too much firepower on offense.
On defense, the Falcons have the difficult task of containing Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy...but that’s it. Outside of those players—and maybe TE Charles Clay—the Bills have very little in terms of playmakers. The stats show that, too—Buffalo is simply not a good offense, and they are nowhere near as dominant on the ground as they were last season. If Atlanta can play disciplined defense and get out to an early lead on offense, this will be a very difficult game for the Bills to win.
Overall Advantage: Falcons
What are your thoughts on the game? Do you think the Falcons match-up well against Buffalo? Any particular concerns or advantages you’ll be keeping an eye on during Sunday’s game?