After facing a series of flashy playoff teams and most recently two dysfunctional unbalanced teams, this feels like a lackluster matchup on paper. There isn’t much star power in Washington. A ball-control, ultra-conservative offense led by two veterans with an average supporting cast doesn’t strike fear into defenses. As impressive as their pass rush is, they struggle to prevent big plays because of their mediocre secondary. Matt Ryan should have success throwing downfield, but will he receive enough protection behind an underachieving offensive line? Can the front seven hold up in the trenches against a physical offensive line opening holes for the immortal Adrian Peterson? Whoever keeps possession longer likely wins this game. The more talented team up front does just enough to hold down the more explosive team.
Washington 28 - Atlanta 21
Washington is a really bad matchup for what Atlanta likes to do; few teams are equipped better to keep the team from soaring. First off, Washington’s defensive line (under the guidance of Jim Tomsula) eats up the run game and can get after the passer. The team has struggled against teams that do just that on the road in both away contests this season; this is one of those games where a runner like Devonta Freeman would absolutely come in handy. Second, the team has a resurged Adrian Peterson running and catching passes like he’s in his prime, which does not bode well for the Falcons’ linebacking core. No Trent Williams should give this pass rush (well, we’d hope would give this pass rush) the opportunity it needs to get after Alex Smith, but it’s not reliable enough as an overall unit to expect that. The Falcons’ passing game going up against this secondary would have to seize the day, though with the shaky road pass protection this season, you can’t really guarantee that, either. It’s hard to imagine Atlanta winning this.
Atlanta 24 - Washington 20
Over the bye, I tried very hard to get a handle on where I think this team is going. I looked at their current injury picture, their improvement (or lack thereof) in recent weeks, and their schedule, and determined that they could up at 8-8 or better. And then we learned that Robert Alford was hurt coming out of the bye, which I did not expect at all.
The story of this Falcons team is unexpected injury and razor-thin margins or loss or victory, and so it’s not surprising that they’d keep throwing those curveballs. While this is a tough matchup for them on paper, it is a game I think they can win, primarily because of the effort they put forth against Saquon Barkley two weeks ago and my complete lack of faith in Alex Smith’s arm if Washington is stymied on the ground. But as always, you can bet it will be a nail biter.