GAMETIME: Sunday, December 4, 2016 at 1:00 p.m., ET
LOCATION: Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA
Take a deep breath… That’s certainly what the Kansas City Chiefs (8-3) will be doing after their heart-pounding, nail-biting, goalpost-doinking, overtime victory over the Denver Broncos (7-4) on Sunday Night. The Chiefs do not have time to dwell on their big victory over the Broncos as they head to Atlanta this week to take on the NFC South leading Atlanta Falcons (7-4) in the Georgia Dome. Atlanta and its high-powered offense led by Quarterback Matt “Matty Ice” Ryan will look to build on a 38-19 thrashing of the struggling Arizona Cardinals (4-6-1) as the Chiefs come into their building.
The last time these two teams matched up head-to-head was in Arrowhead Stadium in week one of the 2012 season. The game was a good indicator of the year to come as the Chiefs, in a year they would finish 2-14, were trounced 40 to 24 after keeping it close in the first half. The game marked the emergence of Falcons talented WR Julio Jones who had 2 touchdowns and over 100 yards receiving, expect him to challenge the Chiefs again this year.
Perhaps the shining moment of that game for the Chiefs was when Falcons legend… TE Tony Gonzalez scored a touchdown and delivered his trademark celebration dunking on the goalpost to a bevy of cheers from Chiefs fans in his homecoming return to Arrowhead. An exciting nod to his greatness and dominance while in a Chiefs jersey.
The Chiefs do hold an edge in the all-time series against the Falcons with a 5-3 advantage with their last victory being at home in 2004. The 2004 game does tote an eye popping victory of 56 to 10 in a game where Priest Holmes scored four (4) touchdowns IN THE FIRST HALF.
The Chiefs and the Falcons will resume the 2016 AFC West vs. NFC South matchup in which the AFC West has an overall 9-4 record over the NFC South with each team in the AFC West suffering only one loss to NFC South teams. While that stat is interesting, it will not worry the Falcons who are the only team in its division with a winning record against the AFC West at 2-1.
This particular matchup is one of foils, the classic unstoppable force meets the stubborn immovable object. While Kansas City has been able to dispose of high powered offenses this season in New Orleans (2), San Diego (4), and Oakland (5) Atlanta will be a different beast altogether, boasting the top ranked scoring offense in the league at 32.5 pts/g. Indeed, the Chiefs top ten scoring defense will have to be on their toes all day versus the potent, Matt Ryan led offense.
Quarterback, Matt Ryan has led this special Atlanta offense with a dazzling year that has established him as a leading NFL MVP contender. Through this year’s campaign Ryan has racked up 3516 yards in the air with 26 TDs and only 6 ints in 380 total attempts. Perhaps most impressively Ryan leads the league in yards per attempt with 9.3 a stat that Chiefs fans will drool over when looking at their own QB, Alex Smith who is ranked 28th in the same stat at 6.6 y/a. Ryan’s success can be attributed at least partially to a lights out receiving squad led by familiar face, Julio Jones, who has amassed 1140 yards on 65 receptions thus far this season. Lining up opposite Jones, the Chiefs will also have to lookout for Falcons WR Taylor Gabriel who has a TD in four (4) consecutive games.
On the ground the Falcons offense hands off to a two-headed monster, RBs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Both have been excellent with Freeman receiving a majority of the snaps and a majority of the yards at 729, but Coleman sees a lot of action in the red zone bruising his way to 6 TDs to Freeman’s 5.
To win, the Chiefs defense will have to exploit what is seemingly Atlanta’s only statistical weakness, allowing sacks. Atlanta has allowed Ryan to be sacked 27 times, which is 5th most in the league. This plays right into a Chiefs strength who just saw LB Justin Houston return and put in an unbelievable performance against Denver last week with three (3) sacks, 10 tackles, and nine (9) QB pressures in one game. Combine Houston’s dominance with the possibility of having OLB Dee Ford back after practicing Wednesday this week, and this promises to be an exciting matchup. Chiefs may also see CB Steven Nelson back to shore up a secondary that was scorched a few times against Denver, but may miss their big men Dontari Poe and Jaye Howard again.
For both teams, the other side of the ball does not evoke as much excitement. The Chiefs boring but sometimes inexplicably effective offense led by QB Alex Smith was stunned for most of the game last week against Denver’s defense. But then, after being ineffective most of the game, the Chiefs offense came alive with 3 minutes to go when they efficiently drove down the field, scored a TD, and added a two-point conversion to take the game to overtime. This might be explained by some conservative play calling seemingly all day, until their backs were against the proverbial wall and Andy Reid finally had to let Smith let loose. A trend that has become familiar for Chiefs fans throughout the season.
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Although the Chiefs offense looks downright bad at times they have been able to put up 22.9 pts/g, good enough to be right in the middle of the league while scoring TDs on only 42% of red zone opportunities, 31st in the league. The struggling Chiefs offense can be hopeful of improvement this week for a few reasons. First, WR Tyreek Hill has continued to grow as a receiver by combining his Madden-esque speed with great hands and a knack for big plays, all combined the one man wrecking crew scored 3 TDs against Denver and should be primed for more. Second, Hill’s performance can only be amplified by the return of Maclin, who practiced this week and may be ready to come back. Finally, combine the Chief’s good news with a bad Atlanta defense and the Chiefs offense may be primed for a good day.
The Falcons defense is a flip of the coin from their offense, allowing 27.5 pts/g and with a secondary that has allowed 3104 yards in the air, good for 29th and 30th in the league respectively. Indeed, their high-scoring offense has had to score an eye-popping amount for them to win this season. Unfortunately for the Falcons, things don’t look to improve as two of their top defenders will miss extended time for injury. CB Desmond Trufant was placed on season-ending IR with a pectoral injury and DE Adrian Clayborn will miss 3-5 weeks with partially torn meniscus, according to NFL Network Insider, Ian Rapoport. Trufant’s replacement, 2015 second-round pick, Jalen Collins, did have a good game against Arizona with three (3) passes defended and four (4) tackles but will have to continue to fill some big shoes for a Falcons defense that has allowed more passing TDs through 11 games than they did all last season.
All in, this game promises to be a huge challenge for both playoff hopeful teams whose weaknesses could spell disaster for either team.
DON’T LOOK AHEAD
After the Falcons, the Chiefs won’t have time to rest with a short week and a huge Thursday Night game at home against the Raiders while the Falcons travel cross-country to LA to face the Rams.