The New England Patriots visit Atlanta on the heels of a comprehensive 23-3 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After winning their first two games by a combined five points, the Patriots finally combined a solid defensive performance with a cohesive offensive showing against the hapless Bucs.
The 1-2 Atlanta Falcons are coming off an upset loss to the Miami Dolphins, and will be looking to get their season back on track and avoid falling further behind New Orleans in the NFC South. QB Matt Ryan has been quietly excellent so far this year, with six touchdowns and two interceptions and a 68.1% completion rate. To see which team has the advantage going into Sunday's matchup, let's break down each team's offense, defense, and special teams:
Offense: The Patriots are still awaiting the return of Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola, who are currently listed as questionable of Sunday's game. In their absence, Tom Brady has leaned heavily on WR Julian Edelman, who has 27 catches and two touchdowns so far.
The return of Gronk and Amendola would kick-start New England's passing game, and the shaky Falcons secondary will be hoping neither player is ready for Sunday's game - as it stands, Amendola has about a 25% chance of playing Sunday, while Gronk is 50-50. The Falcons are allowing 296 passing yards per game (25th in the NFL), and even if Tom Brady doesn't have any new targets available, he has the opportunity to build on last week's solid performance against Tampa Bay.
New England hasn't successfully established the run since Shane Vereen went down with a wrist injury, and Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount are both averaging under four yards per carry.
The Falcons have also struggled to get their running game going due to injury - Steven Jackson went down with a hamstring injury in week 2 against the St. Louis Rams, and Jacquizz Rodgers is only averaging 3.3 yards per carry on the year. Atlanta does have one of the NFL's most dangerous receivers in Julio Jones, and stopping Jones (who already has 373 yards and two TDs on the year) will be the Patriots' #1 priority.
Advantage: With Gronk and Amendola, the edge goes to the Patriots. Without either player, it's a push.
Defense: After allowing 21 points against the Buffalo Bills in week one, New England has allowed just 13 points total over the next two weeks. The Jets and the Bucs aren't anywhere near as competent offensively as the Falcons, though, so it's highly unlikely the Patriots will hold Atlanta the way they did New York or Tampa Bay.
Patriots LB Jerod Mayo has evolved into the Patriots' new anchor on defense, and 2nd-year DE Chandler Jones has looked dangerous with three sacks so far this season. The Falcons defense is excellent against the run, but it's unlikely New England will spend much time trying to move the ball on the ground. The deficiencies in the Falcons secondary make them a uniquely appetizing matchup for Tom Brady and the Patriots, but the Patriots D is well-suited to stopping the Falcons' passing game. The edge here has to go to New England as well.
Location & Weather: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA - 76°F / 58°F - Precip: 20%
Spread: Atlanta -2
Prediction: Vegas seems to think this one is going to be close, but we think Tom Brady will carve up this unimpressive Falcons secondary, even if Gronkowski and Amendola sit out. New England takes this one, 37-24
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