The Atlanta Falcons (6-3) are hoping that a much-needed bye week will be the key to getting their season back on track. After a 5-0 start, Atlanta’s high-octane offense suddenly hit a wall, resulting in losses in three of its past four contests. Even in the Falcons lone victory during that stretch, they only managed to score 10 points against the Titans. The well-rested Falcons will attempt to return to early season form in Week 11 as they play host to the Colts.
Like Atlanta, the Indianapolis Colts (4-5) were also on a hiatus in Week 10. Unlike the Falcons, Indianapolis entered its bye week with a shot of momentum following a big victory over previously unbeaten Denver. Unfortunately, the celebration would be short lived as the Colts discovered that they would be without quarterback Andrew Luck for the next few weeks due to a lacerated kidney. Indianapolis also lost impressive rookie DE Henry Anderson for the season with an ACL tear. The Colts will look to carry whatever momentum remains into a tough matchup in Atlanta.
This will be the 16th meeting all-time between the Colts and the Falcons dating back to 1966. Indianapolis holds a commanding 13-2 lead in the series. The two teams last played in 2011 with the Falcons dominating the Colts by a score of 31-7 in Indianapolis.
Indianapolis at Atlanta
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Spread: Atlanta -6
Three Things to Watch
1. Which Falcons Offense Shows Up?
Much of the Falcons successful start to the season can be attributed to their offense. During that stretch, the Falcons averaged 32 points per game, converted on 74 percent of their trips to the red zone, and committed just five turnovers, resulting in a 5-0 record.
The Falcons' offense can also take credit for the team’s demise in the last four contests. In those four games, Atlanta averaged just 16 points per game, converted on 43 percent of its trips to the red zone, and committed nine turnovers en route to a 1-3 record.
Needless to say, the Falcons' bye week could not have come at a better time, providing for some much-needed rest and healing. More importantly, the bye provided an opportunity to get the Atlanta offense back on the right track. The return of wide receiver Leonard Hankerson from injury should provide a spark. Atlanta also is expected to turn to a no-huddle attack this week to help jumpstart the offense. There is no guarantee that the Falcons' offense can return to early-season form, but if it can, it is guaranteed to be a long day for the Colts' defense.
2. Matt Hasselbeck
While the Colts 40-year-old backup quarterback no longer has the cannon arm and big-play potential that an Andrew Luck brings to the table, Hasselbeck has proven that he still has the tools to win football games in the NFL. In fact, Hasselbeck is a perfect 2-0 this season while filling in for Luck, throwing for 495 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Hasselbeck can best be described as a proficient “game manager” at this point in his career. He rarely makes mistakes, he can keep the chains moving, and most importantly, he can keep a vulnerable Colts defense off the field for long stretches. In that respect, Hasselbeck could be exactly what the Colts' offense needs at the moment, and his track record speaks for itself.
On the flip side, both of Hasselbeck’s victories this season came against struggling teams with losing records. He also must contend with the fact that he will be facing one of his former coaches that knows his tendencies all too well. First-year Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn spent time with Hasselbeck when he served as a defensive assistant in Seattle. Hasselbeck is not the huge downgrade from Luck that some people make him out to be, but he will struggle if he gets taken out of his comfort zone. Hasselbeck's slow and steady pace may not be enough against a Falcons team capable of putting up a lot of points in a hurry.
3. Julio Jones vs. Vontae Davis
Colts head coach Chuck Pagano suggested earlier in the week that Davis, his Pro Bowl cornerback, would play one-one-one coverage against Jones in Week 11. It stands to reason that Pagano would want his top cornerback to shadow Jones in Sunday’s game, especially considering the Colts other options in the secondary. It is the “one-on-one” aspect that gets called into question.
Davis is one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL when fully healthy, and he should provide Jones with one of his bigger challenges of the season, making for an entertaining matchup on Sunday. That being said, Davis stands little chance of containing Jones completely on his own, and virtually no chance if Davis’ lingering foot injury should flare up.
At the very least, Davis will require some safety help over the top to limit the risk of big plays. The one-on-one aspect may be a little exaggerated as well. It’s not a knock on Davis to say that he will have difficulty containing Jones one-on-one. After all, there may not be a defensive back on the planet capable of completely shutting down a receiver with Jones’ physical attributes and elite skill set.
The Colts enter this matchup slightly handicapped without Andrew Luck, but Matt Hasselbeck should not be underestimated. To be successful, Hasselbeck will need plenty of help from Frank Gore and Ahmad Bradshaw in the run game. At a minimum, the Colts' defense, which is prone to struggle, must limit the Falcons' big-play ability on offense.
For the Falcons, moving the football should not be a major issue against a Colts defense that has a tendency to be somewhat generous at times. However, empty trips to the red zone and turnovers remain obvious areas of concern. It is also of paramount importance to get Devonta Freeman back on track after he rushed for just 12 yards against San Francisco in the Atlanta's last game (Week 9).
This matchup primarily hinges on the Falcons' offense. The bye week, the return of complementary wide receiver Leonard Hankerson, and the potential to go no-huddle could all serve as catalysts that help revive the Atlanta offense. However, if that should fail to happen, Indianapolis has more than enough to earn the victory even with a backup QB as its starter.
Prediction: Falcons 28, Colts 20
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.