The 2017 NFL regular season is finally here, and our Falcons start off the season on the road to face the Chicago Bears. The Bears were 3-13 last year, and many fans are feeling very confident about this game. However, a closer look at the match-ups shows this may not be the cakewalk many fans are anticipating.
Note: Player assessments are based on PFF Edge.
In the trenches
The Falcons will field an offensive line returning four starters. Chris Chester has disappeared into retirement, with second year player Wes Schweitzer filling the void at right guard. He’s an unknown at this point, but has looked ok in preseason action. At center, Alex Mack is a proven All-Pro who has had a huge impact on this Falcons offensive unit. He’s great in pass protection and run blocking and is the anchor of this offensive line. At right tackle, Ryan Schraeder has quietly become one of the best in the league and is a steady force in both pass protection and run blocking. At left guard, Andy Levitre has had two very good seasons in a row for the Falcons, though he is prone to the occasional mental lapse. Finally, Jake Matthews may not be the world-beater everyone expected him to be, but he is easily an above average left tackle and is particularly effective in the running game.
The Bears have a very good defensive front seven. Akiem Hicks is a very solid force in the middle with Eddie Goldman being stout at the nose. Willie Young has been inconsistent at times, but is a quality player while Pernell McPhee has shown he can get after the QB. At linebacker, Jerrell Freeman was a quality signing by the Bears. He’s outstanding in the middle of the field in both stopping the run and defending the pass. Next to him, Danny Trevathan is also a very good interior linebacker who excels against the run. Do not sleep on this Bears front seven - they have a lot of good players there.
Honestly, this match-up may be too close to call. The Bears defensive front is no joke, while Schweitzer is still an unknown at this point.
The skill positions
At QB, the Falcons boast the returning NFL MVP in Matt Ryan, who had one of the greatest QB seasons in NFL history in 2016. He is accompanied by one of the best running back duos in the league with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman both being capable runners and receivers. On the outside, there is simply no better receiver in the league than Julio Jones. You can bet the Bears are having nightmares about him right now. Opposite him, Mohamed Sanu is a capable possession receiver in the middle while Taylor Gabriel has the speed to take the top off the defense. This is a formidable WR trio. Austin Hooper figures to be the new starter at tight end, and he’s shown a good rapport with Ryan, though it’s unclear how much of an impact he will have this year. Say what you want, but this is easily one of the best offensive units in the league. They are deep and talented and will be a tough match-up for any defense.
The Bears defense has some talent in the secondary. Safety Quintin Demps was very good last year, playing well in coverage and against the run. Adrian Amos was also very effective, though not at quite the same level as Demps. If this secondary has a weakness, it is definitely at corner. Prince Amukamara is a decent corner, but is not anyone’s idea of a shutdown player. Marcus Cooper, on the other hand, is prime to be roasted alive. In nickel sets, Cre’von Leblanc is average - if that - in the slot.
So long as Ryan and the Falcons can get back to their explosive 2016 ways, there’s no way the Bears can win this match-up. In fact, there are very few defensive secondaries equipped to deal with what the Falcons are capable of dishing out.
Don’t get too confident, Falcons fans - the trenches could be a real battle on Sunday. If the Falcons offensive line can hold up, there’s reason to believe the passing game can prosper. However, the question mark at right guard leaves open some doubt that will only be erased by a strong performance Sunday afternoon. All of that said, it’s still hard to envision the Bears shutting down the Falcons potent offense, which is why they will get the nod here.