Atlanta and Cincinnati, two teams riding the high of improbable Week 1 victories, will meet up in Paul Brown Stadium Sunday afternoon on CBS, and the winner will take an important early step toward playoff contention. The Bengals won a division game in a venue — Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium — where quarterback Andy Dalton had never won as a starter, while the Falcons shocked NFC South rivals (and popular Super Bowl picks) Drew Brees and the Saints with an offensive explosion in the Georgia Dome.
Atlanta Falcons at Cincinnati Bengals
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Cincinnati -5
Three Things to Watch
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1. Will Matty Ice Stay Red-Hot?
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is merely coming off the best performance of his career in Atlanta's 37–34 overtime win over New Orleans. Ryan completed 31-of-43 passes for a franchise-record 448 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions. But it was some unexpected scrambling that really frustrated a helpless Saints defense that was able to sack the statuesque Ryan only once. Rushing for 15 yards on three carries, Ryan also extended a number of plays with some deft movement in the pocket, including sidestepping the rush on a 39-yard pass to Roddy White that led to an important field goal right before halftime. "He's played a lot of games, made a lot of plays for us," coach Mike Smith said after the game. "But I was really impressed with his ability to extend some plays by moving around in the pocket. And he was very, very accurate. When you have (568 yards) of total offense and 448 through the air, your quarterback is playing well." Now, the question becomes: Can he do it away from the comfort of the Georgia Dome?
2. A.J. Green: The AFC's Best Wideout
As long as Megatron keeps slicing through defenses for Detroit, the title of Best Wideout in the NFL is taken, but Green is staking a strong claim for Best of the Rest. Coming off a season stat line of 98-1,426-11, Green resumed his abuse of hapless defensive backs, burning the Ravens for six catches for 131 yards and a decisive 77-yard touchdown in Cincy's 23–16 win in Baltimore. Quarterback Andy Dalton's comfort level with his prime target is only growing; against the Ravens, Dalton was 6-of-8 for 131 yards and a touchdown when targeting Green. In only three-plus seasons, Green has 12 touchdown catches of 30 yards or longer, and that ability to produce the big play assures that Dalton will continue to look his way. Against a Falcons defense that surrendered 333 passing yards in Week 1, Green could run wild.
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3. Protecting the Jungle
Paul Brown Stadium is suddenly one of the toughest places to play in the NFL. The Bengals have won nine straight regular-season games at home, and the Jungle will present a challenging setting for Atlanta's attempt to chalk up its first two-game winning streak since 2012. The Bengals' propensity for protecting their home turf is an important component of this new golden era for a team that is gunning for its fourth consecutive winning season, which would be a first in the history of a downtrodden franchise. If Cincinnati is to take the next step and win a playoff game, the Bengals need to play that postseason game at home, and protecting home turf during the regular season — especially against ostensibly weaker teams — is critical to reaching that goal. Of course, given the Bengals' surprising home playoff loss to San Diego last season, there are no guarantees.
Both defenses will be under the gun on Sunday. The Bengals allowed 423 yards to the Ravens and needed the cooperation of Joe Flacco & Co. via some well-timed mistakes to come out of Baltimore with a win. The Falcons needed every one of their 568 total yards against the Saints, because the defense was busy surrendering 472 yards and a number of big plays. The Bengals seem to have the edge in physicality, and given the Falcons' 1–7 road record in 2013, home should be very sweet indeed for Cincy on Sunday.