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Atlanta Falcons vs. Oakland Raiders Preview and Prediction

Derek Carr

Derek Carr

After their thrilling, season-opening victory in New Orleans, the Oakland Raiders will play in their home opener on Sunday afternoon against the Atlanta Falcons.

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Last weekend, the Raiders overcame an 11-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter to win 35-34 after Derek Carr hooked up with Michael Crabtree on two-point conversion with 47 seconds left. The Saints had a chance in the final seconds, but rookie kicker Will Lutz’s 61-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left.

In Week 1, the Falcons ended up on the losing end at home, falling 31-24 to Tampa Bay. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan threw for 334 yards and two touchdowns in the losing effort.

Sunday will be the first time the Falcons and Raiders have played each other in the regular season since 2012. In their previous meeting in Atlanta, Matt Bryant kicked a 55-yard field goal with one second left to give the Falcons the 23-20 win. Oakland maintains a slight 7-6 edge in the series entering this meeting.

Atlanta at Oakland

Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 18 at 4:25 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS

Spread: Oakland -4.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Raiders’ rushing attack
Against the Saints last week, the Raiders rushed for 167 yards and three touchdowns. Jalen Richard led the way with 84 yards and a touchdown on just three carries. Latavius Murray added 59 yards and a touchdown on 14 attempts.

Against the Falcons’ high-powered offense, it will be important for the Raiders to be able to run the football to keep Atlanta’s offense on the sideline. Oakland also can use an effective running game to both wear down the Falcons’ defense and help open up things in the passing game.

2. Matt Ryan

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When Ryan is on his game, he can look like one of the best quarterbacks in the league. The problem is he hasn’t been consistent throughout his career.

Last season in the first half of games, Ryan threw for 2,319 yards, 10 touchdowns and just six interceptions. However, in the second half, those numbers changed to 2,248 yards, 11 touchdowns and 10 picks.

Despite his down season a year ago, Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio still sees Ryan as one of the better quarterbacks in the league.

“Good quarterbacks present problems for opposing defenses,” Del Rio said earlier this week. “I saw a stat where he (Ryan) has 40 games in a row with over 200 yards on the road. That’s pretty impressive. We have our work cut out for us.”

Last week against the Saints, the Raiders gave up 423 passing yards to Drew Brees, including a 98-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks. If Oakland’s defense is going to limit Ryan’s damage, Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin and the other pass rushers will need to get a lot of pressure on the Falcons’ quarterback and force him to make mistakes.

3. Sean Smith
Smith, the Raiders’ top cornerback who came to the team in free agency, was benched last Sunday midway through the game due to poor performance. When Smith talked to the media this week, he didn’t make any excuses for his play last Sunday.

“I was getting killed, I’m not going to lie,” Smith said. “I was bad out there. I was costing our team points. Coach did what he had to do. Obviously, I would have loved to stay in, fight that thing out, but coach made a decision about what is best for the team, so I ride with it.”

Smith will face another tough matchup this week as he will likely be lined up against either Julio Jones or Mohamed Sanu. Expect Smith to make a bounce-back statement in his first home game as a Raider despite the tough assignment.

Final Analysis

Atlanta had a tough time slowing down Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers’ offense last week. The Falcons will likely have just as tough of a time containing Oakland’s offense, which could pose just as many, if not more, problems.

NFL Power Rankings: Raiders

Not only will the Falcons need to find a way to slow down Derek Carr, but they also will need to limit the damage wide receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree do.

Oakland only recorded one sack against New Orleans last week, but expect that number to increase at home against Atlanta. Much like last week, the Raiders should put up a lot of points against a below-average defense and come away with the victory.

Prediction: Raiders 34, Falcons 24

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.