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San Diego Chargers vs. Atlanta Falcons Preview and Prediction

Philip Rivers

Philip Rivers

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The 4-2 Atlanta Falcons return home to the friendly confines of the Georgia Dome after splitting a tough two-game stretch on the road. Atlanta managed to knock off the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos in Week 5, but came up just short last week in a 26-24 loss to the Seahawks. The Falcons must now turn their attention to a rejuvenated San Diego Chargers team. The good news is that the Falcons are 8-1 all-time against the Chargers, winning each of the last six games dating all the way back to 1988. The Falcons will rely on their red-hot offense in their bid to rebound from last week’s loss and maintain control of the NFC South.

Like the Falcons, the 2-4 San Diego Chargers also were able to knock off the defending Super Bowl champs. Last week’s victory provided head coach Mike McCoy, and the seemingly jinxed Chargers, with a new lease on life following a torturous string of fourth quarter meltdowns and narrow defeats. A well-rested Chargers team must now attempt to carry that momentum east in search of their first road win of the season against a very good Falcons team. San Diego has just one victory in its last 12 road games. The Chargers also have not won back-to-back games since 2014. It will be a tall order to escape the Georgia Dome with a victory.

San Diego at Atlanta

Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 23 at 4:05 p.m. ET

TV Channel: FOX

Spread: Atlanta -6

Three Things to Watch

1. Welcome to the Air Show

The Falcons enter Week 7 with the No. 2 passing attack in the NFL, averaging 330 yards per game. They are first in practically every other passing category, including pass completions in excess of 40 yards (11). The Chargers have done well through the air as well, ranking 11th in passing offense and just behind the Falcons in completions of 40 yards or more (8). Neither team has fared well at defending the pass. San Diego is 24th in passing yards allowed per game while the Falcons are a few ticks worse (26th).

An upgraded Chargers pass rush, led by rookie Joey Bosa, could present a few challenging moments for Matt Ryan. However, a depleted San Diego secondary will struggle mightily to keep pace with the Falcons’ high-octane passing attack. Ryan should have a field day against this defense.

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The matchup also holds plenty of promise for Philip Rivers and company. Rivers has built a solid rapport with his receiving corps, in spite of all the injuries, that should pay big dividends against a shaky Atlanta secondary. Pay particular attention to deep threat Travis Benjamin (if healthy) and rookie tight end Hunter Henry. If you like big plays in the passing game, this game should not disappoint.

2. Julio Jones vs. Casey Hayward

While the Chargers have struggled to stop opposing passing games so far this season, Casey Hayward has been a bright spot in an otherwise depleted secondary. He has quietly become one of the most effective cornerbacks in the NFL so far this season. In fact, Pro Football Focus currently has Heyward ranked among the 10 best at the position. He already has three interceptions, to go along with seven pass breakups. And he has done this matched up against some of the top wide receivers in the league this season. But this afternoon will be his toughest challenge to date, as Hayward will be tasked with shadowing Julio Jones. One of the best players in the league regardless of position, Jones leads all players with 656 receiving yards.

The last time Hayward faced off against Jones was in 2014, when Hayward was a member of the Packers. The Packers won the game, but it was not a particularly good day for Hayward, as Jones racked up 11 catches for 259 yards and a touchdown. Hayward was not solely responsible for all of the damage Jones did, but he was on the wrong end of several big plays. Regardless, Hayward is currently playing at a much higher level. And while the odds may not be in his favor to get the best of Jones this time around, it is an intriguing matchup to keep an eye on.

3. Is Tevin Coleman the X-Factor?

Atlanta’s running backs may have a tough time finding open lanes against San Diego, who is fifth in the NFL against the run. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t have an impact on this game, particularly Coleman, who has proven to be an outstanding receiver out of the backfield. Coleman was a huge part of the Falcons’ Week 5 win in Denver, accounting for 132 receiving yards and a touchdown. He also went for 95 receiving yards back in Week 1.

He could be in for another productive day against the Chargers. San Diego’s defense has been particularly generous to running backs that catch passes. In six games, the Chargers have allowed opposing RBs to accumulate 64 receptions for 449 yards and two touchdowns. That averages out to 10 catches and 75 yards per game. Look for Coleman to be heavily involved in Atlanta’s passing attack this afternoon. He could be the x-factor that helps put the Falcons over the top.

Final Analysis

The Chargers are not as bad as their 2-4 record would suggest. Each of their four losses has come by six points or fewer, and they are just a handful of unfortunate plays away from being undefeated. That being said, their inability to close out games remains a concern. A lackluster ground game headed up by Melvin Gordon isn’t helping matters on offense either. But San Diego’s most glaring deficiency is the inability to slow down opposing passing games. This is a perceived weakness that does not bode well against the Falcons’ high-powered passing attack on the road.

NFL Power Rankings: Falcons

There is no doubt that Atlanta has the best offense in the NFL. The problem is that the offense is constantly trying to compensate for a young defense that is suspect at best. Like the Chargers, the Falcons have struggled when it comes to defending the pass. And with Philip Rivers as the trigger man, this is one aspect where the Chargers have plenty of firepower of their own. For this reason, San Diego should be able to keep things interesting. However, it won’t be enough to upset Atlanta on its home turf.

Prediction: Falcons 34, Chargers 30

— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.