It was all going along so uncharacteristically well for the Atlanta Falcons. They were the NFL's last unbeaten team in 2012, and despite winning a couple games by the skin of their teeth, they were looking good. Then last week happened, when their unbeaten season suffered its first blemish at the hands of the hated New Orleans Saints. The Falcons don't have time to be upset, though, as they have to host an Arizona Cardinals team fresh of its bye week that's desperate to get the season on track.
Meet the Falcons
Like it was noted above, the Falcons started the season with eight straight wins, which was far and away the best start in franchise history. Despite the loss to the Saints last Sunday, QB Matt Ryan looks like he's established himself as one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL, and he's guiding a powerful passing attack that features WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones and TE Tony Gonzalez.
However, Atlanta has had issues running the ball. The Falcons are 26th in the NFL in rushing yardage per game, and Michael Turner has only 529 yards on the year. They'll have a chance to get that part of their game going against the Cardinals, who have the NFL's 24th ranked rush defense.
Meet the Cardinals
The Cardinals have effectively had two seasons so far in 2012. They opened the season at 4-0, and one of those wins was an impressive show of fortitude against the New England Patriots. However, things started to go bad for Arizona against the St. Louis Rams on Oct. 4th, and they embarked on a five-game losing streak. Starting QB Kevin Kolb was lost to a rib injury during that stretch, and the team has struggled under backup John Skelton. They have the worst rushing offense in the NFL, and among one of the worst pass protecting offensive lines in the league.
The defense has had its moments, but has been inconsistent. Arizona features the second best passing defense in the league, led by CB Patrick Peterson. They also have the league's 24th rated rush defense, so Sunday's game is a study of strength on strength and weakness on weakness.
Local Takes: Falcons
Watching the Cardinals in pass protection is like skiing for the first time. You start off barely standing and eventually you're on the ground the entire day. John Skelton can attest to that. As a whole their offensive line has given up 40 (yes, 40) sacks, 23 hits and 122 hurries. Honestly, I swear I'm not making these numbers up. Rookie right tackle Bobby Massie currently leads Arizona with the most sacks (13) allowed, and is second in hurries (34). If Biermann doesn't get a sack this week, I for one will be sorely disappointed.
Local Takes: Cardinals
Tyler Nickel from Revenge of the Birds says the matchup between Patrick Peterson and Atlanta WR Roddy White will be crucial for the Cardinals' success:
Lastly, the battle between Roddy White and Patrick Peterson figures to be a good one. Peterson will need to win the battle before he even catches the ball, as White averages just over 15 yards per reception, but only 3.1 yards after the catch. Not missing tackles in the short to intermediate catches (which the Falcons love) will be important.
Follow the Fun
Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, The Falcoholic and Revenge of the Birds, for more analysis and highlights from the game.
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
I feel angrier than usual today. Must be the impending death of the Twinkie.— Dave Choate (@TheFalcoholic) November 16, 2012
Not only was that a terrible throw by Skelton, but the cameras showed him tilting his head after. Almost looked like he was saying 'Oh well'— Tyler Nickel (@TylerNickelASU) November 4, 2012
@AJCFalcons, Falcons beat writer
Under head coach MIKE SMITH, #Falcons are 27-11 (.711) in games decided by 1 score.— D. Orlando Ledbetter (@AJCFalcons) November 16, 2012
@kentsomers, Cardinals beat writer
DC Ray Horton compared this week of practice to week of Patriots game. Very happy with his #azcardinals defense— Kent Somers (@kentsomers) November 16, 2012
This would be a great matchup ... in Week 5. Back then, both the Cardinals and Falcons were undefeated at 4-0. The Cards have imploded since then, losers of five in a row. The Falcons, meanwhile, lost their first game last week. Atlanta's running game will eventually be an issue but not on Sunday against Arizona.
The pick: 27-13, Falcons
The Falcons are favored by anywhere between 9.5 and 10.5 points, depending on the book, according to OddsShark.com.
Next Sunday, the Falcons travel to Tampa to take on the Buccaneers in an NFC South divisional showdown. The Cardinals will host the St. Louis Rams in an NFC West battle.