Look, we all sort of know how this is going to play out on paper. Unless the Falcons can find a way to face the Jaguars every Sunday, it’s rare they’ll be favored against any team this year. Against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Yeah.
Let’s take a look at some key matchups and where some lingering injury news could have an impact.
In the trenches
The Falcons defense has played better in recent weeks. Some of that has to do with the guys up front. Grady Jarrett has been disruptive and Dante Fowler has looked better, and he made a difference against Jacksonville. Anthony Rush has been a big factor in helping to slow down the run, as well. In total, this is still a unit desperately lacking in talent. The team is rotating in players like James Vaughters and an improving Brandon Copeland in hopes of finding a spark, but it’s mostly what you’d expect: the worst pass rushing unit in the league.
By contrast, the Bucs have one of the best offensive lines in the league. However, a key member of the line was out this past week and if that injury lingers, Grady Jarrett could be even more disruptive than normal. Ali Marpet is the best run blocker and pass blocker of the unit and an abdominal injury kept him out of the game against the Colts.
His backup - Aaron Stinnie - was serviceable this past week, but he’s a clear downgrade from Marpet. This is probably the only opportunity the Falcons have to successfully pressure Tom Brady on Sunday.
The skill positions
Tom Brady. Rob Gronkowski. Mike Evans. Chris Godwin. Antonio Brown (when healthy). Leonard Fournette. This is undeniably one of the most talented starting lineups in the NFL. When you have guys like Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard as your depth at tight end, you have a ridiculous plethora of riches. It won’t last forever, but right now this is the best assembly of skill position players in the NFL.
The Falcons have found a true shutdown corner in A.J. Terrell who started the year hot and has only gotten better. The defense is substantially different when he’s on the field, as we witnessed in the Jacksonville game. Apart from him, it’s either mediocre to average veterans like Duron Harmon and Erik Harris or young guys with potential like Jaylinn Hawkins and Richie Grant. Darren Hall has also been serviceable in the slot, but this is still a unit that needs time to grow and some additional talent on the field.
In week 2, this Tampa Bay team absolutely walloped the Falcons, winning by 23 points. I believe Atlanta is a better team than they were then, but they still can’t compete with a Super Bowl favorite. While I believe the overall score will be closer, the result is likely to be the same.