Leaving church early
Finally. The Rock has come back — I mean football has come back to my Sunday afternoon programming (plus Sunday evening/night and Monday night).
Thursday’s Seattle/Green Bay matchup brought us our first NFL action since early February. While it wasn’t actually a spectacular game, it was good to watch the pros go at for real after such a long drought. (Quick note: Seattle looks like a team that can repeat, but the season is young and long).
Now, as we are in the metro-Atlanta area, I know Falcons fans are anxious to see what the Falcons will do against their most hated rival, the New Orleans Saints. Before you run into a wall of Rise Up fandom that resolves you of all logic, steadily pump the brakes.
It’s reasonable to expect the Falcons to get a win against the Saints, Julio Jones is back, the Falcons made significant changes to the offensive line (which was a huge weakness last season) and the running game has potential with Stephen Jackson, Davonta Freeman and Jacquizz Rodgers. The loss of Sam Baker will hurt some, as he and Jake Matthews, who
will move from right to left tackle, would have given Matt Ryan some more time on the left and right sides of the line.
It’s important to note that the Saints are one of the best teams in the league, and they made a few good acquisitions to sure up that Rob Ryan-lead defense that had already made excellent strides last season. Then there’s that guy, Drew Brees (I think that’s his name). He’s an OK quarterback. Plus, Jimmy Graham is no pushover. He’ll look to dunk all over the Falcons’ goal post today.
The Atlanta defense’s performance will be the question. The Falcons have a solid secondary, especially at cornerback and, even with the loss of Sean Witherspoon, a decent core of linebackers. Atlanta also has a pair of good defensive tackles, but the weakest aspect of that defense is the defensive end position. The Falcons are going to have problems creating pressure on the quarterback, and if you give Drew Brees time to do Drew Brees things then, well, you’ll lose, like Berkmar lost to Newton (48-21).
The Falcons are going to have to be a team that outscores its opponents and forces/gets turnovers when the opportunity arises. Scoring points shouldn’t be that hard to come by, seeing as how their wide receivers are some of the best in the league. A four-receiver spread that includes a healthy Julio Jones, Roddy White, Harry Douglas and Devin Hester. With that spread attack, the loss of Tony Gonzalez shouldn’t be felt much at all.
With that said, this is a marathon not a sprint. If you fall to New Orleans Sunday afternoon, the Falcons will be a much better team when they meet again in week 16, and that game will likely have playoff implications for the victor.
Whether they lose or not, although you’ll be pissed if they lose, some things to look at are: the performance of the offensive line, the pass rush and how healthy are Julio and Stephen Jackson?
Bet on it: game picks for around the league.
Atlanta vs. New Orleans: Saints win. Don’t fret, you’ll get ‘em week 16.
Vikings vs. Rams: Rams win. Matt Cassel is starting. Do you think Minnesota has a chance against that Rams’ defense? Me, either.
Browns vs. Steelers: Steelers win. No Manziel, no Josh Gordon, no problem for Pittsburgh.
Jaguars vs. Eagles: Eagles win. Lesean McCoy. That’s all.
Raiders vs. Jets: J.E.T.S win by default. This would be a great game 30 years ago.
Bengals vs. Ravens: Ravens win. Not gonna lie, I’m biased on this one, go Ravens.
Bills vs. Bears: Bears. Just don’t get hurt, OK Jay?
Redskins vs. Texans: Red-Washington wins. You thought I was gonna say it, huh?
Titans vs. Chiefs: UPSET pick, Titans win. Chiefs have too many losses on both sides of the ball.
Patriots vs. Dolphins: Pats win. Dolphins steadily improving, still not enough for that revamped Pats’ defense.
Panthers vs. Buccaneers: Bucs win. Even if Cam Newton had someone to throw to, the Bucs defense wouldn’t allow it.
49ers vs. Cowboys: Cowboys with the upset win. Ahhh, now this would’ve been epic 30 years ago. This time it’s just gonna be a good game that gives Cowboys fans hope, which they’ll lose come December.
Colts vs. Broncos: Peyton gets revenge from last season. Won’t put up seven touchdowns like he did in the opener last year, though.
Giants vs. Lions: Lions win. Poor Eli.
Chargers vs. Cardinals: Cardinals win. Should be a good game, but Philip Rivers will find a way to lose.
Shakeem Holloway is the sports editor at The News. You can reach him at 770-728-1413 or firstname.lastname@example.org.