The Atlanta Falcons (6-4) will host the Arizona Cardinals (4-5-1) on Sunday in a crucial NFC showdown between two teams in desperate need of a win. The Falcons return from their bye week looking to regroup following a rough stretch that culminated in three losses over their last five contests, including a Week 10 loss to the Eagles in which they scored a season-low 15 points. Atlanta leads the NFC South by a game over Tampa Bay, but knows too well how a second-half slide can derail a season. The Falcons lost six in a row at one point season and ended up as the first team on the outside looking in of the playoffs.
The Cardinals find themselves in a much direr predicament following last Sunday’s 30-24 loss to the Vikings. Arizona has now lost two of its last three games and trails Seattle Seahawks by three games in the NFC West. While the division may already be out of reach, the Cardinals can still make a run at one of the wild card spots. To do that, however, they need to start winning games, like this one in Atlanta against a current division leader.
Arizona at Atlanta
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 27 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Atlanta -5
Three Things to Watch
1. Atlanta Passing Game vs. Arizona Pass Defense
It has been a banner year so far for the Falcons’ passing attack. Atlanta currently has the No. 3 passing offense in the NFL, averaging 309 yards per game. And Matt Ryan has been able to carve up pretty much every defense that has crossed his path to this point in the season. That task will be a little more difficult on Sunday against the NFL’s top-ranked pass defense.
The Cardinals have allowed a league-low seven touchdown passes in 10 games. In four of those games, Arizona did not allow a single touchdown pass, and only one quarterback (Case Keenum) has thrown more than one in a game. The Cardinals have been equally stingy in the yardage department, giving up just 190 passing yards per game. The offseason acquisition of Chandler Jones has certainly helped the pass rush, which is among the top 10 in the league with 26 sacks. Jones leads the way with eight sacks followed by Markus Golden’s six.
This is easily the best pass defense the Falcons have faced all season. Conversely, the Falcons present the Cardinals with their biggest challenge to date. Something will have to give when strength collides with strength on Sunday.
2. Julio Jones vs. Patrick Peterson
Jones and Peterson will provide one of the most intriguing matchups in this game. It’s not often when two of the best players at their respective positions go head-to-head. But that will be the case when Jones and Peterson face off on Sunday. Jones leads the NFL with 1,105 receiving yards, while Peterson is best cornerback in the league, giving up just 25 receptions to opposing receivers in 10 games. Peterson also has yet to allow more than 73 receiving yards in a game all season. Adding further intrigue to the matchup, Jones and Peterson have a storied history against one another that dates all the way back to their college days in the SEC (Alabama vs. LSU).
The last time the pair of elite playmakers squared off was in 2014. It was a game Patrick Peterson wishes he could forget. Julio Jones racked up 10 catches for 189 yards and a touchdown in a 29-18 Atlanta win. Peterson still claims it was the worst performance of his career and he will certainly use that as fuel for Sunday’s rematch. A rematch Peterson believes will have a much different outcome this time around. Both players are currently playing the best football of their careers, and this will definitely be the marquee matchup in Sunday’s game.
3. Can a Slumping Arizona Offense Find Success?
In recent years, terms such as high-powered and potent were often used to describe the Arizona offense under head coach Bruce Arians. So far this season, words like inconsistent and lackluster provide the best description for the Cardinals’ struggling attack. Carson Palmer is having one of his worst seasons statistically, and his offensive line also has been struggling with 31 sacks allowed (third most in the NFL). In fact, the only saving grace for the Arizona offense this season has been running back David Johnson. But even Johnson has had issues at times trying to contend with a poor complementary passing game.
The good news is that the Falcons could have the cure for what ails the Cardinals’ offense. Atlanta ranks near the bottom of the league in total defense (386 ypg), mainly due to the league-worst 283 passing yards per game allowed. The Falcons are also give up more than 28 points per game (29th), so if there ever was a matchup that presents an opportunity for an offensive turnaround by Arizona it would be this. If Palmer and the Cardinals aren’t able to take advantage of a young Falcons defense, there may be little hope for this group moving forward.
The Cardinals have been a tough team to gauge so far this season. There have been weeks in which they have looked every bit the part of a possible Super Bowl contender. And there have been weeks in which they leave you scratching your head and trying to figure out exactly where things went wrong. The Atlanta offense will be a handful as usual, especially with the return of running back Tevin Coleman from a hamstring injury. However, the Arizona defense matches up particularly well against Atlanta’s strengths on that side of the football. In theory, the Cardinals should also be able to exploit a favorable matchup against a generous Falcons defense. While it’s difficult to know for sure which Cardinals team will show up on Sunday, it is even more difficult not to like their chances in this game (on paper at least). My best guess is that the “good version” of the Cardinals shows up to pull off the upset on the road.
Prediction: Cardinals 27, Falcons 24
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.