The Buffalo Bills are heading to Atlanta on Sunday to take on the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons, who are undefeated in three games this year. The last time the Bills and Falcons squared off was four years ago, in the final game of the ill-fated Toronto series. In one of the most gut-wrenching endings of The Drought, Stevie Johnson fumbled away a chance at a game-winning field goal in regulation and Scott Chandler fumbled on the second play of overtime to give the Falcons a 34-31 victory.
What should the Bills expect this year? I reached out to Dave Choate of The Falcoholic for some perspective from the Falcons’ point of view.
After a somewhat controversial ending against the Detroit Lions, the Falcons are one of two teams (along with the Chiefs) who are still undefeated after three weeks. Is it safe to say that they've slept off the Super Bowl hangover?
I'd like to say so, but obviously they've had a couple of close calls that suggest they're still a work in progress. That said, they've beaten three solid teams thus far, they've shown more life on defense than they did at any point before the playoffs in 2016, and the offense still looks very good with Steve Sarkisian at the helm. They're making a ton of small, dumb mistakes, but those tend to smooth out over time, and they're surviving tough contests.
I guess what I'm trying to say is hangover over! I hope.
Devonta Freeman earned a hefty contract extension this offseason, but I've noticed that Tevin Coleman still nets me a decent return in fantasy each week. What has the balance been like between those two so far?
Thus far, it has been unbalanced in favor of Freeman, especially last week. Freeman is the sturdier runner and an extremely well-rounded player, and Sarkisian has found that he likes having a true feature back. Coleman is the change-of-pace guy and receiving option, and he's doing very good work in his limited role thus far. Going forward, I'd expect something like a 66.5/33.5 split between the two unless Freeman falls off or gets hurt. Coleman's still an excellent FLEX option for your fantasy league, though.
The Bills had trouble containing Von Miller last week, but they won't have to worry about the Falcons' star pass rusher this Sunday as Vic Beasley is still expected to be out with a partial hamstring tear. Who has stepped up in his wake, and how is the defense as a whole responding?
The defense is still stone solid when they're not screwing up, and penalties have been an issue thus far. Rookie Takkarist McKinley has been stellar in limited opportunities to this point as a pass rusher, and he got his first NFL sack last week against the Lions by displaying speed and power off the edge. With Adrian Clayborn also playing well, the Falcons do have two solid ends to go with Dontari Poe and Grady Jarrett on the middle, plus a deep rotation. They won't get a ton of pressure without Beasley, but they're capable of stretches of real pressure.
The real problem for opposing offenses is in the back seven. Safety Ricardo Allen may miss this game, which is a concern, but Keanu Neal is a huge hitter at strong safety, Desmond Trufant is one of the NFL's best cornerbacks, and Robert Alford is an aggressive, physical ballhawk at the cornerback position as well. Add in De'Vondre Campbell, an emerging star at linebacker, the terrific Deion Jones at middle linebacker, and Brian Poole at nickel cornerback, and you have a dangerous group of young players. The Bills will have to avoid mistakes to win against this group, though they've been prone to those mistakes themselves.
The Falcons play against Cam Newton and the Panthers twice a year, so they're fairly familiar with the skill set that Tyrod Taylor brings to the table. How do you expect Dan Quinn and Marquand Manuel to keep Tyrod from breaking out on the ground?
The difference, to me, is that Taylor is more careful with the football than Cam, and a little less physically imposing. What makes him dangerous is that he can run--something the Falcons have typically been susceptible to--and still make smart, careful throws. I expect they'll have either Deion Jones or De'Vondre Campbell tracking Taylor in case he runs, and then they'll focus on keeping short plays in front of them and making good open field tackles, something Dan Quinn is always talking about. They'll just trust their guys to cover effectively on deeper passes.
The big potential wrench in this plan is the absence of Ricardo Allen, who is a tremendous open field tackler and instinctive defender who has been an underrated key for this defense. Rookie Damontae Kazee looks very promising, but chances are he'll be a downgrade Sunday.
What's your call for the outcome, and who do you expect to be the biggest impact player in the game?
I do think the Falcons will win this one, but I respect the hell out of this Bills team, and I'm genuinely glad to see you guys looking improved. I think the Falcons will struggle a bit more on offense because of the strength of this unit, but I don't think Buffalo will be able to move the ball well against an athletic, physical defense. My prediction, for what it's worth, is a 28-20 win.
The impact player, in my mind, will be Julio Jones. I think he's going to eat in this game, and he'll need to given how good your defensive front is.