A couple weeks ago, it looked like the biggest worry for the Atlanta Falcons when they head to New England would be dealing with the many reminders that they blew a 28–3 lead in the Super Bowl and allowed the Patriots to claim another ring.
But after back-to-back home losses to Buffalo and Miami — the latter thanks to blowing another big lead (17–0) — the Falcons need a win to keep pace in the NFC South. This game also starts a stretch where they will play four of their next five games away from Atlanta, so things won’t get much easier.
The defending champs are in their familiar spot atop the AFC East, but it’s been a struggle to a 4–2 record so far. The Pats are just 1–2 at home and 23 seconds away from being 0–3 at Gillette Stadium. They are last in the NFL in pass defense and total defense, and no team in their division is below .500. Another home loss, and the Bills, Dolphins and Jets might start thinking New England is vulnerable.
Atlanta at New England
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 22 at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Patriots -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Matt Ryan vs. the Pats' struggling secondary
Ryan hasn’t had a 300-yard passing day since the season opener, and over the last three games he has thrown six interceptions with only four touchdowns. But the Falcons still rank sixth in the NFL in passing offense, so Ryan and company should be looking their chops watching film of the New England defense. Every quarterback the Pats have faced so far this season has thrown for at least 300 yards, and New England is dealing with injuries as Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe, two of their top three corners, missed last week’s game and did not practice Wednesday or Thursday this week. With Atlanta WRs Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu both healthy for the first time since Week 3, it could be another long night for the New England defense.
2. Tom Brady is not slowing down
Despite the defensive struggles, it’s hard to be too concerned about the Patriots as long as Brady is around. Coming into Week 6, he led the NFL in passing at 326.5 yards per game and was tied for second with 13 touchdowns. Brady has thrown just two interceptions, and with Atlanta’s defense ranking last in takeaways, odds are the Falcons won’t get many short fields with which to work. One thing to keep an eye on: Brady is averaging 8.4 yards per attempt, second most in his career. But the Falcons rank fourth in the NFL in yards per attempt against (6.1), so Brady may have to be more patient than usual this week.
3. Note to Falcons: Don’t be afraid to run it
Atlanta was second-guessed all offseason for not running the ball more with the lead in the Super Bowl. This season, despite ranking fourth in the NFL in yards per carry (4.8), the Falcons are just 21st in rushing attempts. Given the vulnerable state of the Patriots’ secondary, the temptation will be there to just keep throwing. But New England isn’t exactly elite against the run, either, ranking 20th in rushing yards allowed and 26th in yards allowed per attempt. With a backfield featuring Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, there’s no reason Atlanta can’t have a big day on the ground and help keep Brady off the field.
Tom Brady is likely going to have to once again bail out the struggling New England defense, which has been torched by lesser quarterbacks than Matt Ryan this season. Brady hasn’t lost three games at home in one season since 2006. We’re not betting against him.