When the Falcons play the Bills for the first time in four years tomorrow, it’ll be a pitched battle between one of the league’s best defenses and one of its best offenses. The Atlanta Falcons are a better team, but as always, we want to consider this matchup from many different angles and give the opponent their due.
Let’s get into one reason to feel great about this matchup, and one reason to worry.
Feel confident about: Stopping the Bills offense
Tyrod Taylor is good. The Falcons will be missing Vic Beasley and Ricardo Allen. That seems like a recipe for problems, but while I want to give Buffalo their due here, I also think you can’t credulously argue that their offense is suddenly going to explode.
Atlanta still has an active, quick front seven that should be able to prevent LeSean McCoy from breaking any big runs, keep an eye on Taylor, and contain the Bills’ big receivers, who are not among the league’s elite. The only wrinkle that truly worries me is what Taylor will be able to do with plenty of time in the pocket, which he may get if the Falcons can’t find a way to get pressure. Still, this is an offense that shouldn’t touch 30 points, and probably will be lucky to touch 25 against an underrated Falcons defense.
Worry about: Stingy red zone defense
Caveat: The Bills have faced bad offenses thus far, which almost assuredly skews these numbers a bit. That said, we do need to acknowledge that the Bills have an excellent defense that does its best work when things tighten up in the red zone. They’ve allowed touchdowns on just over 28% of their opponents’ chances in the red zone thus far, which is the second-lowest percentage behind Seattle, which has allowed under 15%.
The Falcons, meanwhile, have scored touchdowns on 60% of their 2017 red zone trips, a solid but unspectacular number that puts them at 15th in the NFL on the year. There’s a very real potential for the Falcons to do what they’ve done a handful of times this year and not find success inside the 20, particularly if the ground game falters a bit, which is a possibility against this front seven.
I expect the Falcons may have a drive or two stall out and end in a Matt Bryant field goal, though I didn’t account for that in my score prediction because I’m always an optimist. If the Bills can really clamp down and limit the Falcons’ red zone scoring opportunities, they’ll have a decent shot at stealing this one away.